OPINION: The oil industry's public standing took a bruising in recent days, with trouble on both sides of the Atlantic before the United Nations’ COP26 climate talks commenced.

ExxonMobil, Chevron and other oil majors came under fire over alleged climate misinformation in Washington.

At the same time, Shell admitted in Europe that it had been told it was “not welcome” at the UN summit in Glasgow.

It is tempting to dismiss attacks on the industry as critics playing politics. Few Western policymakers want to stand up in public for oil companies these days.

Behind the scenes, however, the picture is different. Ministers are aware of the economic benefits from – if not continuing dependency on – local hydrocarbon production.

The United Kingdom is hosting COP26, but the UK government’s Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, said oilfields such as Siccar Point and Shell’s Cambo should “100% go ahead.”

Meanwhile, Europe's recent energy price spikes reminded governments and consumers of the financial impact of fossil fuel supply shortages.

There is wider recognition of the huge project-management skills, engineering experience and employment capacity in the oil and gas sector.

And the fact that clean hydrogen as a future fuel and carbon capture as an important technology are on governmental agendas worldwide is mainly due to lobbying by leading oil companies.

But what happened on Capitol Hill and in Europe in recent days was important.

The public mood towards oil and gas is ugly, and it is a symbolic blow for Shell – one of the oil industry leaders in the energy transition – to admit it is an outcast at critical global climate talks.

But the wider oil and gas industry must accept that its status has slipped and it must tread more carefully and creatively to ensure its voice is heard in public.

The industry faces wider dangers as well. Lower stock market valuations and attempts to move from fossil fuels to cleaner energy make oil majors vulnerable to attacks from investors.

Shell has been fighting off activist shareholders from hedge fund Third Point, which wants to split up the company.

And internal moves to reduce carbon emissions from the oil companies’ own businesses will never seem quite quick enough for the critics.

But some wounds are self-inflicted.

ExxonMobil was set up to fail last week in front of a US congressional committee after a former lobbyist told fake headhunters that the company’s public support for a carbon tax was just a talking point.

Chevron, BP and the industry’s lobby group, the American Petroleum Institute, were also in the dock.

Now, subpoenas demanding further documents from ExxonMobil have been drafted. This row will run and run.

Meanwhile, Shell, BP and other oil companies in the UK have been told they are not officially welcome as “principal partners” by the COP26 organisers.

This is because they are deemed not to have sufficiently credible net zero plans, although oil companies obviously dispute this.

The oil and gas industry has a lot to offer in the energy transition, but in the future it will need to be as smart with its dialogue as it is with its drilling.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)