Save Article Instructions

Some dislike oil companies; some just dislike oil

Bob Tippee

While battling recently against misguided energy legislation, a veteran oil and gas industry representative observed, "They're trying to put us out of business."

Although the industry dodged the worst of what its opponents in Congress proposed in the latest fight, it remains a popular target for political punishment.

Oil companies and the associations that represent them in Washington, DC, need to give systematic thought to repeated efforts to put them out of business.

It's not enough to whine about being misunderstood. It's not enough to think public education alone will solve the problem. Attitudes must be changed. The job is difficult.

It can be useful to start by distinguishing between two factors of antagonism toward the oil and gas industry: Some people dislike oil companies. Some people just dislike oil.

Among people who dislike oil companies are those who hate corporations, especially large ones, in general. Antagonism from this group is constant, but the group itself probably isn't large.

In a much larger group are the people who dislike oil companies when prices of oil products are high and when, therefore, oil-company profits also are high. Antagonism from this group subsides when oil prices fall.

Oil companies should find ways to turn the cyclicality of this source of antagonism to its advantage. It should at least expect trouble from the public and politicians when oil prices jump and act preemptively with its public relations and advertising.

People who just dislike oil are, like corporation-haters, a constant source of antagonism. Most are environmental activists. Without blushing, they will argue against oil and gas leasing of federal land because the activity might lead to the burning of hydrocarbons.

Many oil haters probably are corporation haters, too. Both groups are beyond enlightenment.

The remaining group, though, deserves attention. It encompasses haters of oil companies who do not also hate oil as a substance or corporations in general.

The hatred of these people correlates with oil prices and oil-company profits and therefore, unlike that of the other group, can be dealt with if the industry will make the effort.

(Online Dec. 15, 2007; author's e-mail:

To access this Article, go to: