Communications strategy for America’s energy industry is an important focus area for us at Linhart PR, so we’ve had many opportunities to assist companies in the oil and gas value chain through the full cycle of crisis management planning, emergency preparedness and response. Our team of energy experts has:

  • Developed detailed crisis communications plans and template materials for an independent oil and gas company with offshore and onshore production in sensitive coastal and urban areas in California, working in partnership with the company’s emergency response consultant
  • Rehearsed and stress-tested the plan through annual tabletop exercises involving the company’s California field office and senior leaders in Denver and Houston, capturing key learnings and identifying opportunities to make the crisis management plan more robust
  • Provided intensive crisis-specific media relations training featuring on-camera interviews for the field operations staff of one of the largest U.S. interstate oil and natural gas pipeline companies, simulating scenarios including a pipeline rupture, fire and spills impacting rivers and streams
  • Helped facilitate crisis drills involving first responders for an independent oil and gas company in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin, and Red-Teamed well pad security protocols by attempting to gain unauthorized access
  • Managed the news media and social media response for a DJ Basin operator following a well pad fire that injured several contractors
  • Served as the outsourced public affairs office and media spokesperson for one of the largest underground natural gas storage facilities in the Rocky Mountain West following a serious well control incident that took three days to cap, with gas venting into the atmosphere

What do companies all along the energy value chain need to know about crisis planning and response? Here are five insights based on our experience:

  1. In most locations, you begin with a target on your back. In today’s political, regulatory and media environment, oil and gas companies face suspicion and mistrust even when everything is going well. When something goes wrong, it tends to confirm the anti-industry biases (risky, dirty, dangerous) that some stakeholders maintain, creating a credibility barrier that’s hard to overcome.
  2. Relationships and credibility are risk-reduction tools. “You don’t make friends in a crisis” is a cliché that happens to be true. Your chances of emerging from a crisis with your social license to operate intact are greater if you can rely on the stakeholder relationships and trust you have worked to build over time. Thinking you can fly under the radar of community and media scrutiny in good times is a big mistake when bad times arrive, as they inevitably do.
  3. It’s impossible to over-prepare. Crises in the energy industry have the potential to put lives and property at risk, to say nothing of the industry’s credibility. Effective crisis response requires leaders from multiple disciplines to work together under pressure and under intense media and regulatory scrutiny, possibly for a sustained period. The value of having detailed crisis response plans and protocols in place to guide actions and decisions can’t be overstated.
  4. Train your people and rehearse your plan. Your crisis preparedness job is not completed when you finish the emergency response communications plan and place it in a binder on your shelf. Crisis drills involving key members of your team, with realistic scenarios that require leaders to make decisions quickly, without complete information, are a vital part of the preparedness process. The time to stress-test your crisis plan, uncover its weak points and ensure your people are ready is not when your pipeline is leaking or your well pad is on fire.
  5. Institutionalize after-action reviews and document lessons learned. Too many companies are so eager to get back to business after a crisis subsides that they pass up the opportunity to learn vital, sometimes painful lessons by making time for a thorough debrief or “hot wash.” Communications leaders should insist that the cross-functional crisis response team regroup quickly while memories are fresh, to discuss what went well, what didn’t and to provide the basis for a candid written report that can be used to strengthen preparedness and response efforts next time – because there is always a next time.

Everyone in the energy industry dreads the midnight notification call that begins with the words “this is not a drill.” Some companies and leaders are better prepared for that call than others, based on doing the necessary work of crisis planning, training and simulation in advance.