A Secret Recording Reveals Oil Executives’ Private Views on Climate Change

At the Colorado meeting, executives also worried about a potential backlash against the industry, particularly among younger voters. Recent surveys have shown a sharp rise in the number of Americans who feel passionately about climate change, and the issue appears likely to play a more prominent role in this year’s presidential election than in previous ones.

“Young voters, female voters, Hispanic voters, really every sector except for older conservative male voters,” Ryan Flynn of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association said in the recording of the meeting, “their No. 1 issue when it comes to our industry is always going to be environmental stewardship, and concerns about what we’re doing with the environment.”

Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, laid out the stakes.

“Hippies were going to change the world, until they wanted to get a job and buy a BMW,” Mr. Haley said in the meeting. “In Colorado, we’ve been kind of playing a game of whack-a-mole. We went from where fracking was the dirty word, and contaminated your water. And we inundated them with information about that and blitzed the TV airwaves,” he said. “Then slowly that changed into a health and safety messaging. And so we’re ramping up our health and safety messaging.”

Climate change was “the prism through which everything is being viewed,” Mr. Haley added. “We have to be comfortable talking about it, talking about how we are part of the solution through natural gas. And again, hitting people with emotions hitting them where they’re where their heart is.”

Credit…David Zalubowski/Associated Press

“The activists are doing this when they talk about banning fracking in Colorado. They don’t show explosions. They don’t show rigs. They show women and children,” he said. “We have got to begin playing at that same emotional level or we will not win these battles.”

Scott Prestidge, a spokesman for Mr. Haley, said it was difficult to confirm the accuracy of a transcript from 2019, but said it was pretty clear that the remarks about the hippies were “said tongue-in-cheek.”

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