Donald Trump walked onto the stage at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and delivered a promise, introduction and prediction—all rolled into one.
“You will like me so much,” he said. “You will get that business.”
Trump was speaking to a gathering of oil and gas industry professionals in Pittsburgh. He promised to unleash America’s fossil fuel sector by reining in what he called “overregulation.”
“I’m going to lift the restrictions on American energy and allow this wealth to pour into our communities, including right here, in the state of Pennsylvania that we love,” Trump said. He told them he would speed up pipeline review, do away with restrictions on offshore drilling and roll back many of the Obama administration’s efforts to slow down global warming.
LISTEN: What the Drilling Industry Really Thinks of Trump
When he was done speaking, the crowd rose and gave the candidate a thoughtful, polite applause. But not a vigorous one.
Though his message of a weaker EPA and fewer environmental regulations sounded a lot like other Republican presidential candidates, Trump’s reception by the oil and gas industry has been less than typical this year.
His Democratic rival Hillary Clinton has raised more in campaign donations from the industry than Trump. And Jeff Mower, director of Americas Oil News, S&P Global Platts, says Tumps’s unorthodox rhetoric and overall unpredictability is making some in the oil industry wary.
“He tends to talk in these broad generalities, and when he gets specific on a policy, they worry he can tend to misstep,” Mower says. “So it’s very hard to gauge what exactly Trump will do if elected.”
An example was Trump’s recent support of an ethanol policy that some refiners oppose. A few hours after his position was posted on his website, the Trump campaign took it down.
Even when taking a pro-drilling stance, Trump’s words can be wince-inducing for some in the industry. Trump’s vow to do away with restrictions on offshore drilling are applauded by many in the industry, “but then some also think he mistakenly believes that U.S. production is being held back in some significant way by regulations,” Mower says. Analysts say it is the abundance of oil from the fracking boom that has kept prices for oil low and led to a slowdown in drilling. Domestic crude oil has gone up 87 percent since 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Despite these flaws, many in the oil and gas industry view Trump as a better choice than Clinton.
At the Shale Insight conference where Trump spoke, the trade publisher Kallanish Energy kept an informal tally of how attendees thought the candidates would influence the industry. Of the 50 or so who responded, the vast majority said Trump would help the industry and Clinton would hurt it.
“Most people are concerned about Clinton keeping the regulations or increasing the regulations [on oil and gas], and that the coal industry has gone downhill and she might do something similar for gas,” says Caroline MacMillan, director of Kallanish Commodities, who kept the tally between life-sized cutouts of both candidates.
A few booths away sat Michael Hines, who works for a West Virginia engineering firm that serves fracking companies. He said he thought Trump would be good for oil and gas.
“I do think his heart is in the right place. I think that he wants to remove the barriers from making our country work better. We’re overdue for that,” Hines says.
“He tends to talk in these broad generalities, and when he gets specific on a policy, they worry he can tend to misstep. So it’s very hard to gauge what exactly Trump will do if elected.”
He worries about Clinton’s trustworthiness, and thinks she’d create more hurdles for the industry. As Secretary of State, Clinton promoted fracking. But during the Democratic primary, she said she’d impose conditions on fracking.
“By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place,” she said.
Hines says he doesn’t trust Clinton, citing scandals over Benghazi and her questionable use of a private email server. Still, Hines said he wants to see a little more from Trump.
“I’m a Republican, voted Republican my whole life,” he says. “I’m working my way toward Trump, but I’m not there yet. He’s got to start acting more presidential. I think he’ll get some good people advising him.”
Hines was heartened by the fact that Harold Hamm, the CEO of Continental Resources, one of the biggest oil producers in North Dakota’s Bakken shale, was advising Trump on energy issues.
It fell on Hamm’s shoulders to clear up one of Trump’s positions on fracking. In August, Trump told a television news reporter in Colorado that he would be okay with local fracking bans, which are vigorously opposed by the oil and gas industry. Hamm later said that Trump didn’t ‘understand the concept’ when he had first answered the question.
It’s moments like this that give Jon Becker pause about voting for Trump. Becker works for a fracking equipment supplier in Ohio. He thinks Trump picks unnecessary fights—like the time he attacked the family of soldier killed in Iraq.
“He’s his own worst enemy,” Becker says. “This might not even be a race if Trump and his team could somehow prevent him from stepping on his own feet sometime.”
So who is Becker voting for?
“I’m leaning toward Gary Johnson actually,” Becker says. Becker doesn’t agree with all of the policies advocated by Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate. But he says “he looks like a sensible man; he probably eclipses both those candidates.”