US oil and gas – yesterday’s industry?
By Deborah Byers
As the EY Houston Office Managing Partner, I speak with graduates and interns from universities about working in our Houston office to serve our broad client base. While I focus a lot on our oil and gas clients, as the US Energy leader, I see a greater interest by our recruits to work in other industry segments, despite the heavy oil and gas presence in Houston, or perhaps because of their front-row seat to the cyclical nature of the business.
The perception of oil and gas frequently plays a role in these discussions about the Houston market, generally, and about working in the industry.
Recently, EY conducted a survey of US consumers to understand these perceptions of the oil and gas industry, especially around the topics impacting our clients most: talent, regulations, climate change and future of the industry. We wanted to better understand the public’s sentiments in regards to the industry to help us better serve our clients, but also to improve our own recruitment efforts.
Our survey found several areas where the public and the industry diverge. While 80% of consumers agree the oil and gas industry is important to the US economy and 79% see it as an important job creator, only 44% agree it is an industry they’d be glad to have in their community and 39% agree the industry cares for its employees.
Further, the belief that oil and gas is good for society seems to decline with each younger generation. A net 63% of the Silent Generation and 38% of Baby Boomers agree that oil and gas is good for society, while only a net 3% millennials agree with that statement. Gen Z was more likely to say oil and gas is bad for society.
There is, however, good news from the survey. There are some areas of understanding that could provide a launching point for oil and gas companies to begin shifting Americans’ overall perceptions.
The public overall has a net-positive image of both the energy industry as a whole and of oil and gas specifically. Further, there is widespread recognition that – today, at least – oil and gas are important to a modern society.
In addition, we found the public actually trusts the industry more than executives might realize. Nearly half of the survey respondents (46 percent) say they trust oil and gas companies – not a majority, but a higher percentage than executives expected.
Perhaps, the most important finding in our survey for the industry’s future is the fact that young people are open to engagement with the industry. Sixty (60) percent said they would be willing to engage with oil and gas companies if they thought company representatives were interested in what they had to say.
In other words, oil and gas companies have an opportunity to seek common ground with consumers and identify ways to better understand their motivations and concerns. Clearly there is a gap in how the public and executives view the oil and gas industry. The time to address these perceptions is now.