OTC 2015, Day 1: Elected officials ask oil and gas to keep improving communication
Otmane El Rhazi from The Barrel Blog.
Every hero needs a sidekick, every dog needs its day, and every oil and gas conference has to talk about bettering communication with the public, it seems.
The 2015 Offshore Technology Conference in Houston this week is no exception. Today is the first day of the conference, which regularly brings in about 90,000 attendees (or more) to hear from industry execs and elected officials and to learn about the companies, organizations and countries represented in booths and demonstrations.
One of the first panels was titled “Offshore Energy Development: Improving Federal & State Cooperation.” Ostensibly, the panel should have been about improving communication between the federal and state governments while working toward a more energy-diverse, energy-secure future in the US. In reality, it talked more about the relationship between the energy industry and the public.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory was there representing his state, and described how he has his eye on developing offshore oil and gas in the mid-Atlantic, beginning with seismic testing this fall. But he noted that any plans have to be sold to his constituents, and he repeatedly said residents don’t have a real idea where energy comes from, what sorts of energy are used in the state, and all the various parts of everyday life impacted by energy (i.e., almost every single part).
“I think you need to do more than 30- and 60-second commercials on TV,” he said, calling for more outreach, and, in particular, for showing that many energy production projects in the state could be economically beneficial and environmentally sound.
(The “energy-or-environment” argument came up a couple of times during the panel; moderator David Holt, of the Consumer Energy Alliance, at one point said it put forth a false choice and “everyone in this room is an environmentalist,” reminding me of this blog post from a few years ago.)
McCrory noted that elected representatives reflect the knowledge of the people who elect them — and so more education is needed to make representatives on all levels better.
US Senator Thom Tillis, also from North Carolina, added his support, saying that while many people may have some idea about energy and its effects, they may not realize that energy policy affects other areas, like agriculture.
US Representative Rob Bishop, chairman of the US House Resources Committee, made reference to the communication between federal agencies and states near the end of the panel, saying federal agencies should be forced to talk to each other because “they don’t do that now.”
He also said states should have more opportunities than just open-comment periods to weigh in on energy plans.
“They have to become an active partner,” he said.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abigail Hopper, as the only non-elected official on the panel, said she welcomed input from states, industry insiders and more.
“We work best when we work together,” she said, adding she wanted to have an open-door policy to others who can provide insight the BOEM doesn’t have.
While the panel encouraged the energy industry to do a better job of communication with governments, the public, academia and more, McCrory also asked the industry to turn its attention inward, actively self-patrolling against those who are not good players “because they will pull us all down.”
I know I’m not an objective participant in this discussion; I’ve been at an energy publication company for just around three years, and while my knowledge is far greater than that of perhaps the average Joe, it’s also just a drop in the bucket compared with those who work in this industry.
So tell me what you experience: How do you talk about energy to those who aren’t in the industry? What do you or your employers do to educate the public? How should we go about reaching out to others? And, on related topic, how do we improve cooperation and communication between the federal and state governments? And how about communication among energy companies?