Monday, May 3, 2010

Big Oil: A Failure to Communicate

By Alan Caruba

In the movie, “Cool Hand Luke”, the warden of the prison camp explains his harsh treatment saying, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

I was thinking of that in the wake of the BP oil rig disaster because, it has long seemed to me that the oil industry has failed to communicate its story to Americans. Instead, it has slunk around with its tail between its legs frequently apologizing for playing an absolutely essential role in the success of the nation.

In his new book, “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future”, my friend Robert Bryce says, “Amidst all the rhetoric about the evils of oil, the evils of OPEC, the claims that we are ‘addicted’ to oil, that oil fosters terrorism, that we can ‘win the oil endgame’, or that oil is killing the planet, the simple unavoidable truth is that using oil makes us rich. In fact, if oil didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.”

The formula is simplicity itself. “As oil consumption increases, so does prosperity. In the countries where oil demand is more than 12 barrels per capita per year, gross domestic production (GDP) is at least two times as high as those where oil demand is six barrels or lower.”

Concerning oil, Bryce points out that “for all the problems that oil creates, it also provides us with unprecedented mobility, comfort, and convenience. Although we think of oil primarily as a transportation fuel, it’s also a nearly perfect fuel for heating, can be used to generate electricity, and, when refined, can be turned into an array of products, from cosmetics to shoelaces and bowling balls to milk jugs.”

Let me point out that the world is not running out of oil. New reserves of oil are found every year. The U.S. is home to vast untapped reserves of oil and unbelievably vast amounts of coal. In both cases, the federal government has shut off access. Some States are beginning to challenge this, asserting their sovereign eminent domain.

I have been a public relations counselor since the 1970s and if I had to give the oil industry (and coal too) a grade for their efforts to make a case for their contribution to our personal lifestyles and the industrial success of our nation, I would give them both an “F”.

The Greens with their lies about “dirty fuels” and supposed threats to the planet have run circles around the oil companies. In an effort to look more Green the company’s advertising have often portray themselves as being in tune with the environmental lies about global warming. Exxon’s ads routinely refer to their efforts to offset greenhouse gas emissions even though they play no role in climate change.

Top of the list of panderers, however, has been BP (British Petroleum), an oil company squarely at the heart of the latest catastrophe. Its motto has been “Beyond Petroleum” as if to say oil was not the focus of their business. Horse feathers!

In a recent Energy Tribune commentary, Bryce, a co-editor, reflected the views of oil industry leaders referring to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster as “a reputational disaster for the entire U.S. offshore business.”

The opponents of oil always portray the industry as some evil giant, a powerful influence that shapes legislation in Congress and opinion among Americans and others worldwide. If that is the case, why has the oil industry been unable to get the offshore exploration and drilling ban lifted on 85% of the nation’s coastlines where billions of barrels of oil and cubic meters of natural gas are known to exist?

Imposed during the Carter administration, it was not until the tail end of the Bush43 administration that any effort was taken to lift the ban. President Obama made some passing remarks about lifting the ban, but the BP oil rig disaster will now ensure that access to our nation’s reserves of energy will be further delayed. The Obama administration has made no secret of its resistance to granting offshore leases.

Nor has the industry had any success it budging several administrations from their opposition to drilling in Alaska’s ANWR region, as desolate as any on Earth, but home to billions of untapped barrels of oil.

The public remains uninformed about the role oil plays in our economy and in their lives. It is central to globalization because, without diesel and jet fuel, there would be no global transportation system. Products manufactured in China and elsewhere would never reach ours or any other shores. Without oil, nothing would be delivered within the nation. Without jet fuel, people could not move about the globe with ease and speed.

Meanwhile, the campaigns of major Green organizations to deny Americans access to their own natural resources continues without any significant or successful effort to tell the real energy story.

Not all the ethanol or wind or solar could ever begin to meet the nation’s energy needs and none of these “clean energy” options deserve the billions the U.S. government is shoveling into their coffers as quickly as possible.

If Cap-and-Trade legislation becomes law, the economy will plummet and the lives of all Americans will become even more expensive to maintain.

For all the money the oil companies presumably spend on advertising and on public relations, they have been drilling empty holes for a very long time.

© Alan Caruba, 2010


Ol James said...

Were the States to exercise their right and allow Off Shore Leases to be put in production, I see financial gain for all that can.
States, Counties, Municipalities and Rural areas would prosper like, pardon the example, Indian Reservations allowing Gambling.
The reason Oil companies import oil is basically price control.
Natural Gas/Propane have come from the Gulf for decades. But, when the price of a gallon of gasoline rises so does Natural Gas. Funny, I don't think there are cargo vessels bringing it from Saudi Arabia and other "Oil Nations"??
Oil Companies may not have the Gold in the Golden Rule...
...but they like to make the rules and set the standards..
"He who has the Gold, makes the Rules."

Ron H. said...

Thanks for the tip on Robert Bryce's new book. I'll have to get it. I've read his previous book "Gusher of Lies", and learned a lot. I think he is spot on on the subject of energy in general and oil in particular.

I no longer believe the appeals to become "energy independent", or to "break our addiction to foreign oil".
These are political slogans with no meaning in the real world.

OI JAMES I think that oil companies buy oil from the cheapest seller; pure and simple. This means mostly foreign oil, as domestic oil may be more expensive.

Rich Kozlovich said...


Your argument could be used against the PR activities of every successful industry in the developed world.

The chemical industry and all of its related industries is a classic example of this kind of failure. It is failure of vision, a failure of greed, a failure of insight, and last but not least a failure of courage.

Rich K

Alan Caruba said...

Rich: It is a matter a policy among most corporations to avoid direct contact with the press and to tightly control any contact that occurs. The job of the communications VP is to not communicate if it can be avoided.

Ol James: Oil, as you point out, is a global commodity. Every nation competes to buy it no matter the source. It is the lifeblood of modern civilization.