When the folks at Talisman Energy dreamed up a children's coloring book about a dinosaur explaining the origins of natural gas, they had no idea that the "friendly fracosaurus" would become a casualty in the anti-fracking cultural wars.
"Talisman Terry's Energy Adventure," a 24-page tale about a dinosaur wearing a hard hat and work boots, achieved a pinnacle of corporate communications when it got national television exposure from comedian Stephen Colbert, who lampooned it Monday on the Comedy Channel's Colbert Report.
Colbert, in a five-minute segment ridiculing hydraulic fracturing, the controversial process for extracting gas from rock formations such as Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale, singled out the coloring book as a way for Talisman "to counter their image problem."
Natalie Cox, a spokeswoman for Talisman Energy USA Inc., said the coloring book had been in circulation for two years, but only recently had been drawn into the polarized war over shale-gas extraction.
"I can't stress this enough: It's just a coloring book," she said.
Talisman Terry was created in 2009 by the in-house communications staff at Talisman, a Canadian company whose U.S. operations are based in the Pittsburgh suburb of Warrendale. The book was deployed as part of a community-outreach campaign in the area where Talisman operates along the Pennsylvania-New York border.
"At the time, nobody had heard of the Marcellus Shale," she said. "It was something you give away at a county fair."
Last year, some anti-drilling activists found the coloring book - it can be downloaded from Talisman's website - and mocked it online as an effort to favorably shape young minds on drilling.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discovered it last month, followed soon by Washington news outlets and Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), who derided it Friday in a congressional statement.
"Some wells may produce for a short period of time, while others may produce gas for many years," Terry explains in one panel.
Terry makes no attempt to explain hydraulic fracturing, which involves the injection of water, sand, and chemicals into rock to release gas. "During the drilling process, you may see a lot of big equipment, including a drill rig, large trucks, and tanks of water," the dinosaur says.
"It's for kids at an age when they color, ages 2 to 7," said Cox, the Talisman spokeswoman. "When I was young, I got a coloring book at the doctor's office. It didn't explain open-heart surgery. It was supposed to make you not scared to go to the doctor."
The fracosaurus presented a rich reservoir of material to Colbert, who played on the dead-dinosaur origins of natural gas (actually, gas comes from ancient seabeds, but dead plankton don't make such a compelling story line).
Colbert "uncovered" some "bonus pages" from the coloring book that depict a distraught fracosaurus, haunted by ghosts of dead ancestors, committing suicide by setting himself afire with natural gas.
Cox is irked that those panels, whipped up by the show's art department, also include the Talisman logo, apparently lifted from the copyrighted pages of the real coloring book.
Does that mean Talisman is contemplating legal action?
"We try to look at his show as entertainment," she said. "That being said, it was a form of entertainment."
Was she amused?
"Not at all."
Watch a clip of Steve Colbert on hydraulic fracking at http://is.gd/mwSFFT