Energy companies can and should do a better job of messaging and communicating with the public, panelists at the 2014 American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) said Monday in Houston. Information not provided by the industry will likely come from other sources, and the industry will lose an opportunity to control the message.
“Knowledge is power, and one must make use of it or lose that power,” Heather Saucier, AAPG Explorer correspondent said.
If the industry fails to communicate, non-scientists outside of the industry will step in to fill the knowledge gaps, often to the detriment of the industry, she added.
That was one of the main points made by the panelists for the session “Communicating Our Science”, which explored the importance of having energy companies communicate more openly with the media and the public.
It is possible, Saucier said, for the energy industry and reporters to work collaboratively, and for the industry to even profit from good working relationships with the media in times of crisis.
One editor on the panel gave an example of how the public’s lack of knowledge of the industry can work against the industry.
A majority of the people polled in the United Kingdom attach a negative connotation to the word “fracking.” However, when the same group of people asked how they felt about “hydraulic fracturing,” the response was overwhelmingly positive, panelist Jane Whaley, editor in chief for GEO ExPro Magazine, said.
It is important for scientists within the industry to learn to talk to the media when trying to get the word out, Saucier said. When a reporter is trying to meet a deadline, they will write about what they know. However, if there are other points that the scientist wants to get out, it would be useful to make them understood to the media.
The industry could benefit from presenting a narrative that has a human side, another panelist, Iain Stewart, professor of geoscience communication at Plymouth University in the UK, said. With issues such as fracking, radioactive waste disposal and carbon capture and storage already in the news, it would be of mutual benefit for the industry to ensure the public has a baseline knowledge and awareness of the subsurface world, Stewart said.
However, getting the industry to become more forthcoming will be an uphill struggle, since industry personnel do not always talk to one another about specific projects, an attendee noted.
“There is not that much sharing within our company, so communicating openly with the general public won’t be easy,” he said.
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