While the oil industry has long had a negative image with the public, it appears it may be getting worse. A new Gallup poll asked thousands of Americans how they felt about the nation’s 25 largest industries, and 61 percent said they had a negative feeling toward oil companies, according to 24/7 Wall Street.
That’s a higher negative rating than respondents had for the government, and higher than all other private industries.
Meanwhile, the computer industry continues to top the list of most favored businesses, weighing in with 73 percent. This isn’t likely to help the oil industry’s persecution complex. The industry, as I noted during the Offshore Technology Conference, prefers to dismiss the American people as uneducated and unappreciative of the huge technological accomplishments. Certainly, most Americans don’t understand the complexity of energy production.
It’s worth noting that at the time of the Gallup poll, gasoline prices were rising, which doesn’t help public opinion. Also contributing: the industry’s profits at a time of rising gas prices and a perception of a poor environmental record.
Rounding out the top 5 most hated industries were banking, health care, real estate and pharmaceuticals. In other words, even after the banking industry almost destroyed the global economy, it’s still held in higher regard than oil companies.
At conferences and speeches, I’m often asked what the oil industry can do to change it’s image. My response — “sell iPads” — usually gets a laugh. But it does speak to the oil industry’s fundamental image problem. Apple makes products that people want to buy. Exxon Mobil makes a product that people feel they have to buy.
Public perception, though, is increasingly important for the oil industry. Not only have its tax credits come under fire in recent years, it also is dealing with the general public more directly than it has in the past because of hydraulic fracturing. Fracking has brought oil producers literally into people’s backyards in some cases, and that proximity combined with the industry’s dismissive attitude toward public concern has spurred anti-fracking legislation. If the industry learns to be transparent and responsive to such concerns, it could result it better public understanding, and ultimately, allow oil companies to move behind bankers on the most-hated list.