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
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
"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
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
Speeches and statements from industry leaders don't
do any good at all, Olien observed:
"Anything they say is seen as self-interested, for
-- DAVID BROWN