New Documentary "Rational Middle": Oil and Gas Advertising in Disguise


The “Rational Middle Energy Series,” directed and produced by Gregory Kallenberg, is hot off the film rolls and has already been screened at an influential venue: the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival.

Kallenberg also directed and produced the documentary film “Haynesville: A Nation’s Hunt for An Energy Future,” a film about the ongoing shale gas boom in the United States and a counterpart, of sorts, to Josh Fox’s Academy Award-nominated documentary “Gasland.”

Kallenberg, in a press release announcing the film series’ launch, stated,

Through our travels with ‘Haynesville,’ no matter where we were in the world, we saw a striking commonality from community to community: the need and desire for a balanced discussion about today’s energy issues. We realized that more often than not, people wanted to leave behind the noise and extremes to build an energy future that is environmentally sound, economically viable and ensures energy security. The ‘Rational Middle’ is the starting point for a movement welcoming open discussion where everyone is invited to the table to find solutions to the most important energy challenges.

Taken at face value, the movie’s description sounds fairly innocent.

Yet, the questions to be asked as the film makes the rounds: Who is Gregory Kallenberg? Who is his family? And in general, who are the real characters behind the curtain here?

The answers to these questions say much more about the film than does the description offered in promotional pitches. As it turns out, the public relations firm tasked to do promotional pitches also speaks volumes about the filmmaker’s agenda.

There is far more to “Rational Middle” than meets the eye at first glance.

Film Sponsored by Shell Oil…as well as New York Times and The Atlantic

There is one key caveat offered by “Rational Middle,” which, to the average observer, could compromise the objectivity of the film.

The caveat? Its chief fiscal sponsor is Shell Oil.

“Shell knows it’s going to take a whole new level of collaboration and leadership to develop workable policies and solutions to meet the energy challenge,” reads the film’s website. “We hope the Rational Middle Energy Series can drive conversation and build stronger relationships that will move us toward a cleaner energy future.”

Kallenberg, for what it’s worth, says he entered the Shell partnership with “trepidation.” “The filmmaker agreed with the caveats that he retain editorial and creative control, and he said he hoped the films were balanced,” explained the Aspen Daily News.

“The way I remember it is, I was flying on my way to Aspen, and one of the people on the staff had handed me a DVD and said, ‘Here you ought to watch this and it was the independent film ‘Haynesville.’,” Marvin Odum, President of Shell Oil Company said. “It provided what I thought was a very different, very balanced and something I thought was very important. So Gregory had come up with this idea that he calls the ‘Rational Middle.’ and it made perfect sense to me.”

“Rational Middle” also has two media sponsors of great influence: The New York Times and The Atlantic.

These sponsorships, obviously noteworthy, are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Public Relations Work Conducted by Edelman

A close look at the press release announcing the launch of “Rational Middle” lists a Media Contact at Edelman Public Relations, Danielle Allen. Allen is the Senior Vice President at Edelman.

Edelman has a long history of doing public relations work for the oil and gas industry.

In November 2005, for example, PR Watch reported that Edelman was “working with the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry’s primary lobbying group, on a public issues campaign aimed at convincing Americans that the industry is facing severe challenges, even as its members pull in record quarterly profits.”

Later, in 2007, Edelman partnered with Shell to promote its gasoline. “Shell is launching a major push to drive home to consumers the point that ‘all gasoline is not the same,’ said Shell Retail brand and communications manager Karen Wildman,” reported PR Week. “The company teamed up with Edelman in an effort to bring the gasoline experience home to consumers in a hands-on fashion.”

DeSmogBlog also reported in September 2009 that Edelman was working with Canadian tar sands industry clients to better their image. “Edelman [told] tar sands insiders at a conference in Alberta that they should start pushing their position on Facebook and Twitter,” wrote Jim Hoggan.

Beyond doing the bidding for the oil and gas industry, Edelman, as explained in a 2010 article by PR Watch, “played a huge part in helping the tobacco industry sow doubt and confusion about the health hazards of tobacco smoke, and stave off legislation to rein in Big Tobacco’s hazardous corporate behaviors.”

Sowing Doubt for the Sake of Kallenberg’s Family Fortune?

The metaphorical elephant in the room comes with the answer to the question of who is Kallenberg and his family. The short answer: major players in the oil and gas industry in Shreveport, Louisiana for the past eight decades. The long answer: the devil’s in the details.

The details are startling.

In my September 2011 investigation into “Haynesville,” I explained, “The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources website lists Gregory Kallenberg as the vice president of business development for Caddo Management, Inc.” The listing has an address of 401 Market Street, Suite 500.

This 401 Market Street locale matches the address, albeit in a different Suite, of “Three Penny Productions,” the so-called film studio for “Haynesville,” which is located in Suite 860, according to the website.

So where is the office of “Rational Middle”? It’s the same office as Caddo Management, Inc., according to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website.

Working under the banner of the “Rational Middle Media Group, LLC,” the nascent company has a listed address of 401 Market Street, Suite 500, with Kallenberg the Registered Agent and Caddo the Manager.

Caddo, “is an oil and gas drilling corporation,” as I detailed in my investigation. “It’s listed as an active operator in Arksansas on the Arksansas Oil and Gas Commission website. It is also listed as the primary driller for Western Oil and Gas, JV Inc. and a Louisiana Department of Natural Resources document shows that Caddo has applied for a drilling permit. Pipeline Association for Public Awareness lists Caddo as an excavator in a 2010 document.”

Kallenberg then, put bluntly, is an oil and gas man through and through. Above and beyond that, so too is his entire family, a family that has been entrenched in the industry for decades.

His brothers Jeffrey and Randolph Kallenberg, for example, serve as the vice president of exploration and the vice president of finance, respectively, of Caddo. This, though, is just grazing the surface.

Another Kallenberg family tie opens up a whole new can of worms: Phillips Energy Partners, currently owned by Gregory’s cousin, Chris Phillips.

As I explained on AlterNet:

The Betty and Leonard Phillips Deaf Action Center website reveals that Gregory Kallenberg’s grandmother is Betty Phillips, wife of Leonard Phillips, both of whom are the grandparents of Chris Phillips and his brother Collin, who also works for Phillips Energy Partners. Chris and Collin Phillips, and the Kallenbergs, are cousins and all oil and gas men.

The Phillips family has been involved in the oil and gas industry for over 80 years, according to the Phillips Energy Partners’ website and according to Betty Phillips’ November 2010 obituary.

The obituary also reveals that Betty Phillips’ father, Sam Sklar, “was a pioneer in the early Shreveport oil and gas industry.” Sklar Exploration Company, LLC, still exists to this very day and is run by CEO Howard Sklar.

It’s “all in the family,” as they say, to borrow the namesake of the famous sitcom.

Fool Me Once, Shame On You. Fool Me Twice….”

In short, it appears Kallenberg is using these films to enrich both his family fortune in the oil and gas industry, as well as the oil and gas industry at-large, as is evident by the working relationship with Shell.

Kallenberg, on the insert for “Updated Extended Version” of the documentary “Haynesville” wrote, foreshadowing his new documentary series, “Unfortunately, the current energy discussion has been polarized and, we believe, been taken over by the extreme sides of the issue…Haynesville is created to speak to the ‘rational middle,’ those people who don’t stand on the extreme ends.”

There’s an old expression that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

The trajectory of “Haynesville” demonstrates that Kallenberg’s connections allow him to screen his films in front of influential audiences. The Haynesville documentary screened at places ranging from the Sheffield Film Festival in 2009, the United Nations’ Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009, the New Orleans Film Festival, the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2011, among other prominent venues.With a tour like that, it’s obvious many may have been fooled into thinking that Kallenberg is an arms-length observer of the oil and gas industry, when in fact it’s buttered his family’s bread for decades.

Will history repeat itself with “Rational Middle”?

Steve Horn is the owner of the consultancy Horn Communications & Research Services, which provides public relations, content writing, and investigative research work products to a wide range of nonprofit and for-profit clients across the world. He is an investigative reporter on the climate beat for over a decade and former Research Fellow for DeSmog.

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