Changing Image Not Impossible Mission

President's Column

Changing our image is not an impossible task. Difficult? Yes, especially when you consider the influences and attitudes that brought us to today:

  • "The Oil Business is cannibalism — the big men eat the little men. You find anyone successful in the oil business, and he's got a guy somewhere who wants to knife him. I think every oil person is a J.R. Ewing." — A Houston citizen.
  • The image of the Texas oilman as a crude, blustery, high roller was magnified in the 1950s book and movie "Giant," in which James Dean played oilman Jett Rink.
  • Once upon a time the television series "Dallas" depicted J.R. Ewing as public enemy number one. The popular series depicted a bunch of egotistical high rollers out to cheat people.
  • "Dallas" was followed by "Dynasty," which continued to project a very negative, false, distorted image of the industry.
  • First there was the Exxon Valdez. Now there is the "old, rickety" oil tanker Prestige, which cracked and leaked about seven million gallons of oil along the coast of Spain. Spillage is a major public image problem. The public doesn't understand that these disasters have nothing to do with geoscientists and exploration.
  • "An MBA sitting in front of a computer trading natural gas and electricity has replaced the grizzled roughneck in recent years as the icon of the energy industry. There is a basic distrust of pricing fundamentals, causing a flight of investment capital from the oil industry." — The Houston Chronicle.
  • "Offshore drilling is an inherently dirty business. Even the newest technology would still significantly pollute and forever despoil the only remaining pristine waters left in the Gulf of Mexico." — Editorial in a recent Florida newspaper.
  • "Job opportunities are poor; career options are limited; oil companies continuously lay off personnel; earth science students are nerds, unaware of what happens in society, do not care about their appearance and are idealistic." — A public survey by Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
  • "The current gasoline price run-up has reinforced the image of the energy industry as a villain. This looks uncomfortably close to price gouging." — The Houston Chronicle.

Well, I'm getting tired of this, and you probably are too, so I'll stop with my favorite: "You rock people are really weird." — Taxi driver comment to me, upon learning of my passion.


Let's face it. The oil industry has a very poor public image, and geoscientists have NO public image — except that they collect rocks and fossils. Reality is very different from perception.

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Changing our image is not an impossible task. Difficult? Yes, especially when you consider the influences and attitudes that brought us to today:

  • "The Oil Business is cannibalism — the big men eat the little men. You find anyone successful in the oil business, and he's got a guy somewhere who wants to knife him. I think every oil person is a J.R. Ewing." — A Houston citizen.
  • The image of the Texas oilman as a crude, blustery, high roller was magnified in the 1950s book and movie "Giant," in which James Dean played oilman Jett Rink.
  • Once upon a time the television series "Dallas" depicted J.R. Ewing as public enemy number one. The popular series depicted a bunch of egotistical high rollers out to cheat people.
  • "Dallas" was followed by "Dynasty," which continued to project a very negative, false, distorted image of the industry.
  • First there was the Exxon Valdez. Now there is the "old, rickety" oil tanker Prestige, which cracked and leaked about seven million gallons of oil along the coast of Spain. Spillage is a major public image problem. The public doesn't understand that these disasters have nothing to do with geoscientists and exploration.
  • "An MBA sitting in front of a computer trading natural gas and electricity has replaced the grizzled roughneck in recent years as the icon of the energy industry. There is a basic distrust of pricing fundamentals, causing a flight of investment capital from the oil industry." — The Houston Chronicle.
  • "Offshore drilling is an inherently dirty business. Even the newest technology would still significantly pollute and forever despoil the only remaining pristine waters left in the Gulf of Mexico." — Editorial in a recent Florida newspaper.
  • "Job opportunities are poor; career options are limited; oil companies continuously lay off personnel; earth science students are nerds, unaware of what happens in society, do not care about their appearance and are idealistic." — A public survey by Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
  • "The current gasoline price run-up has reinforced the image of the energy industry as a villain. This looks uncomfortably close to price gouging." — The Houston Chronicle.

Well, I'm getting tired of this, and you probably are too, so I'll stop with my favorite: "You rock people are really weird." — Taxi driver comment to me, upon learning of my passion.


Let's face it. The oil industry has a very poor public image, and geoscientists have NO public image — except that they collect rocks and fossils. Reality is very different from perception.

How can we expect policy makers to understand our issues when our neighbors haven't the foggiest idea of what's going on? We are not a beloved industry in the public eyes (see page 32). In all the concern over the industries such as airlines, agriculture, auto and steel, there is little recognition of the importance of the petroleum industry to security and to our way of life.

Some have said that changing our image is an impossible task. My definition of impossible is: That which no one can do until someone does it.

So, what is AAPG doing?

Significant progress has been made by the Public Outreach Committee and other AAPG committees on the following projects. Details can be seen on our Web site (www.aapg.org).

  • A media workshop was conducted at the February AAPG Leadership Conference in Tulsa to empower and instruct our leaders on how to reach the media. As Victor Yannacone said, "The salvation of society lies in education — not education in the schools, but education through the mass media, which are now shaping the hopes, aspirations and moral judgment of this and the next generation."
  • Develop a cadre of talented geoscience writers and speakers who easily communicate energy issues to the non-technical public and provide them with materials. This will include a rapid response team that will meet threats to rational science wherever they occur.
  • AAPG's Visiting Geologists Program is expanding rapidly to reach as many university students and professors as possible — to tell them the truth about energy exploration.
  • Develop a graphics collection and prepare programs for members to use in public presentations. See the Slide Bank area on the AAPG Web site (January EXPLORER).
  • Identify and document examples of outstanding oil and gas exploration and development operations. Demonstrate sound and modern E&P practices to the public and the media.
  • Publish a colorful and information-packed booklet for the public of how modern petroleum operations are conducted without damaging the environment — based on the recent AAPG summit in Washington, D.C., "Energy and Environment: A Partnership that Works."
  • Develop materials that meet teacher needs — coordinating with AAPG's Youth Education Activities Committee. Their Web site features a special page called "Geo-Resources" for teachers and volunteers to use for finding teachers aids. Our sister societies and various state organizations are contributing.
  • Develop and implement Earth Science Week activities and programs, and to become involved with Earth Day. The American Geological Institute, with strong financial support from AAPG and the AAPG Foundation, provides Earth Science Week packets full of teaching materials and activities.
  • A special "Knowledge Capture Committee" will prepare videotape interviews of geologists, landmen, engineers, refinery employees, drilling contractors and others who may contribute to the history of the industry. We will work with public television with the goal of presenting these to the general public.

AAPG will lead the effort to tell the truth and overcome unscrupulous, unprincipled and scientifically irrational public perceptions.

We will teach the public that oil and gas doesn't come from big hollow caverns in the dirt. No energy consuming person should be left behind in understanding the basics of where their energy comes from.

Only then will policy makers pay attention to reality and make rational decisions that have long-term positive consequences for society.

Public image is everything.