Over the past few years, our Linhart Public Relations team has worked with several oil and gas companies based in Denver, producing in Colorado or both, on work ranging from media training and message development to crisis planning to employee communications.
Among the most interesting challenges has been helping energy company employees become more effective grass-roots advocates through the development of a smartphone app providing facts, figures, graphics and videos that explain how oil and gas can be produced safely and responsibly in Colorado while providing great jobs and a host of economic benefits. We’ve developed apps for three producers that together are responsible for most of the energy produced in Colorado’s Wattenberg Field, and the content has since been adopted by industry advocacy groups.
Following the recent decline in oil prices, we’ve seen some Colorado producers reduce capital investment, lay off employees and slash spending on communications and community engagement. The latter is short-sighted – the wrong move at the wrong time. Here’s why:
1. The “social license to operate” required for energy companies doesn’t become less necessary as commodity prices fluctuate. Host communities for drilling operations don’t care about the price of oil and gas – they care about real and perceived environmental, health, safety and quality of life impacts. In this op-ed in the Houston Business Journal, PR Council President Kathy Cripps argues that now is that time to ramp up communications budgets, not cut them.
2. Colorado is on the front lines in the national battle over energy production. In 2014, activists opposed to fossil fuels threatened to place on the ballot initiatives that would have crippled energy production in Colorado if approved. The initiatives were withdrawn after Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper brokered a compromise by agreeing to appoint a task force to recommend ways to keep producing energy while addressing community concerns. Anti-fracking activists have not ruled out placing a fracking ban on the ballot in 2016 – so now is not the time for unilateral disarmament by the industry.
3. Oil and gas prices will go back up! Both oil and gas have recovered somewhat from their January lows. With tensions rising in the Middle East and Iran or its proxies controlling key maritime chokepoints for crude, it’s a fair bet the oil price recovery will continue. When that happens and rig counts rise again, Colorado producers had better hope the progress they made on community engagement in good times hasn’t eroded during bad times.