Canadian, US oil and gas industries discuss their 'self-inflicted' communication problems

American and Canadian oil and gas producers have united over a common goal: Wining over the public.

In an attempt to push this forward, members of Canada's and the US' oil and gas industries gathered in Vancouver, BC on Monday for part two of the 'North American Energy Security Dialogue.'

Bringing together producers, politicians and other stakeholders, the two-part conference which began in Washington, DC is sponsored by TransCanada, Canadian National Railway, and Suncor Energy among others.

There's a common self-criticism emerging in the industry: We're pretty terrible at community.

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman told the audience, made up almost entirely of industry members, that "someone else owns" the energy dialogue, "and they're having a heydey with it."

Just recently environmental groups gathered across Canada, holding 130 separate protests against oil sands development. A recent poll on behalf of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, showed that less than half of Canadians "somewhat agreed" that the oil sands could be developed while managing environmental impacts. Only 20% "strongly agreed."

And it doesn't look much better for America's oil and gas sector. A non-partisan survey earlier this year showed that although 65% of Americans support the Keystone XL pipeline, more than half are unaware of their country's energy boom, and even fewer know where it's coming from.

Speaking about the Canadian oil sands industry, whose future success depends enormously on its ability to get crude to American and Asian markets, Ackerman said it's important to "educate those who don't understand the industry."

She recalled a time when a community member told her he doesn't want pipelines because he opposes fracking.

Some information initiatives include open houses hosted by oil sands companies and millions spent on advertising campaigns. Canada's federal government is also pitching in, spending $24 million in a two-year international ad campaign to counter "intense and sustained public relations" attacks against Alberta's crude.

Ackerman last year hosted some mayors in Fort St. John to show them how the technology works and help them to understand "the realities of the industry."

"When you can go out into the field and see it first hand and ask the questions that are bothering you and understand that it is an industry, not unlike any other industry and it leaves a footprint."

"A successful project is more than meeting the technical standards," Ackerman said.

Other panellists agreed. Larry Persily, Federal Coordinator of the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects,¬†said that while the "industry does a poor job of talking to people … bad info fills the void."

"A lot of the challenges are self-inflicted," Persily added.

And as the US becomes more energy independent and steps in as a major oil exporting nation, holding the reigns of this dialogue will only become more important.

Brigham McCown, a federal transportation safety and energy infrastructure policy expert who served in several leadership roles during both terms of President George W. Bush's presidency, alluded to the fact that getting approval for the Keystone XL pipeline is taking longer than it took the US to fight the Second World War.

"It's political," he argued, and has "nothing to do with the merits of the case."