Friday, December 14, 2007

Offshore NJ natural gas proposal draws rapid & rabid response

The public relations war of the decade may be shaping up in New Jersey where Exxon Mobil announced plans on Dec 11 to seek approval from environmental regulators for a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal 20 miles off the state's coastline .

With the nation in the midst of a heralded "energy crisis," the chance to bring needed gas supplies to the power-hungry Northeast normally might be welcomed, especially since the facility is planned for a location virtually out of sight from shore and away from shipping lanes, ports and recreational areas, according to Exxon Mobil.

But the news hadn't even been reported in most media outlets before Clean Ocean Action's executive director Cindy Zipf had fired off a press release declaring:

Here’s another bad actor that wants to bring fossil fuels, pollution, and industrial development to our cleaner, healthier ocean. Who’s next, Darth Vader?”

Lest anyone fail to recognize the "bad actor" in question, Zipf added:

"Exxon Mobil is known around the world for drunken sailors, massive oil spills, and destroying communities, such as in Prince William Sound, Alaska."

Exxon Mobil would be well advised not to dismiss this as just the usual gust of Jersey-environmental-hyperbole. Cindy Zipf and her organization have gone up against the big boys in the past and cleaned their clocks.

The organization got its start with a campaign against the entrenched practice of at-sea dumping of industrial waste, dredge spoils and sludge from county and municipal waste treatment plants. They faced formidable opposition from industry, government and the Army Corps of Engineers. The battle dragged on for years but, ultimately, Zipf's forces prevailed. All eight ocean dumpsites operating at the time have been closed and federal legislation now bans ocean dumping of sewage sludge and most other materials.

Clean Ocean Action has been wise to expand its membership beyond the environmental community and today includes the recreational fishing and boating industries, surfers, and more than 100 businesses that depend on Jersey Shore tourism. COA's yearly "beach sweeps," which enlist volunteers to remove litter from beaches, has won it reams of good press and a hardcore group of supporters.

Evidence of COA's influence was seen as the shore's largest newspaper, the Asbury Park Press ripped Exxon Mobil's LNG proposal in an editorial that appeared almost immediately on the heels of Zipf's news release.

Readers of EnviroPolitics yesterday got to see this story on the Exxon Mobil proposal:

- Oil officials say LNG plans will aid NJ economy, air Top executives from BP and Exxon Mobil say proposed liquefied natural gas terminals will boost the state economy and meet increasing demand for the clean-burning fuel Bergen Record

And the Asbury Park Press' response:

-Editorial: Say "no thanks" to Exxon Mobil State and federal legislators should let the energy company know in no uncertain terms that our offshore is off limits AP Press

At least one blogger has already weighed in, as well. Alan Caruba, whose been described as a "is a public relations advisor and a vitriolic critic of environmentalism" took the not-unexpected position of chiding the enviros in "Saying No to energy" which appeared yesterday in his daily blog, "Warning Signs." You may not agree with Caruba's position, but I think you'll find his writing style both provocative and entertaining.

Bloggers on the left will surely follow in what is just the start of a terrific PR skirmish. We plan to follow it all from the media front lines and report on major engagements, tactical moves, body counts and collateral damage. Stay tuned.

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