The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, through its Foundation for Energy Education, is conducting an advertising campaign in the Texas Panhandle region. This is the second market in a long-term, statewide public education program about the oil and natural gas industry. The plan is to eventually include Houston. The Foundation's goal is to change the public's perception of the oil and gas industry using advertising, producing classroom instruction materials to address workforce issues, conducting traveling exhibits to promote gas as a clean fuel and creating citizen partnerships to build better community relationships. "We try to draw a distinction in the public's mind between major oil companies and our membership, which includes small, medium and some large independent producers, along with service companies and drilling contractors," says the Alliance's Houston-based director of professional development, Kurt Abraham. "Independents drill 96% of all new wells in Texas and produce 92% of the oil and 88% of the gas. Our industry paid nearly $300 million in production taxes last year, just in the Panhandle region. Statewide, that figure was over $4.5 billion. Much of that money goes to local governments and school districts. It's a major reason why Texas does not collect state income tax on wages." In addition, said Abraham, the ads stress how the industry creates many good-paying jobs. "We also point out that the Texas energy industry has a good environmental record. Producers pay a self-imposed tax to clean up old wells. "During the past 10 years, they've paid more than $175 million into the fund and plugged more than 15,000 wells. Also, the federal Minerals Management Service has said that 45% of all oil spilled offshore comes from tankers bringing foreign oil to the U.S., while only 3% comes from drilling rigs and production platforms. Yet, officials have kept 85% of federal offshore tracts and 60% of onshore parcels off-limits to exploration, despite the industry''s good record and high-tech capabilities." The campaign has already demonstrated that it can change public opinion. In East Texas (Tyler, Kilgore, Longview and Marshall), a survey of some 900 people was conducted before and after the advertising campaign. Accordingly, the number of people who felt that the industry was unconcerned about the environment fell 20% after the ads ran. By contrast, the number of people who felt that the industry was very concerned about the environment rose 39%. Also, the number of people who knew correctly that the largest offshore polluters are ships that deliver foreign oil jumped from 35% to 49%. Also, the number of people who believe the oil industry's image is better than it was five years ago rose 24% after the ads ran. The results appear to show that the public will form reasonable conclusions when properly presented with facts. A better-informed public will result in lawmakers crafting better policies and legislation, said Abraham. At least four additional markets throughout the state will be targeted in 2010, and the number could go as high as six, he said. The pace of the campaign will depend, in part, on the flow of events and fundraising. The Foundation is funded by its membership, which currently includes some 450 companies and individuals.
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