Former Shell chief to industry: ‘You get the public policy you deserve’

Washington is pushing an anti-energy policy that is fitting for an industry that does a poor job communicating with Americans about the positive role its work has in people’s lives, a former Shell Oil executive said Tuesday.

John Hofmeister, who retired from Shell in 2008 and now heads the group Citizens for Affordable Energy, headlined a panel discussion in Houston that addressed the energy industry’s public relations problem and how to fix it.

The discussion, sponsored by the group Texas Young Professionals and held at The Tasting Room wine cafe near the Galleria, came at a time when public opinion polls regularly rank the industry toward the bottom  in terms of favorability, panelists said.

“The industry is so inwardly focused that it doesn’t want to get into the dialogue that could take place,” Hofmeister said. “You get the public policy you deserve based on the behavior you exhibit.”

Read more: Former Shell chief calls for overhaul of U.S. energy approach

Hofmeister said there are two primary reasons why Americans don’t like the industry: The industry has no face and is fundamentally silent on everyday issues and the influence of short-sighted politicians who have an agenda.

He and other members of the panel, which included public relations and energy industry professionals, said the answer is for firms to humanize what they do and more actively engage the public as a regular part of their operations, not just when disasters strike.

“That’s what gets things done – real people,” Hofmeister said.

He also suggested there is a regional bias toward the energy industry in Houston from policymakers on the East Coast and members of the public elsewhere in the country.

“The message from Houston is, ‘OK, you can freeze in the dark,’” Hofmeister said.

But Brandy Brazell Obvintsev, a communications specialist and founder of Energy People Connect, said the industry should be focused on repairing its image, rather than worrying about geography.

“We have a big stack of hate mail to go through before we deal with whether they hate us because we’re Texas,” Obvintsev said.