If you asked my parents what their view of the oil and gas industry was they would describe a scene from an old black and white photograph of Spindletop, McKeesport or the Big Sinking Fields, where the ground was barren and black with oil and you could step from one rig floor to the next.
We have all seen these pictures.
While many opposed to oil and gas as an energy source would have you believe the same today, more modern opinions are better informed – and the industry is doing a good job at utilizing and promoting environmentally efficient technologies.
However, increasingly knowledgeable people are watching our business and asking pointed, scientifically valid questions about the overall environmental repercussions of what we do. Scientifically informed questions, particularly (sharp) pointed ones, require well-informed answers based on up-to-date, defensible research.
We all know the current hot-button topics – hydraulic fracturing, ultra-deepwater, CO2 and warming – and there is a considerable amount of money being spent on large projects researching various aspects of these topics. Much, if not most, of my day is spent in research related to these areas.
However, there are other more subtle and less sexy areas of research that also add great value.
For example, as shale gas production progressively develops near populated areas, questions arise about everything from impacts to quality of life, trails and hiking, snails in creeks, noise, fugitive air emissions and at least a dozen other ecologically related concerns. All are valid and all potentially impact the way we do our business – especially in site costs and permitting, as well as in long-term company obligations.
This is true not just for shale gas but for coalbed methane, enhanced oil recovery and residual oil zone projects, and in all new concept exploration and production.
As informed and educated energy scientists, there is much that we can do in our day-to-day business that can help answer these questions.
♦ First, as scientists knowledgeable on all aspects of geoscience, from geophysics to geochemistry and from biostratigraphy to tectonics, we need to be able to explain – on a layman’s level – what it is we know.
The first and foremost skill we need is the ability to communicate with all in the public sector. A few of us will talk with senators and governors, some of us with regulators and stakeholders, but all of us will talk with the general public. In all these cases we need to be able to explain in a clear, concise way what we know, why and how we know it and why it is important.
We need to be able to back up what we say with proof, such as a peer-reviewed study, examples and even common sense.
Almost every person on earth observes and lives with geology everyday but does not place it in the context of their daily lives. We can help them understand the world and why it is important to know.
Doing simple research can help with this.
In addition to the routine scanning and studying of our relevant scientific literature such as the AAPG BULLETIN and other oil and gas journals, skim the free government websites from DOE, USGS, BOEMRE, EPA, etc., just to see what concerns are active within the federal agencies.
Look at the White House web page and be familiar with the issues from the administration.
Review the free industry literature and magazines to see what the commercial companies are facing on a day-to-day basis.
Look at the advocacy websites such as the NRDC, Sierra Club and Green Peace. Evaluate their data and comments against what you know. In many areas you might agree with much of what you have read, and in some cases might disagree. Evaluate why and how you agree or disagree.
♦ Second, develop your response.
Know their issues and their facts and know your issues and your facts. They might be the same – but where different, or where you feel facts are skewed or being used inappropriately, address the issue in a logical scientific way.
Practice discussing emotional topics with concern, but without inflammatory rhetoric.
Use note cards, mnemonics, whatever you need – but always remember that your best asset is the geoscience knowledge you already have.
A little bit of daily, routine, simple research can address many issues of concern for our industry – and ensure continually improving environmental exploration and production.
, of Aiken, S.C., is director of science research for the URS Corporation Research and Engineering Services contract to the USDOE National Energy Technology Laboratory. He also is a member of the DEG Advisory Board for the AAPG Eastern Section.
The Division of Environmental Geosciences (DEG), a division of AAPG, is concerned with increasing awareness of the environment and the petroleum industry and providing AAPG with a scientific voice in the public arena. Among its objectives are educating members about important environmental issues, supporting and encouraging research on the effects of exploration and production on the environment, and communicating scientific information to concerned governmental agencies.