The180

Does peer pressure stop you from speaking up for the oil industry?

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers wants everyday Canadians to be its ambassadors. It believes many supporters feel uncomfortable speaking up to defend the industry because of how vocal the opposition has become. The association wants to change all that, starting at your dinner table.
An employee of the Calgary-based Longview Oil Corp works on one of the company's rigs. (Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers wants everyday Canadians to become its street-level ambassadors.

The group feels that with enough "social cover," Canadians will begin feeling more comfortable standing up for oil and gas when they hear the industry criticized.
Canada's petroleum producers say peer pressure and vocal protests keep a lot of Canadians from speaking up for the oil and gas industry. Jeff Gaulin of CAPP explains that more "social cover" could make them more comfortable voicing their support. 0:48

Jeff Gaulin is the Vice President of Communications for CAPP, and says he believes that the majority of Canadians support the oil and gas industry, but may feel reluctant to speak up for it because of how vocal the opposition to it has become.

"Another term for it is peer pressure," he says. "If you're in a setting and everyone is talking negatively, it will have an impact on what you think about your own views, and that erodes support over the long term."

What really breaks down is, are you prepared to speak up for it. That's what really defines the narrative, it's who has the loudest voice.- Jeff Gaulin, VP of Communications, CAPP

Right now, Gaulin says, the loudest voices are coming from the people who protest pipelines, and raise concerns about the environmental impacts of oil and gas development. 

He says his industry understands that a top-down method of communicating its goals and practices may not always be the most effective way to address those public concerns.

CAPP wants to encourage those who work in the sector, and those who are supporters of it, to help change the tone of the conversation about pipelines, oil sands development, and new energy technologies so the issue becomes less polarized. 

Dinner parties, coffee shops, campfires

The place for those conversations, he says, is among co-workers at the coffee shop, or with friends at a dinner party. He's says even brought up the topic of petroleum production over the campfire with his family.

"The people who very strongly oppose (the industry), they're the types who wake up to go march in the streets and to protest. Most Canadians who support the industry, get in their car, go to work, use their phones, and they don't think about it," he says. "There's this dynamic where what appears publicly to be more broad national opposition isn't actually the case."

So one of the things we want people to know is ...that if you are supportive, you're not alone, and you're not wrong, and we need you to speak up.- Jeff Gaulin, VP of Communications, CAPP

A campaign in which regular citizens are asked to engage in conversations is hard to track, and its effectiveness even harder to measure. Still, when asked if he feels this effort to make the general public "ambassadors" for his industry will work, Gaulin is optimistic.

"Most of the support in Canada is quiet. If we only had a tenth of every person that began to have a conversation to think and speak positively about the industry, it will be substantive, whether it's in the media, in public discourse, or in the political arena." 

The Association's most recent public opinion poll, commissioned from Ipsos Reid in January, 2015, surveyed 2200 online respondents nationally. Results indicate that 42% of respondents support the industry, and 25% oppose it, while 33% said they were not engaged with "energy issues." 

According to an email from CAPP's communications department, the unpublished poll results also found that "About 14% of the population will speak positively about industry when asked and without being asked, however 25% of the population will speak out against industry when asked and without being asked. 3% of the population will speak positively without being asked versus 9% who will speak negatively without being asked." 

What do you think of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers' argument that their supporters may be uncomfortable backing the industry publicly because of social pressure? Leave your comments below to let us know.

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