It is not my purpose to discuss the most recent environmental disaster and the tragic loss of life experienced by the energy industry, but rather to comment on the longstanding issue of "the image thing" that has burdened the energy industry since 1859 with the Drake well in Titusville—and really since man discovered fire. This current event only heightens focus on the energy industry and adds to the image problem.
Much of this problem is the industry's own fault as it has ignored or abdicated any real responsibility or concerted sustainable effort to inform and educate the public of the role energy plays in our economic well-being and in our environmental quality of life. In the famous words of Walt Kelly's Pogo, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
Image taints everyone associated with the energy industry, including its trade associations. In spite of the very good factual material being aired these days by the American Petroleum Institute and others, the message may be discounted by the public audience simply because it can be identified as coming from individuals or organizations that are carrying this baggage.
At most, periodically, in reaction to some event like the Deep Horizon or another crisis, we hear the often-repeated talking-the-talk about how important the industry's image really is. The May 10, 2010, Oil & Gas Journal editorial (p. 16), "Image and reality," is the most recent and justifiably needs to be aired. Indeed, the tie between image and reality is absolutely correct.
Where is the call for walking-the-walk? Even this letter to OGJ is no better than all the past "talk" unless some possible ways to "walk" are offered for consideration.
In a recent survey it was very encouraging to see how the respondents (mainly young professionals) concluded that the energy industry itself is responsible for educating the public about the realities of energy (http://www.spe.org/twa/print/archives/2010/12 Format.pdf). In addition, they also recognized that the messenger is just as important as the message.
So let this be a call to action. This action needs catalysts with clout who have no other agenda than developing an informed, energy-literate public. The specifics of what, how to, and how much will it cost will be determined by these catalysts. Nevertheless, now is as good a time as any to start the process.
Do such individuals exist in the energy industry?
Energy Literacy Project