A recent survey conducted online by FleishmanHillard on behalf of EY revealed that oil and natural gas industry executives felt they could improve on communicating with the public and explaining the impact of regulations to the public.

Of those surveyed, 43% rated finesse of communicating with the public as “Fair” while 22% rated it “Good” and 32% rated it “Poor.” Meanwhile,  39% rated explaining the impact of regulations as both “Fair” and “Poor” while only 21% rated it “Good”—the “Excellent” rankings for both areas were just 3% and 2%, respectively. Also, out of the total 109 who were surveyed, 76% of executives said they had a low expectation of public trust in the industry.

Energy executives, along with 1,004 Americans 19 years and older and 200 Americans between the ages of 16 and 18, were surveyed between Feb. 28 and March 5.

The public surveyed revealed that 38% of adults ages 19 and over had a neutral view of the energy industry, with 30% somewhat positive, 14% somewhat negative and 6% very negative.

Rachel Everaard, principal for EY U.S. oil and gas people advisory services, said several of the surveyed executives said they wanted to increase “activity in community schools, programs directed toward women and minorities, and digital media,” as part of improved communication efforts.

“In support of these points, executives also referenced the need to share the industry’s climate-friendly programs and to bolster communications around careers,” she said.

Employment

There were wider gaps from those surveyed when it came to oil and gas as a major employer: 79% of the total; 80% of adults 19 and older; and 70% of teenagers.

Deborah Byers, U.S. energy leader at EY, pointed out the gap between industry desire to employ younger people and young people entering the sector. Younger generations can perceive corporate greed, the problem of price gouging, environmental concerns and that oil and gas lacks sophistication of other industries, leading to the gap, Byers and other EY presenters said.

Indeed, the participants came closer together on whether they agreed that “the oil and gas industry is not worth the impact to the environment”: 42% of the total 16 years of age and older; 41% of adults 19 and older; with a spike in 56% of teens 16 to 18 saying they agreed.

Responding to the question, “when you think of the oil and gas industry, which of the following is closer to your view?” 69% of teenagers, 52% of adults and 53% of the total aged 16 and over responded that “the oil and gas industry causes problems.”

Everaard said participants were not asked about what problems the industry causes. But she added that “68% of the respondents [the total public sample] say the industry is a polluter … some of the problems they are referencing are related to the environment.”

“The younger generation is very clearly focused on environmental concerns, climate change,” Byers said.

Technology, Jobs

Adding that the energy sector ranked third behind automotive—fourth behind technology--Byers highlighted criticism of the energy sector as very cyclical, leading to the possibility of layoffs during a bust in the cycle, while the automotive industry has also had cycles, yet energy ranks below it. Energy ranked above investment banking and pharmaceuticals.

“Not surprisingly, technology is the top. Everybody wants to go to work in San Jose, the West Coast, Austin [Texas]; we see this in our own recruiting. And the gap there is fairly material,” she said.

“And this is critical as you think about the future of labor,” Everaard noted, “where people want to work, because what’s out there is a lot around technology jobs …. Everyone wants to go work for Facebook or otherwise because they have a positive perception of the industry. So what you have a positive perception of also influences where you want to go work. As an individual, you want to be proud about where you say that you’re employed. You don’t necessarily see that for energy.”

Everaard pointed out that the majority of the surveyed public population was in the South, where it would be assumed there would be a higher positive perception of oil and gas and how much it drives the economy. “But that’s contrary to what we’re seeing. It shows that shift in the demographics--the shift that I think the executives weren’t anticipating.”

Byers remarked that the oil and gas industry has done a good job conveying to young people how technologically advanced and innovative the sector is.

Regarding careers, 43% the executives themselves indicated that the industry does a fair job attracting young people to the workforce, and 50% ranked the industry as a good corporate citizen while 25% and 24% ranked its corporate citizenship “Excellent” and “Fair,” respectively. Only 3% gave a “Poor” rating vs. a 49% “Positive” rating on the use of innovative technology.

Trust

Close numbers came in for “the oil and gas industry can be trusted to do the right thing”: 37% of the total; 37% of adults 19 and older; and 33% of teenagers.

While 80% of adults 19 and older agreed that the industry is a major employer, only 40% said it cared for its employees, while only 37% said it “can be trusted to do the right thing.”

Everaard linked the public’s distrust of the industry, which could be colored by attributes like greed, with less likelihood of the industry caring for employees.

“In their responses, many executives acknowledge that volatility in the industry may impact the public’s view of it as an employer … though layoffs due to volatility aren’t equally impactful across the U.S.”

Current events other than layoffs also spring to mind.

“This expectation of a lack of trust from the public is likely a factor of how experienced the industry executives were that were surveyed. For example, 36% had 30-39 years of industry experience. These years of experience coupled with public interactions around pipeline protests, accidents and environmental issues may have created a somewhat pessimistic mindset,” she said, when asked what 76% of executives could have had in mind when they responded that public trust was low.

Executives grew introspective on other areas:

  • 53% said they provide good returns to shareholders;
  • 54% said the industry does well participating responsibly in politics, while just 14% said “Excellent”; and
  • A 40% “Fair” rating outweighed 30% “Good”—and 7% “Excellent”—gauge of how well the industry combats climate change.

The survey aimed to understand executives’ self-perceptions, compare and contrast consumers’ opinions with executives’ and gather insights and feedback from the executives’ reactions to findings from the consumer survey.

Erin Pedigo can be reached at epedigo@hartenergy.com.