Either on the campaign trail or from the bully pulpit, every president since Richard Nixon has touted the economic benefits of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy.
For more than 30 years, our political leaders have been harping on the issue. And over the next 30 days, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will crisscross the country, telling everyone they meet about their plans to kick the habit once and for all.
Promising energy independence is as American as apple pie.
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But it's a damn hard promise to keep, in part because the people at the heart of the discussion send mixed or muddled messages. Opposing lobbyists and think tanks battle on Washington, DC's K Street while politicians attempt to pick winners on Capitol Hill. Talking heads affirm and eviscerate various solutions on TV while investors shudder with uncertainty in New York City. And John Q. Public, uncertain of what to make of the whole mess, sits tight, waiting for another candidate to come along and promise something he's not even sure is possible.
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For the industries that make up America's energy sector, this confusion begets a unique opportunity to communicate a position of leadership in solving the problem. The good news is there's plenty of room at the head of the pack.
A few facts about America's energy portfolio:
- The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reports our combined on and offshore wind resource potential is 14.6 million megawatts. This is enough energy to power as many as 4.4 billion homes year-round, using statistics from the American Wind Energy Association.
- According to Enerdata, at approximately 620 billion cubic feet per year, we are vying with Russia to become the world's largest producer of natural gas.
- Harold Hamm, founder of Continental Resources, claims the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota holds an estimated 24 billion barrels of oil, making it the third-largest oil field on the planet and the largest outside the Middle East.
- Information pulled from NREL also indicates urban and rural utility scale photovoltaic (PV), rooftop PV and concentrated solar power plants could provide a combined 400, 000 terawatt (TWh) hours per year, 100 times our current consumption rate.
- Most of the coal used in the United States is domestically produced.
As a country, we must stop demonizing certain modalities of energy and adopt an "all of the above" approach. As communicators, we must become masters at telling the most compelling American story of our time — that energy independence is not only a possibility, but a probability.
This is no small feat.
Debates on economic viability and environmental protection have reached a fever pitch. In northeastern Pennsylvania, tight-knit rural communities have been divided over natural gas production. On Pennsylvania Avenue, recession-era investments in renewable energy have incurred the wrath of an increasingly hawkish electorate. The American dialogue on energy is in rough shape.
(Read More: Aggressive Debate Is Tough on Facts )
Here's how industry communicators can salvage it:
- They should become radically transparent about the risks and benefits associated with their particular power source. That means informational meetings, municipal forums, media tours, environmental impact studies and annual corporate social responsibility benchmarking and reporting.
- They should make communicating the realities of American energy consumption as big a part of their platform as communicating the realities of American energy production. The general public must understand that every light switch, smart phone, defibrillator and automobile requires energy that comes from somewhere, and it's not from a hole in the wall.
- They should invest heavily in communicating the importance of domestic energy to young people. Any industry fueled by innovation must keep its future innovators inspired and engaged. If the United States is ever to become truly energy independent, it will be because today's high school and college students bucked the "good old boys" stereotype and invented how our country produces and consumes energy in the future.
- They should understand that social media have given every one of their stakeholders a megaphone. By embracing platforms like Twitter and Facebook, industry communicators have the opportunity to create a new level of accountability that will strengthen and build trust in the communities where they operate.
Multiple reports indicate the United States is the closest it's been to energy self-sufficiency in recent memory. Analysts say that energy independence is within reach by 2035. For my children's sake, I hope they're right. As we consider our choices in the 2012 election, let us not become cynical about America's 30-year promise; rather let us pursue with renewed fervor the cause of communicating our amazing energy potential.
After all, hope for tomorrow is also as American as apple pie.
Watch CNBC all day Tuesday, October 16th for Your Money Your Vote : The Energy Factor reports
What's Happening Around the Energy Group:
- Murphy Oil Corp
- Cliffs Natural Resources, Inc
- Peabody Energy Corp
- CONSOL Energy, Inc
- Arch Coal, Inc
- Trina Solar Limited
- LDK Solar Co., Ltd
- First Solar, Inc
C. Renzi Stone is the Chairman and CEO of Saxum, an integrated marketing communications agency in Oklahoma City. Saxum's energy clients include coal, oil and natural gas companies.
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