AAPG Site Search | Home > EXPLORER >Archives > March 2003 > Question of the Month:

Editor's note: Well, did you have a good Valentine's Day last month? Did all that talk about love make you feel important, significant and admired?

Good. Now let's get back to reality.


The Answer Is ...

We Don't Think Too Much of Them Either

For the past several months the EXPLORER has offered this column as a service to our members -- it's our way of helping you prepare yourself to educate the public about your profession and industry. They have questions, and we provide answers here that are so basic even THEY can understand them.

But this month, the question is designed to help you, our wonderful members -- because, it turns out, THEY already have some thoughts about you and your professional life.

Question of the month:

Is the public's opinion of the petroleum industry really low, or is that media propaganda?

Short answer: It's even worse than you think.

Click to enlarge.

And if you think there's nothing wrong with having J.R. Ewing for a neighbor, brace yourself ...

A recent Golin/Harris poll asked what industries people felt they could trust. The oil and gas industry finished dead last, with a negative 63 percent rating.

Surveys taken during times of high oil prices find public sentiment running 4-to-1 against the industry.

Roger Olien is a history professor and J. Conrad Dunagan Chair of Regional and Business History at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, Texas. With Diana Davids Olien, he wrote the book Oil and Ideology: The Cultural Creation of the American Petroleum Industry.

Their work traces the growth and reputation of the industry from its beginnings through World War II, a time when the Rockefeller-Standard Oil monopoly first turned public opinion against Big Oil.

"I don't think it's changed much at all. The industry today is seen more accurately as a global big business," Olien said. "With the disappearance of three of the Seven Sisters, it's hard to argue with that."

Olien attributes the public's view of the petroleum business, in part, to "a pervasive ignorance of economics." And the industry hasn't had much success in spreading its story, he noted.

Shell Oil did release a series of short education films about petroleum in the 1960s, Olien recalled. "The text was sort of high school level and the photography was beautiful," he said, "but nobody has followed up on it."

In fact, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent over the years to turn public opinion around -- to little avail.

Speeches and statements from industry leaders don't do any good at all, Olien observed:

"Anything they say is seen as self-interested, for good reason."


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