I periodically get asked to participate in surveys, usually by PR agencies that want to know how to better suit our needs, and I’m always happy to participate (time permitting).

So, I didn’t think much of it when a couple of companies contacted me asking for a few minutes of my time. But these were not PR agencies. The surveyors were contracted by major oil companies gauging the media’s perception of the oil industry.

(I won’t mention the companies by name, but trust me – you’d recognize them.)

The questions in each survey were virtually the same and asked my opinion about not just the company in question, but its peer group, as well. Some of the questions were impossible to answer – I cover these companies from a news and technology standpoint but don’t necessarily swear by their gasoline and motor oil, for instance – but I did my best to give my honest opinion based on my knowledge of the company (primarily from a technology standpoint) and that company’s willingness to work with us on generating content, inviting us to press conferences, etc.

After the second survey I began to wonder about the timing. While one surveyor told me the survey had been ongoing since before the Macondo incident, I wondered why one of the surveys specifically targeted US media and why I was asked to participate in two of them within a span of four days. Are oil companies worried that Macondo will forever tarnish their image?

Well, of course, they should be, and the image has been tarnished, maybe not forever, but for a long time to come. But the interesting thing is that both of these companies have a major international presence, leading me to wonder if the recent “protectionist” stance of the US government is partially to blame the attitude of “we let foreign oil companies lease our acreage, and look what they’ve done!” Why an American trade journalist would share that attitude is beyond me, but you never know.

Frankly, I admire all of the majors for their continued pursuit of new technology. They may not have the huge research centers of years past, but they’re still at the forefront of technology development in a very real way. I hope this came across in my answers.

As far as their willingness to work with the trade press, they score somewhat lower marks (with one major scoring almost no points at all!), but there are some glowing exceptions to that rule, as well.

So I guess I’m still a bit befuddled by the whole thing. Why did they call me? Why not a reporter for the Wall Street Journal or CNBC? (Maybe they called them too …) I’ve covered this industry for almost 15 years and can see beyond one disaster, no matter how huge, to the larger fact that, by and large, these companies are operating in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.

Maybe they just need that reassurance.