Progress as promised...

By Hilton Price

Growing up, I was a good kid. I listened to my elders, asked before doing anything crazy, and pretty much played by the rules. My cousin Steve, not so much. He was a bit of a problem child. He liked mischief, rarely asked permission, and often found himself on the wrong end of a spanking… or worse.

Steve wasn’t a bad kid. He just had trouble staying on task. This made it harder for him even as he got older, and learned some discipline, because everyone around him still thought of Steve as a bad egg. By the time he was entering high school, he was doing well in class, excelling at extra-curricular activities, and becoming a responsible and thoughtful young man. But the stigma from his childhood still stuck around, leading to some people judging him incorrectly for much of his young adult life.

When Hurricane Isaac started heading toward the Gulf of Mexico this summer, the companies working in the region’s deepwater oil fields took notice. They sent crews away, battened down the hatches, and prepared for the storm. And after the winds and rains had died down, they didn’t rush back to the platforms and start flipping on each switch.

The companies working in the gulf began a series of checks to make sure the equipment was able to safely be restarted before production began again in the Gulf. No company rushed back into business, because no company dared risk overlooking some minor damage from the storm that could grow exponentially once the platform was operating again.

At Power-Gen International 2011’s keynote address, reshaping the image of the oil industry was touted as an important goal for the future. Finding lots and lots of oil and using it to power the world was probably also covered, but the “image reshaping” really stuck in my head. I absolutely agree that this industry should be shouting its best practices to the world, especially when they are followed diligently.

But when the companies returned to the Gulf after Isaac, the public knew little to nothing about the extensive checks underway before production began. I know it’s typically the bad news that gets attention, and “Companies slowly checking everything in the Gulf” is a pretty boring headline, but I also remember a young man I knew growing up who also needed all the good P.R. he could get.

To my new eyes on an old industry, the oil industry and my young cousin Steve have something very important in common. Both need to have their successes celebrated twice as loud as their failures, to ensure those watching understand they are doing good work.

The public’s poor perception of the oil industry isn’t without some cause, but it is certainly overkill. Companies within the industry are constantly working to ensure oil is discovered, extracted, and processed in the most safe, secure, and reliable way possible. The people working in those companies live on this planet too, and are trying to minimize impact on Earth while utilizing its resources. These are good and important companies, and this is (overall) a good industry. But there is a lot of bad press, and overcoming it means publicizing every positive moment.

Just as Steve needed his accomplishments touted twice as loud as his failures, to show his progress and promise, so should the industry be ensuring the good news gets out. It’s the best way to reshape an image, allowing companies to grow, much like my cousin, into even more productive and valuable members of society.

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