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A conversation with J.L. White Fuller

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, April 15, 2012, at 7:57 a.m.

J.L. White Fuller is the brand manager for Kansas’s oil and gas industry.

As the executive director of Kansas Strong, an entity funded voluntarily by oil and gas producers, her job is to persuade people that the industry is a good thing for Kansas and Kansans. Her main hurdle is not a negative image of the industry so much as no image at all. That’s why over the last two years many have seen Kansas Strong ads showing resolute roughnecks standing tall against the sunset, or spots showing how the game of basketball depends on petroleum-based products.

White Fuller has been plenty busy. Last year she turned 40, married Damen Fuller, took her son off to college, ran a marathon and got promoted to executive director. “I had a big year,” she said.

What does your group do?

Our mission statement is promoting the quality of life created by the Kansas oil and gas industry. … The quality of life in every day our lives are affected by oil and gas. There are 6,000 products that is an oil or natural gas product … 67,000 jobs, that’s both upstream and downstream, from production down the waitress in western Kansas … and the impact is $2.7 billion of income.

How do you do that?

We focus on promoting education for the public and for students.

What kind of public education?

We have created more than 10 messages and this comes from TV, to the print ad, to online, to Facebook and Twitter. I utilize Facebook a lot. We have 1,500 Likes. That’s made a big difference in northeast Kansas, where according to our study in January, we were up to 47 percent approval, so that’s good.

Is northeast Kansas where your real challenge is?

Yes. They don’t see production there. Here you can drive to El Dorado and see it.

How do you create that positive message?

We recognize there is an energy mix. We’re promoting oil and gas, but we recognize there is a mix of energy. But at the end of the day, oil and gas will fuel most of them. That’s saying a lot, and it’s true. It’s saying this is what we provide for you. Let me knock on the door and hear me out. And whatever other side you’re hearing, really this is part of who you are in living here. Be proud of that.

Do you think you are making the connection for the average suburbanite between these oil and gas drillers and their everyday lives?

I hope so. I think we have. When we did our “Without” themed ads, the first one was “Without basketball” and everything we did was filmed in Kansas. It was always related back to Kansas. But the impact that one commercial put out there, the feedback we got, it was just tremendous.

Why is the oil and gas industry controversial in some places?

It could be lack of understanding. Some people have never been around production and may not understand it.

What do you think drives negative images?

High gasoline prices and the environment and all this political rattling. And right now it would the be the election, if you want to know the truth of it. I would say that has lot to do with it. It’s getting used like a Ping-Pong, a political football. I think that’s unfair. The reality is these are family businesses. These are everyday people.

Are you finding that negativity in Kansas?

As far as negative backlash, I don’t see in Kansas that we have a lot of that. It’s out there, but not as much.

How do you get your message into the schools?

We have 22 master teachers. … Those master teachers are paid ,and they go out and teach workshops for classroom teachers. These workshops are six to eight hours and the kits are really fun. There’s all kind of experiments, and have a curriculum to go along with it, everything from a fossil sandwich made with a wheat piece of bread, a white piece of bread and a rye piece of bread, with Gummy worms in it. And they take it to the classroom, and … they use a straw to drill for oil in the fossil sandwich. The kids love it.”

What kind of response do you get from the schools?

The educators are like, “This is too good to be true. What’s the catch? You are going to give me a $300 energy kit and I don’t have to pay for it?” The teachers get paid a stipend, and we buy their lunch … and they can get professional credit. The feedback we get so far has been tremendous.

No has raised objections?

Not at all. There’s no static. It’s a fantastic program. … It’s about geology, it’s about science, and it’s about math and it’s about learning. But hopefully, there will some of these kids who will say I want to be a geologist, I want to be an engineer.

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