The Blue Engine Behind Fracked Gas Exports PR Blitz
Behind nearly every major corporate policy push there’s an accompanying well-coordinated public relations and propaganda campaign. As it turns out, the oil and gas industry’s push to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) plays the same game.
And so on February 5, “Our Energy Moment” was born. The PR blitz is described in a press release announcing the launch as a “new coalition dedicated to raising awareness and celebrating the many benefits of expanded markets for liquefied natural gas.”
Since its launch, “Our Energy Moment” has disseminated press releases about the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) conditional approval of Jordan Cove LNG export facility in Coos Bay, Oregon and its conditional approval of Cameron LNG export facility in Hackberry, Louisiana.
So the industry is funding a PR campaign clearly in its self interest. But so what? You have to read all the way to the bottom of the press releases to find what’s perhaps the most interesting tidbit.
At the very bottom of “Our Energy Moment’s” releases, a contact person named Tiffany Edwards is listed with an email address ending in @blueenginemedia.com. If you visit blueenginemedia.com you’ll find the website for PR and advertising firm Blue Engine Message & Media.
Further, a domain name search for ourenergymoment.org reveals the website was registered by another PR and web development firm called Liberty Concepts by its founder and president Jonathan Karush. Karush registered the site on May 8, 2013, a full ten months before the campaign’s official launch date.
Who are these firms and why do they matter? That’s where the fun begins.
Blue Engine Media
According to its website, Blue Engine helps “develop and implement strategic public policy campaign plans for corporations, coalitions, non-profits and national trade associations, particularly when reputation, brand or market position face a threat or opportunity.”
Clients past and present include Citibank, Ford, Delta, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions and Obama for President in 2008 and 2012, among others.
The firm was founded by Erik Smith — self-described “recovering political hack & aspiring corporate hack“ — served as senior advisor for advertising and message development for President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and former Communications Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Smith also founded and helped coordinate the Common Purpose Project, set up to “discuss White House plans, priorities, and messages with [progressive] groups,” according to Mother Jones’ David Corn. “But some of the outside participants considered the meetings mostly sessions where the administration tossed out talking points and marching orders.”
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 tax forms show Common Purpose was run out of Blue Media’s office as of 2012 (the phone number listed on its IRS 990 forms matches the one listed on Blue Engine’s website, as well) and Erik Smith received over $1.3 million between 2009 and 2012 to work on this account.
Other Blue Engine luminaries include:
-Adam Abrams: The former regional communications director and spokesperson for President Barack Obama, Abrams was also on the communications team at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and sat on the communications staff for both the Obama 2008 and John Kerry 2004 presidential campaigns.
-Amber McDowell and Jacob Sittig: McDowell formerly served as Communications Director for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the new head of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Sittig was Landrieu’s former Deputy Press Secretary.
-Jessica Borchert: Borchert worked on the Obama 2012 campaign. In that capacity, she did “production of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina and [worked] on the ground in Colorado coordinating press operations.”
-Catherine Lavelle: Lavelle worked on the Obama for President team in 2012 and also was the Media Logistics Manager for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Further, Laura Burton Capps — former Assistant to George Stephanopoulos in the Bill Clinton White House and speechwriter for Clinton — was a Blue Engine principal until 2013. Capps also formerly worked on the staff for the Common Purpose Project and is listed as the principal officer on its 2011 IRS 990 form.
Laura Capps is married to Bill Burton, former Deputy Press Secretary for Obama and co-founder of Priorities USA, a “dark money” Democratic Super-PAC set up to compete with Republican “dark money” Super-PAC Crossroads GPS.
And then there’s Tiffany Edwards, the point person for the “Our Energy Moment” file and where this whole inquiry began.
Before coming to Blue Engine, Edwards served as Deputy Press Secretary at the Department of Energy — the agency with final legal decisionmaking power over LNG export proposals — for the first two years of the Obama Administration. Prior to that, she worked for the 2008 Obama campaign’s press staff in the Chicago headquarters.
Roll Call reported she was hired on February 3, meaning “Our Energy Moment” was likely the first file on her Blue Engine account. Edwards hasn’t responded to questions sent to her via email by DeSmogBlog.
Like Blue Engine, Liberty Concepts maintains tight ties with the Democratic Party and groups with close ties to the party, describing itself as a “full service digital communications agency that specializes in helping create brands and develop online communities around them.”
Liberty Concepts has lent its web expertise to the electoral campaigns of New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Sen Michael Bennet (D-CO), as well as on behalf of Priorities USA Super-PAC and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
“Our Energy Moment” Politico Launch Event
“Our Energy Moment” held its first event in the public square by sponsoring “Energy & the 113th Congress,” hosted by Politico.
Both Barrasso and Barton have collected tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. Further, each has financial investments in assets standing to gain from U.S. LNG exports, according to their financial disclosure forms.
Barton’s 2012 disclosure shows he has $50,000-$100,000 invested in shale gas industry giant EOG Resources, while Barrasso’s 2012 disclosure shows he has $100,000-$250,000 invested in Warren Buffett’s freight rail (and frac sand/fracked oil-carrying) giant, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). BNSF is also considering running some of its engines on LNG.
Also in the house for the Politico event: David Goldwyn, former U.S. State Department special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs from 2009-2011 for the Obama Administration, current non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution and owner of a consulting group, Goldwyn Global Strategies.
Goldwyn also recently testified at a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on LNG exports and was one of numerous witnesses who did not disclose his oil and gas industry ties. Case in point: Brookings Institution’s 2013 Annual Report reveals it took hundreds of thousands of dollars each from ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and Statoil.
Five days after the “Our Energy Moment” launch, Brookings’ Director of the Energy Security Initiative Charles Ebinger (like Goldwyn, interviewed in an “Our Energy Moment” YouTube promotional video) wrote a piece now also featured on the Brookings website titled, “President Obama, This is Your Energy Moment.”
It appears Obama has answered the “Energy Moment” call.
Delivering Goods, Bad for Everyone Else
“Our Energy Moment” has already made significant policy progress during its short existence.
The DOE has approved two LNG export terminals during that timeframe and the State Department is currently preparing a key study on the geopolitical impacts of U.S. LNG exports, as dictated by the recently-passed Ukraine Support Act (see Section 303).
State’s study will be overseen by Carlos Pascual, the Department’s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs and Goldwyn’s successor to that position. Pascual served as vice president and director of Foreign Policy at Brookings from 2006-2009.
President Obama also publicly endorsed using LNG exports as a geopolitical weapon for the first time in the form of a White House official statement on March 26.
“We welcome the prospect of U.S. LNG exports in the future since additional global supplies will benefit Europe and other strategic partners,” reads the statement.
“We agree on the importance of redoubling transatlantic efforts to support European energy security to further diversify energy sources and suppliers and to allow for reverse natural gas flows to Ukraine from its EU neighbours.”
In short, the Blue Engine and Liberty Concepts “Our Energy Moment” PRcampaign has delivered the goods for the oil and gas industry.
But because of the lifecycle climate change impacts of shale gas production, the push to increase gas usage is bad for everyone else, with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report issuing yet another dire warning based on very conservative analysis.
Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.