The narrator mentions billions of gallons of fuel while an air-brushed clip of Chicago on a clear summer day streams. Then the narrator steers the audience toward the electricity that powers their devices. Why is ExxonMobil talking about electricity generation? Similar to many coal operators, they have hijacked the use of the word energy and they are blurring the lines between fuels for transportation, a major source of carbon emissions, and electrical power generation.

I have seen energy and I know what it looks like. It’s cut from seams 800 ft below ground or scooped up by shovels and excavators on the surface, washed at prep plants and loaded onto trains bound for power plants. It’s coal. My energy visual might not be as pleasant as the commercial, but I have seen deer grazing on reclaimed lands and refuse piles alike. Fishermen tend to steer clear of refineries.

A second commercial asks: how much energy would be saved if every American swapped one incandescent light bulb for a compact fluorescent light bulb? The narrator explains that the U.S. would save enough energy to light 3 million homes. We are led to believe that’s a massive amount of energy, even though there are about 314 million people in the U.S. They offer another statistic: By 2030, energy efficiency investments could save Americans $300 billion each year. Who knows what exactly that means, but they have again steered the conversation away from petroleum burning engines and toward electrical power generation. And they invite viewers to come to the Website and take an Energy Quiz.

The Energy Quiz asks: Where does America get most of its energy? It suggests a multiple choice answer: the Middle East, Africa, Canada and the U.S. Yes, you probably didn’t guess it, but it is right here at home. They also fail to mention that most of that energy is coal, because if they limited it to petroleum products, the answer would not be right here at home. Now they are using coal facts to support their domestic energy strategy.

On the site they also have The Outlook for Energy, ExxonMobil’s long-term global view of energy demand and supply. In it, they make a few assumptions. By 2040, there will be 2 billion more people, the economy will be 130% larger, 35% greater demand for energy; 60% of that will be supplied by oil and gas, natural gas will surpass coal as the second largest fuel source; and 90% greater electrical demand. An interesting bar graph near the end shows the cost for coal- and gas-fired generation with and without carbon capture and storage. They also project prices with a $60 penalty per metric ton of CO2 emitted. Not sure where the $60 penalty comes from, but the scales as one could imagine are skewed in favor of natgas.

I happen to like ExxonMobil and they are brilliant. Why couldn’t they run a commercial about XTO Energy or their mining operations in the oil sands? Why have they decided to take this approach? They are stacking the deck in favor of natgas for electrical power generation. It’s something the public understands and the coal business will only continue to lose ground as long as the natgas industry controls the narrative.

Steve Fiscor, Coal Age Editor-In-Chief


p.s. — The entire team at Mining Media International would like to wish all of our readers a happy and safe holiday season. Enjoy this edition of Coal Age.