Think global, act local. That has been a mantra of grassroots activism for decades. It’s also a sentiment that would benefit those in the pipeline industry. Oil and gas pipeline projects have increasingly been the main target of anti-fossil fuel activists over the past decade, as opposition groups have found success in delaying construction through direct protest and a robust misinformation campaign.
To combat the tactics of these adversarial groups, pipeliners must think about the overall success of the industry and do all they can in their local communities to spread the positive stories of the industry. That means getting involved in local townhall meetings, attending community events and — most importantly — talking to your neighbors.
Too often as a society, we rely on social media and technology to communicate. Putting that barrier between face-to-face interaction is eroding the foundations of community. Through guise of online anonymity, people are allowing negativity to reign. Social media can become an echo chamber, where only one side of the debate is reflected.
Getting out and actually speaking to the people in your neighborhood creates trust. One thing I have heard throughout my time covering the oil and gas pipeline industry is that this business is all about relationships. That same mentality must apply to everyday people.
Your friends and neighbors aren’t hearing about the good things the pipeline industry does. More and more, they’re turning to their social media feeds for news. As of August 2017, two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans reported that they get some portion of their news on social media, with 20 percent doing so often, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in September 2017.
We all know of the suspect websites and “memes” that can spread misinformation, while some groups will twist news stories to reflect their biased opinions. Unfortunately, the pipeline industry has become a target for these kinds of online posts from opposition groups.
And let’s be clear. There’s no such thing as “fake news.” If it’s fake, it’s not news. However, battling misinformation has become routine for the pipeline industry, according to Tim Aydt, president of Marathon Pipe Line LLC (MPL). These anti-pipeline campaigns refuse to acknowledge the facts about pipeline safety and the societal benefits that indirectly come from energy and pipeline infrastructure development.
“To make the case for energy infrastructure development, energy consumers must understand that the benefits provided by hydrocarbons goes well beyond transportation fuels and instead encompasses nearly every product we touch in our daily lives,” Aydt says. “Without the oil and gas molecules coming out of the ground, the building blocks for plastics, chemicals and many other feedstocks would not be possible in scalable quantities. Life-saving pharmaceuticals, cellular phones, clothing fibers, building materials, and literally tens of thousands of products we depend on daily would not be possible without hydrocarbon extraction and development.”
Helping your neighbors understand those benefits are precisely why industry proponents must spread the positive message about pipelines. To cut through the echo chamber of social media, that message is best told face-to-face.