Two Countries, Two Views On Oil & Gas

One of the perks of working in a global industry such as oil & gas is the opportunity to do business in some really amazing places.  These trips are of course not only a great way to see some new sights, but also get a chance to see how differently citizens of another country react to one issue or another.

A few weeks ago, I was on such a trip in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, helping out with some presentations to clients.  Beyond the beautiful beaches and friendly people, one of the things that really struck me was the attitude the majority of the population seems to have towards oil & gas.

In Brazil, Petrobras (the country’s national operator) is a symbol of national pride.  To me, this makes all the sense in the world:  I believe that some of humanity’s greatest engineering feats have been achieved offshore in the search for hydrocarbons, and Petrobras is at the cutting edge of this activity.  How great must that be for Brazilians to know?  Just as important though is that the people working for Petrobras are professionals, and they understand that it is their responsibility to protect Brazil’s environment (on display in this shot I took of stunning Ipanema Beach).

Is this worth protecting?  Absolutely!
Is this worth protecting? Absolutely!

In fact, working for Petrobras actually requires passing an exam that is administered nationally only a few times a year.  Not only is this test rigorous (ensuring high technical standards in Petrobras’ people) it is also the only way to join the company’s ranks (ensuring that senior employees all share the same company culture and values).

More broadly though, Brazil’s people see the country’s offshore hydrocarbon reserves as an asset, which will generate the revenues necessary to propel them along the path to being citizens of a fully developed country.  Granted, Brazil isn’t there yet, and it will take time, but both the will and the means are there.

In the United States (and, to be fair, many other countries), the views from many of those who don’t work in this industry couldn’t be more different:  large swaths of the population seem to see their resource base as a curse, exploited only by companies who’ll stop at nothing to make money.  Here, we have anti-fracing activists, demonstrations against the Keystone XL pipeline, and it’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone in the media really speak out in praise of this industry.

Certainly, people have the right to their own views, though I can’t help but think that these opinions are based on a few key misconceptions.  Now, to clear some of those up, please allow me a moment of sarcasm to let those against this industry in on a secret.  If you count yourself as part of that group, you may want to brace yourself…

Ready for it?

My peers working in oil and gas care just as much about the environment as you do!  In fact, I can state very surely that working for our respective employers and generally being a responsible citizen are not mutually exclusive.  Actually, it does affect me when I hear protesters calling this industry greedy, irresponsible and uncaring, because I think to myself:  “wait, that doesn’t sound like me or anyone I know…”

Believe me here:  we all like taking a walk in the park, wandering along a beach, and breathing fresh air.  My colleagues who have children care just as much about them as professionals in other fields, and definitely have no intention of leaving them a planet in bad shape.  The bottom line is this:  if we trash our environment, we are just as exposed to the consequences as those who don’t work alongside us, so we have a vested interested in protecting what we have.

As Young Professionals working in oil & gas, I think we just take a pragmatic view of things:  YES, having options is a great thing and we should seek to broaden our energy mix, and YES, we should (just like Brazil) commend and encourage steps taken in the direction of more renewable sources of energy, but for now, oil & gas play a crucial role in the world.  In fact, even if you believe that we could completely replace hydrocarbons tomorrow as a source of energy, what about their role as building blocks for everything from shampoo to bicycle helmets?

So, if this is the current state of things, and oil & gas really are necessary to our way of life, what can the industry do to move public support more in its favor, and enjoy a reputation similar to the one that Petrobras has earned from the Brazilians?

That’s something I could write dozens of posts on, so let’s just start with some open, one-on-one dialogue.  What do you think of the oil & gas industry, and why do you have those views?  What can we do as individuals and as industry to help ease your apprehensions and work more closely with you?  If you’re in favor of oil & gas exploration, what are some of the things you think the industry has and hasn’t done well in reaching out to people?