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A Conversation with…Dave Noerr: Educating Californians about oil and gas ‘one mind at a time’

Noerr’s mission to bring reason and reality to the energy dialogue extends to Sacramento

Brimming with facts and a passion for oil and gas, Taft mayor Dave Noerr has become an unofficial industry spokesman. Combining eloquence with a cordial reality-check
approach, Noerr has shared his pro-oil views
with activist groups like Greenpeace as well as the news media, business leaders and legislators in Sacramento.

What’s your background and present role?

Dave Knoerr, Taft Mayor
Dave Noerr, Taft Mayor

I began working in the Taft oilfields in 1981 as a roustabout – low man on the totem pole — for what eventually became ARCO. I worked my way up. In 1991, I became president of Huddleston Crane Service, Inc., which provides oilfield services in the Taft area. I was elected to Taft’s city council in 2004 and am serving my fourth term, including my second term as mayor.

You spoke with Gov. Newsom in July when he visited McKittrick, near Taft. What did you talk about?

He was there to look at the surface expression, the oil seep, that’s been in the news recently involving another oil company, not Aera. While only accredited news media were allowed for his visit, I was invited to speak one-on-one with the governor. My mission was to share some facts with him, separated from the hype and emotion. For example, he didn’t know oil seeps have been occurring since the dawn of time, with some of the biggest taking place here in California. He was impressed with the company’s clean-up effort. He also acknowledged the benefits that oil and gas dollars have brought to local schools and that fossil fuels powered the airplane and vehicles that brought him to McKittrick. His response to many of the facts I presented was, “I was not aware of that.”

I was encouraged by his reasoned response. Gov. Newsom is the right guy to disseminate the truth about oil and gas because he has credibility with groups who oppose our industry. He has the ability to get the truth out in a manner they’ll understand. I’ve since met with the governor’s office in Sacramento and have continued to share information with him through other lawmakers.

When Greenpeace landed its blimp near Taft last year to protest fossil fuels, you engaged them on the spot in a discussion that’s been viewed widely on Facebook. What did you learn from that experience?

I learned about the effectiveness of social media. Up until then, I always told people I did not Facebook but I did do face-to-face. Two days after my conversation with Mary of Greenpeace, which I had totally forgotten about, my phone began blowing up. Our discussion had been recorded by the Taft Independent Newspaper, as well as someone from Greenpeace, and posted on social media. My son showed me that the video already had 80,000 views and 3,000 comments. What struck me was that fewer than 10 were negative. Even those with views parallel to Greenpeace were impressed that two adults with opposing views could have a civil discussion.

That’s what we have to do. I’ve told those who work in the oilfields that, to get those on the other side to listen, we have to leave emotion in the pick-up truck. Emotion will turn off listeners or viewers before you have an opportunity to express facts. Being cordial was key in my Greenpeace discussion. That’s the way we’ll get our point of view across about the benefits of oil and gas. At last count, the video has some 480,000 views.

How are you going to change so many misinformed perceptions of oil and gas?

One mind at a time. When I met the governor, he said, “Dave, I’ve got your cell phone number.” I said, “That’s great. That’s your ticket to reality, your pass to the facts. I encourage you and your staff to fact-check everything I say because it will take you to other places. Your path to discovery will spread out like a spider web.”

This is a marathon we’re running, a marathon to inform everybody who has been so misinformed about oil and gas. We’ve got to provide information to help them find the truth – that oil isn’t just about gasoline for vehicles but for the asphalt that makes our roads, the plastics used in our cars and in renewable wind turbines, in thousands of products we depend on every day.

What challenges does Kern County’s oil industry face?

The challenge we face is misinformation. Kern County contributes so greatly to the economic stability and might of California that to say, “OK, we’re going to make oil and gas disappear,” is completely asinine. That’s a fairy tale. The reality is the energy transformation will not eliminate oil and gas for generations. For the last four decades, we have decreased the emissions and increased the efficiencies of all oil and gas applications. And we continue to improve every day. The challenge is helping people understand that.

As an industry, we’ve got to be transparent and proactive. For so long, we sat back in the shadows and thought, “If we don’t talk to anybody, they’ll leave us alone.” Nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve got to help people understand the benefits of oil and gas. That has to be our mission.

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