Oil Companies to Counter Public Opposition

Published June 2014 in Petroleum Industry Review (pgs 58-59).

Although the oil industry is the United States is booming, drilling projects can face being stalled or stopped altogether when an aggressive public affairs campaign is not employed. Being able to control the message from when the project becomes public is crucial.

To ensure one’s oil production project goes smoothly, companies need to strategically counter public opposition. According to the US Energy Information Administration, crude oil production today is approaching the historical high achieved in 1970 at over 9 million barrels per day. Ongoing technological advancements for crude oil production are still continuing to influence and reshape the US’s energy economy. However, opponents are also becoming more technologically-savvy, utilizing methods such as social media to rally more opposition to oil production projects.

Environmental activists and local residents threaten oil drilling projects, citing worries such as fear of destroying or harming the ecosystem. For example, the Spanish government is currently facing massive protests to discourage Cairn Energy from drilling oil in Ibiza, a popular tourist site. Despite studies showing the Spanish oil industry could potentially create 250,000 jobs, local fisherman, activists, and even celebrities are publicly opposing Spain’s oil production due to concerns with tourism, aesthetic, and harming the ecosystem. To avoid one’s oil production efforts from being halted, developers need to craft an effective public outreach strategy, similar to a politician’s campaign to win an election. Unfortunately, many oil and gas companies neglect to formulate an effective strategy; supporters are never given the chance to help and the opposition create a vocal but influential minority. By running a political style campaign, one can reach every residents’ concerns and enlist the aid of supporters. Here are some important tactics that oil and gas companies should consider in their outreach efforts:

Stay in control of the message

Use direct mail to reach all relevant households. To further identify supporters, use newspaper web advertisements or telephone identification tactics. Be proactive in one’s campaign by hosting an open house and inviting all residents to come and voice their concerns. By personally disseminating information to the community, one gains control of the campaign’s message, and eases the concerns of local residents who want to voice their concerns early on.

Meet with the identified supporters

After identifying supporters, it is crucial to meet with them periodically and update them on the project developments. Let all supporters know that they are extremely important, and are essential to any project’s success. If there are community meetings, alerting supporters or asking them to attend can greatly boost the success of your campaign. Never underestimate the influence that even one supporter can have one’s public affairs outreach.

Build grasstops support

Get to know local business and communities that will be affected by the development. Listen to their concerns and let them know their opinion matters. Use social media to ensure rapid communication, and ask supporters to “share” the campaign’s Facebook page to reach even more members of the community: Important dates of open houses or town meetings can be posted onto the company’s Facebook or Twitter.

Keep an updated database

Each supporter should be identified onto an organized database. To further ensure success, make a note of supporters’ geographic location as well as any affiliations or organizations they may be part of. This will help later on if one needs to strategically target a certain location. Supporters are oftentimes willing to help, but they need to be asked! People are more likely to sit down and write a letter to their government official if one has personally asked for their help. Remember that each and every resident is important.

Never let the opposition take control of the message by employing an efficient and highly effective campaign. Next year, the US is expected to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer. But simply waiting until the oil production project has already been publicized is oftentimes not enough to combat that concerns of local residents. A campaign must be proactive and aggressive to successfully defeat opposition to development.