Burgers, crayons could boost industry image, execs say

The pressure is on the oil industry.

That was the message from Southwestern Energy CEO Steve Mueller during the opening keynote address of the NAPE Expo’s business conference on Wednesday. There is persistent public concern about oil and gas production, much of it related to hydraulic fracturing, Mueller said.

But energy executives can’t just insist their companies are safe and hope that their message will win over the public, since many people believe there are serious health and environmental risks involved in oil and gas production, he said.

“Any time there’s a risk, you’re going to magnify that and you’re going to decrease the positive, so just going out and saying the positive part is not going to be the answer,” Mueller said. “We can’t just say that 90 percent of the industry is doing a good job. … We have to figure out some way that we can capture their imagination.”

One way to do that might be by reaching out to children, he said.

That message was echoed by Scott Noble, CEO of Noble Royalties. He credited Newt Gingrich for the idea of distributing coloring books that could help children understand the role the oil industry plays in society. Talisman Energy tried that idea, releasing its Talisman Terry, the Friendly Fracosaurus, coloring book in 2011. But the company caught some flak for cartoon character and ditched the book soon after.

Other outreach efforts could illustrate the economic benefits energy companies provide society, including the services supported by oil industry tax dollars, Noble said.

“Our financial windfall has to show that we care in some way and then I think we can get them from one side to the other,” he said.

He compared the effort to promote the industry as similar to marketing other products.

“McDonald’s doesn’t have a great hamburger folks, and they still outsell everybody,” he said.

Noble also ridiculed other sources of energy, like wind. He argued that wind turbines are far less productive than oil and gas in terms of energy production, and said that attempting to replace one oil and gas well would require scores of windmills.

“Good luck with that model,” he said.

He also said the fight for supporting the oil and gas industry could start in schools, where there is a large emphasis on education about the environment.

“You have three classes on rain forests, you have zero on oil and gas,” he said.