Canadian oil and gas industry is caught in 1950s time warp, incapable of innovative communications with Canadians
If you ever wondered why the oil and gas industry does so poorly with the Canadian public, look no further than a playful and clever American PR campaign called “Fracking for President.”
As I reported Wednesday, the campaign was launched Monday by North Texans for Natural Gas, an industry-funded group that runs public education campaigns in support of hydraulic fracturing specifically and oil and gas production more generally.
The idea is that Fracking is a 59-year old woman running for president of the United States of America, complete with a policy platform and, in a few weeks, a virtual bus tour of campaign stops. There will even be a vice-presidential candidate.
According to Courtney Loper, a “spokeswoman for Fracking for President,” the campaign video has already enjoyed over 560,000 views on Facebook (which already has almost 100,000 likes) and 35,000 on Youtube. This is a roaring success, especially considering the campaign is aimed at Millennial voters.
By comparison, Canadians are public relations putzes.
Why? Because most Canadian oil and gas executives – and the association employees they hire in organizations like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Energy Pipelines Association – still think it’s the 1950s, when “public stakeholders” were defined as the regulator, government, and maybe a few affected land owners.
It’s 2016, but the Canadian industry only grudgingly admits that climate change might actually be a thing.
And don’t get oilmen started on social license, which in their minds is decidedly NOT a thing.
Let me tell you a little story that illustrates the problem. Back in 2010, I met with a CEPA executive who explained the Canadian pipeline approval process this way (paraphrased): “The operator submits the application to the regulator and everyone makes a lot of noise. The regulator approves the application and everyone makes a lot more noise. Then the pipeline is built underground and out of sight and everyone forgets about pipelines until the next one comes along.”
Is it any wonder both the pipeline operators (i.e. Enbridge, TransCanada, Kinder Morgan) and oil and gas producers were caught flat footed by the ferocious opposition from BC First Nations and environmental organizations? Not to mention the high profile push back against the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States.
As Keith Brownsey, Mount Royal University political scientist told me during an interview, “These people are so old school they border on irrational.
“These are really smart people, they can get oil and gas out of anything and get it to market, but God, they are just so socially dim.”
By “these people” Brownsey means the engineers, accountants, and lawyers who dominate the Canadian oil and gas industry. The same crowd that sits on the boards of industry associations like CAPP and CEPA, and are ensconced in executive positions as well.
Could CAPP or CEPA have pulled off a “Fracking for Prime Minister” campaign?
Not a chance. The two organizations together couldn’t muster a single sense of humor. Or the institutional backbone to stand behind even the most slightly controversial approach to selling the virtues of oil and gas to Canadians; Tim McMillan of CAPP would have folded like a cheap tent five minutes after Greenpeace issued the obligatory press release condemning the initiative.
And that’s why the Northern Gateway pipeline project is all but dead in the water and Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain Expansion is facing such high levels of opposition in Burnaby.
Industry is behind the times.
If the day ever comes when we can imagine CAPP or CEPA thinking even a bit outside the box like North Texans for Natural Gas with “Fracking for President,” then industry will have caught up.
Based on its track record, that time is not likely to arrive in the near future.