CEO Q&A: Independent Petroleum Association of America

IPAA president and CEO Barry Russell speaks to Dipka Bhambhani about low energy prices, comms strategy, and the fight to frack

What is the mission of the Independent Petroleum Association of America?
IPAA is a national trade association representing thousands of independent oil and natural gas explorers and producers in the U.S.

What is the significance of independents and how has that changed?
America’s independent producers are small businesses with an average of 15 employees. Independent producers develop over 90% of wells in the U.S. and send more than $10 billion in additional revenue to the Treasury each year through royalties and other payments.

They also play a critical role in the nation’s economic vitality and energy security. Independents produce 4% of GDP and reinvest billions of dollars in the economy to discover and responsibly produce energy in cost-efficient ways.

Talk about the impact of low energy prices?
The foremost concern on producers’ minds is low market prices. Since mid-2014, oil prices have fallen more than 70%, but technological breakthroughs in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have increased output more than anticipated, providing consumers with a reliable and affordable source of American energy.

U.S. oil and natural gas is abundant and will be for decades, challenging the 20th century way of thinking and making it more difficult for OPEC to control global markets. Thanks to the wildcatter spirit of innovation and true grit, our members are determined to keep this positive momentum going for future generations.

How is IPAA responding?
America’s oil and natural gas industry powers all other industries. We want regulatory certainty to provide American families with reliable and affordable energy, and the opportunity to compete on a level playing field globally.

Giving producers the certainty to safely produce their product and competitive access to freely sell it on the world marketplace will ensure economic growth, continued development of abundant energy resources, and lower fuel and home heating costs.

It will also allow volatile pricing to balance out. The last thing Americans need now is the federal government intervening and hindering good-paying jobs by stifling U.S. energy production.

How do low prices affect the fight to preserve and advance fracking?
In 2009, the association and our industry partners were at the forefront of the hydraulic fracturing debate and launched Energy in Depth, a new type of rapid response and information campaign focused solely on shale development and hydraulic fracturing.

This program allowed the industry to define the truth and science behind our operations, but also debunked political activists who used junk science and lies. We still have naysayers and the battle continues, but science-based truth and the benefits of clean-burning natural gas are winning.

With recent low prices, we’ve seen an uptick in demands to "Keep it in the ground." However, these activists fail to mention the immense benefits America’s abundant fossil fuels provide to everyday 21st century life. Our industry firmly believes energy development and environmental stewardship can coexist in a thoughtful and balanced approach.

What are some successes from 2015?
One major success was the repeal of a 40-year-old law restricting the export of America’s crude oil surplus. This put American companies at a disadvantage on the world marketplace with countries like Iran and Russia, preventing them from delivering energy security to our allies.

By lifting the ban on oil exports, we’ll see an increased investment in free trade, economic growth, new jobs, and reduce America’s need for importing and relying on foreign oil from the Middle East.

Ensuring President Obama signed this important bipartisan legislation into law was the number one priority for IPAA and our member companies in 2015.

What tactics did you use?
We created a crude oil exports landing page and featured it prominently on our website, featuring the latest news, independent studies, and educational materials, such as factsheets and Frequently Asked Questions on crude exports.

We tapped our own membership by alerting them of latest news coming out of Washington, D.C. through our branded Crude Exports Dispatch e-Newsletters, and we took to social media to educate and engage the public and urge Congress and the White House to #LiftTheBan.

What communications tactics work for you?
We create targeted public affairs campaigns around key issues. Our campaigns include Energy Tax Facts and Divestment. We package and brand each campaign uniquely.

Each has its own tactics – sometimes it’s rapid response (Energy In Depth); sometimes it’s educational and Congressional outreach (Endangered Species Watch); and sometimes it’s mostly internal (Oil Exports Dispatch).

Social media plays an ongoing role in all our campaigns, but we can’t deny the success of traditional tactics – such as picking up the phone to speak directly with reporters, editors, and producers.

What's on tap for 2016?
Every day, oil and clean-burning natural gas helps make modern life possible. Our job, as America’s independent oil and natural gas producers, is to keep the momentum of our nation’s energy renaissance going in 2016.

World leaders ought to look to the U.S. as an example of proven results for addressing climate challenges and protecting our environment for future generations.

How is your communications going to change?
Our industry is experiencing a "crew change," whereby the majority of our workforce will retire in the next 10 years. We must engage a new generation of oil and gas leaders, embracing traditional social media outlets but also new communication technologies.

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