I am writing this column high above the U.S. midcontinent, the setting sun throwing long shadows across the aircraft cabin. I am heading east from Grand Junction, Colo., where I had the privilege of attending the Rocky Mountain Section’s annual meeting.
It’s the first time that the meeting had been held in Grand Junction, which is surprising considering its central location in the Section amongst fabulous geology – not to mention the peach orchards and vineyards.
My congratulations to Jay Scheevel, the meeting’s general chair, and the entire organizing committee, as well as President Bob Suydam and the leadership of the Rocky Mountain Section for hosting a great event. It was a success by any measure: standing-room-only technical sessions, buzzing poster sessions and a wide variety of exhibitors.
The meeting’s Monday luncheon featured a special speaker: Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado).
There have been several trained geologists who have served in the U.S. government – former Secretary of State Colin Powell is a notable example – but Hickenlooper is the only geologist in U.S. history to serve as a state governor.
And he is one of few elected officials who truly understands the oil and gas business from the inside, having worked as a petroleum geologist – and by being a member of AAPG.
One of the points that Hickenlooper made in his remarks is the importance of not just talking about oil and natural gas supply, but also talking about demand.
As petroleum geoscientists, our principal focus is on finding and producing more oil and natural gas. That’s what we do and that’s what we talk about when we get together at meetings around the world.
But we don’t spend much time talking about why what we do matters. We take for granted that the public understands the importance of our science.
The shale gas production boom and accompanying natural gas price bust is a good example. It has created tremendous opportunity for states and municipalities, and Hickenlooper is leading the charge to take advantage of it.
He and Gov. Mary Fallin (R-Oklahoma) have assembled a consortium of 22 states to encourage the large U.S. auto manufacturers to produce compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles directly on the production line (rather than as a retrofit). North America is the only continent with automotive manufacturing that does not produce CNG vehicles.
Hickenlooper and Fallin have visited the chief product development executives in Detroit at GM, Ford and Chrysler to encourage them to build CNG fleet vehicles – and the response they received was very favorable.
This could jumpstart a much broader adoption of natural gas as a transportation fuel, and would enable states to benefit both from the abundance of natural gas and its current prices.
But there is a risk that the natural resource abundance we see might not materialize. Many of the challenges that the industry faces in its operations, according to Hickenlooper, is because it is failing to shape public sentiment. And he sees a closing window of opportunity to explain to the public the costs and the benefits of petroleum exploration and production.
He fully accepts that it is not an easy task. When asked how you do it, he replied, “by listening.” Listening to those who disagree with you is a critical path to building the relationship required to earn the right to influence their attitudes and opinions.
In a cable news world of talking points and blaring pundits, it seems like a soft touch, perhaps even weak. But my experience supports Hickenlooper’s approach. Listening and building relationships can be time consuming (and occasionally be frustrating), but it is effective. And relationship-building is at the heart of AAPG’s activities in Washington, D.C.
Not coincidentally, that is where my plane is headed right now.
I’m on my way to Washington – with geoscientists from many different societies – for the fifth annual Geosciences Congressional Visits Days. Together we will be visiting Capitol Hill to discuss policy issues of importance to AAPG members and the broader geoscience community, and in meeting with policymakers and staff provide them with contacts who are both experts and constituents.
I also will have the privilege of welcoming a new GEO-DC director to AAPG. Edie Allison, a stalwart AAPG member, has agreed to lead our efforts to build relationships with policymakers and staff in Washington, D.C. (See related story, page 38.)
Her charge is threefold:
The dramatic changes in our industry over the past decade have the potential to transform the world for the better. But people need to understand the benefits in order to accept the risks. That is what we’re doing through GEO-DC.
Please, consider taking an active role with us by talking to your circle of influence how our science and profession benefits our families, friends and communities.