By Irina Slav
A recent Bloomberg headline must have made many who saw it wonder if it’s April’s Fools Day for the second time this year. The headline said Namaste, Oil Drillers: Yoga Mats Debut at Texas Industry Meeting and despite its Onion style, the story below it suggested the oil and gas industry is changing in more ways than one as it seeks to transform public perceptions.
Hart Energy’s idea to “facilitate additional networking” through yoga classes in the morning before the sessions of the DUG Permian Basin conference may not have attracted many followers, according to the Bloomberg report on the novelty, but it is an indication of a trend that was most explicitly demonstrated by the American petroleum Institute’s “This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Oil”commercial for the Superbowl in 2017.
The oil industry has accumulated a lot of negativity over the decades, and with the rise of the climate change lobby this negativity has grown exponentially. As Big Oil majors pledge more money for cleaner energy and reducing their carbon footprints, protests mount against the industry, the most recent ones in London, with people gluing themselves to doors to make politicians take more decisive action to curb environmental damage.
Not surprisingly, an EY report from a couple of years ago found millennials and digital natives—the generation that comes after the millennials—are not particularly fond of the job opportunities the fossil fuel industry is offering. Not that there have been too many of these in the post-2014 oil and gas world, but the industry is recoveriRng and it is hiring.
EY warned in the report that the oil and gas industry was facing a talent crisis because of negative attitudes towards it: only a little over a quarter of digital natives, also called Gen Zs, found a career path in oil and gas appealing. Among millennials, things looked a little better, with 45 percent seeing such a career path as appealing.
An EY executive commenting on the findings said at the time, “Younger generations’ perceptions of oil and gas are leading them elsewhere. There are a couple of contributing factors to these views: a disconnect between what oil and gas executives think young people want from a career and what they actually want, a lack of awareness about the industry and the careers that power it, and a substantial gender gap. Young women’s views on jobs in oil and gas are particularly concerning.”
Luckily for the industry, generations change in the oil and gas industry, too. One attendant at the Hart Energy event in Texas this week told Bloomberg “We’ve got a bunch of old dinosaurs that are retiring. I think our industry is evolving.” Indeed, the industry is evolving, and while offering yoga classes is only a small (and possibly effective) part of this evolution, the rising investments on renewable energy, storage, and EV charging, are a much bigger part.
While protesters in London accuse oil companies of something they have called “ecocide” and activist investors are pushing companies to divest their holdings in Big Oil, the latter is doubling down on its efforts to clean up its act and its image. Shell, for one, recently unveiled plans to become the world’s largest power utility in the not too distant future. Its peers have been spending on wind and solar, on EV charging and batteries, and on carbon capturing and emissions reduction.
The current protests, truth be told, are mostly making noise rather than offering a constructive way of tackling climate change more aggressively. However, their intensity suggests the oil and gas industry will have to do a lot more than spend a couple of billion on wind, solar, energy storage and yoga classes at industry events to win back the trust of the public.