In October 2006, Marathon Oil Company launched an educational awareness program intended to address the methamphetamines (meth) crisis taking place in Wyoming. Although the problem was not unique to Wyoming, Governor Freudenthal had expressed concern, citing it as one of the top social issues in the state. 1 With its long history in Wyoming, Marathon had not only witnessed the issue first hand, but was also in a unique position to do something about it. The company had found that the high incidence of meth use had become a concern for hiring and maintaining contractors for all operators in the area. In some locations, the issue had even begun to affect the company’s operations because its contractors were experiencing failed pre-employment drug testing, an increase in absenteeism, and shortages in the local workforce, leading to project delays. Marathon was also hearing that families, especially those with teenagers, were concerned about moving into the area for oil and gas industry jobs.
In response, Marathon designed an educational awareness program intended to start a discussion among its employees about the dangers of meth. After a weeklong presentation series attended by nearly 350 Marathon employees and contractors, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Many employees commented that their families, friends, and neighbors needed to see it as well in order to initiate an open community dialogue about the issue.
Amy Mifflin was manager of Marathon’s corporate social responsibility program when she took on the question of whether to bring the awareness program to the larger community. She was initially met with in-house skepticism about taking on an issue as significant as meth addiction that was seemingly unrelated to oil and gas development. After discussing the project internally to define its parameters, the company agreed on the value of an awareness-raising campaign that would serve as a resource to employees, their families, and potential employees, as well as build a strong relationship with the local community.
The first community workshop included a presentation by health, environment, and safety expert Eddie Hill about the dangers of meth; information from the local sheriff’s office and the mayor; and testimonies from people who had been directly affected by meth. According to Mifflin, the success of the initial workshops and subsequent presentations in other communities transformed many company skeptics into champions. For a relatively small investment, the program helped strengthen community relationships and build a positive reputation for the company.
Brett Martin, a certified addictions practitioner, participated in the outreach and education campaign when it came to his hometown of Cody. He gave a presentation at the Marathon project’s events in Cody and on the nearby Wind River Reservation. In his role as an addictions counselor, he often speaks to audiences about his own struggle with meth addiction and his pathway to recovery. Due to Marathon’s reputation and standing in the area, he observed that the company was able to reach a larger and more diverse audience than the local health department could. Hundreds of people attended the presentation, including those in key leadership roles, such as city councilors, commissioners, and local mayors. The presentation was well received in the community and people even brought their families to see it—which, Martin said, indicated that the Marathon project was able to transcend the usual stigma. “It helped to show that we can talk about this and it doesn’t have to be about shame,” he said. “Marathon found a way to allow people to talk about it, to say ‘we’re all in this together.’”
Marathon’s meth education and awareness campaign ran from 2006–2009, reaching an estimated 75,000 people in 11 states. It was delivered free of charge at high schools and town community centers. There were workshops with state health departments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The company also filmed the presentation, producing a video for each community and distributing it free of charge. By the time the campaign was winding down, Mifflin was receiving requests from other oil and gas companies that wanted to do similar projects in communities where they were operating.
Asked about advice she might offer to others confronting similar challenges, Mifflin encouraged companies to engage in conversations with communities, even difficult ones. “It starts to alleviate tension with private sector industries, such as oil and gas,” she said, “and people begin to see you as an advocate for collaboration and actively engaged in solving the problem.”
For companies considering undertaking a similar outreach project, Martin suggests finding ways to support continued conversations in affected communities. For example, the company could offer regular meeting space and resources for developing outreach materials to those who are inspired by the project and want to keep the conversation going.
For more information, contact Amy Mifflin at firstname.lastname@example.org. See below for a short video clip with an overview of the program, accessed November 30, 2014
- Amy Mifflin (Global Collaborations, Inc.), interview by Erica Bucki and Dana Goodson, June 2014. ↩