Agreeing to speak at a state government briefing is daunting at first – but in the end, a very satisfying experience.
The request to speak at a Florida Legislature Energy Briefing on hydraulic fracturing came from Edie Allison, AAPG’s GEO-DC director, one week before the event.
My initial response was, “NO! I’m too busy and have limited experience with Florida petroleum basins.”
On a personal level, it also crossed my mind that I am a Legacy member of the Nature Conservancy, and residing down the street from me is the former chair of the board of trustees for the Florida chapter.
In the end, realizing I am a knowledgeable petroleum geoscientist and an environmentalist, I knew I had to step up to the challenge.
The energy briefing was arranged by the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), described on its website as “the voice of the energy consumer.” They promote an all-of-the-above energy policy, focused on increasing production of U.S. domestic energy to create jobs, lower energy prices and expand our economy. AAPG is a CEA founding member, through the efforts of past GEO-DC director Don Juckett, and continues to be an active affiliate today.
Michael Zehr (HBW Resources) who advises the CEA on federal policy issues, made preparations for the briefing relatively worry-free by clearly defining the expectations.
“The role we are looking to fill would address what hydraulic fracturing is,” he said, “and some of the key issues to keep in mind regarding the process as states seek appropriate regulatory guidelines to ensure exploration occurs in an environmentally responsible fashion.”
He listed the expected audience of legislators, staff and CEA Florida members. He even provided the link to past DEG president Tom Temples’ talk on hydraulic fracturing.
I contacted Temples to send the presentation he co-authored with Michael Young (Bureau of Economic Geology) as a PowerPoint so I could modify it as needed. AAPG member Pete MacKenzie, Ohio Oil and Gas Association (OOGA) VP of operations, also provided two presentations and talked me through some of the possible questions that could be asked.
To make sure I was up-to-date on Florida geology and resource development I contacted Harley Means, Florida assistant state geologist, to get information on their projects and state regulatory issues.
It took about a day of Internet research to find and read through the references cited in the AAPG and OOGA presentations. I also did an Internet search on both “hydraulic fracturing” and “fracking.” The dual Internet search was one of the most informative steps in preparing to speak to the public, as it reveals the data sources, surface and subsurface perceptions of scale, and rhetoric from both sides.
It also helps numb you to emotional arguments so you can listen and answer questions objectively.
The presentation room and number of attendees at the energy briefing were much larger than I anticipated. I also was a little unnerved to see a video camera and press in the front row.
Kevin Doyle, executive director of the Florida CEA made the introductions of my co-panelists Natalie Joubert and Micheal Zehr, CEA, and our state legislature hosts, Jose Felix Diaz, chairman of the Florida House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee, and state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, the sponsor of Florida’s proposed hydraulic fracturing legislation.
I was introduced as an AAPG Certified Geoscientist and a member of the Division of Environmental Geosciences. We could see in the audience body language that the combination did cause some confusion.
Doyle also had the audience state their names and affiliation, so we could judge the effectiveness of the presentations by looking to different parts of the room.
The presentation went off with no interruptions. The “Ah-ha” moments I recognized in the audience were:
- The difference in industry’s definition of hydraulic fracturing as a process and the public’s definition, which includes all aspects of drilling and completing the well.
- The sense of scale from the surface to the actual interval that is being hydraulically fractured.
- The high-technology aspects of drilling and completion.
Zehr and Joubert commented they saw heads in the audience – including the environmental representatives – unconsciously nodding in agreement with many points that were made in the presentation.
The presentation ended by time constraint, but many participants remained behind to exchange cards and ask questions.
I followed up with an email that included links to the presentation and a reminder to do their homework and review a six-and-a-half minute YouTube video that most closely represents my understanding of the hydraulic fracture process.
The only surprise I had from the presentation occurred after the event.
The Florida Current wrote an article on the presentation (thefloridacurrent.com/article.cfm?id=35188760) – they had recorded the presentation, and the word translator caused a point that was made from a slide citing two scientific studies to read, “Geoscientist says groundwater contamination via fracturing ‘physically impossible.’”
Fortunately, I received a preview copy and was able to correct it to, “physically not plausible.