Jack Gerard is president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s powerful lobbying arm in Washington. He is not reluctant to face off with President Obama’s administration, whether over offshore drilling or the Keystone XL pipeline. As the oil industry flexes its election-year muscles, it has taken a page from both the Obama camp and the tea party in adopting an advertising- and social-media-driven campaign called “Vote 4 Energy.” It’s aimed at making energy and drilling a frontline issue by activating millions of voters in swing states. With gasoline prices set to surge, Gerard wants to harness outrage and point it toward November. Edited excerpts of his interview with National Journal follow.
NJ We’re headed toward another summer of high oil and gas prices—coinciding with a presidential campaign. When that happens, your industry becomes a political football: Democrats blame Big Oil, while Republicans call for more drilling. Does this help or hurt the oil industry in the long run?
GERARD This time, I think it’s different. The price of gasoline is fundamentally set [by] the cost of crude oil. That will be driven by global factors, some of which we have no control over—unrest in the Middle East, demand in China and India. But the one thing we do control is our domestic production. The reason it’s going to be different this time is that the American people are now focused on the energy equation. There’s strong support in the United States for the development of our oil and natural resources. The public is starting to question—why would you cancel or deny a Keystone XL pipeline that can bring significant amount of Canadian crude to the United States to be refined and put into the marketplace?
NJ You’re talking about the Vote 4 Energy campaign?
GERARD A lot of what we’re doing is forward thinking through social-media tools. We have a network of over 10 million Americans that are unaffiliated with the oil and natural-gas industry that we’re constantly communicating with, and we’re encouraging them to engage in the public debate surrounding energy, specifically oil and natural gas. They look to elected officials and ask, “Why haven’t we done something about this?” I think that’s why you see the president’s 180-degree shift in the State of the Union. One year ago, the president said oil and gas is yesterday’s energy. And within one year, we get a full-bodied embrace of the need to produce oil and natural gas. Now all we’ve got to do is get his actions to match his words.
NJ You’ve been involved in lobbying for 30 years, first as a House and Senate staffer, later running your own firm, then as chief lobbyist for three giant industry groups—mining, chemicals, and now oil. How has the process changed?
GERARD There was a key turning point when Obama was elected president. They learned a lot of the new social-media tools. They communicate in a very real-time basis. They’re constantly talking. There’s so much information being moved around. That was one of the turning points. Social-media tools allow more and more involvement, and that’s a good thing.
NJ What kind of car do you drive?
GERARD A couple of different cars. My children have little Jeeps. At home, we have an SUV because we have a large family, eight children. It’s a Chevy GMC. It’s probably pretty fuel-efficient for all the people we haul around in it.
NJ A majority of climate scientists say that burning fossil fuels, particularly oil, is a major contributor to global warming. Do you agree?
GERARD There’s been an ongoing debate on the climate issue. And the oil and natural-gas industry has engaged in that debate in the past as we will in the future, as we continue to invest in zero- and low-carbon-emitting technologies. Natural gas is a clean fuel. We can produce a lot more of that here at home. Rather than just talk about the issues, our industry takes action in these areas.
NJ But what are your views on the science?
GERARD I’m not a scientist; I wish I was smart enough to make that judgment on the basis of science. I hear the debate back and forth, but more important, we look at sound energy policies, and that’s what we’re pursuing.
NJ Over the years, which lawmakers, former and current, have you built the best relationships with?
GERARD I hope I have good relationships with a lot of different members. Our operating guide is that we’re here to be respected.
On a personal level, I currently chair the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. We have twins, 6-year-old boys, adopted from Guatemala. We have a variety of relationships, personal passions. I hope that those passions are in the best interest of humankind. The coalition is chaired in the House by Karen Bass and Michele Bachmann, [and in the Senate by] Mary Landrieu and Jim Inhofe. It’s focused beyond politics on how do we help children, not only domestically but around the world. Those are some personal passions and interests.
This article appears in the February 11, 2012 edition of National Journal Magazine.