API’s Jack Gerard Launched Astroturf Rallies to Kill Oil Safety Bill

Yesterday, CNN/Fortune profiled American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard, who took the reins in October 2008 and “has pretty much been in crisis mode since.” In his time in his position, he pared back over two dozen priorities to just six — axing alternative energy research to focus on protecting Big Oil’s tax breaks and expanding drilling in America’s oceans and public lands. And in an effort to “change the perception that Big Oil and Republican politics are inextricably bound,” he also hired Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) nephew Marty Durbin and “organized fly-in lobbying visits by African-American, Hispanic, and female oil workers.”

The profile also details API’s influence after the BP disaster in the Gulf — the largest and most devastating oil spill in American history. API launched ultimately successful rallies to help “derail the ‘spill bill’ Democrats aimed to enact in the wake of the BP disaster.” To maximize their efforts, the oil industry giant went about building an astroturf movement complete with “a slick corporate production”:

Last summer, after the House passed a tough bill to boost safety standards for offshore drilling and remove a liability cap for oil spills, Gerard mounted a round of rallies in regions far from the oilfields. At one, in suburban Chicago, more than 500 union workers assembled for a slick corporate production stage-managed to look like a working-class event.

And while API lobbied hard against safety measures for oil drilling, they’ve been supportive of recent bills to speed up the permitting process. And Gerard also kicked off the 2011 congressional session by calling for opening additional areas to expanded drilling, flying in the face of recommendations from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Operations that rules for prevention and containment of spills need to be improved before drilling operations are expanded.


This isn’t the first time the American Petroleum Institute has been involved in artificial organizing. Back in 2009, Think Progress reported on a leaked memo from Gerard calling on oil company leadership to urge employees to take part in “Energy Citizen” rallies in opposition to cap and trade legislation. And the New York Times reported that “many of the people attending the demonstration were employees of oil companies who work in Houston and were bused from their workplaces.”

The American Petroleum Institute already has a wide-reaching influence in the public policy debate. In 2010 and 2009, API spent $7.3 million on lobbying each year. So far in 2011, API has spent $2.07 million on lobbying activities. And earlier this year, the group announced it would begin making direct contributions to political candidates.