As the new president of the Division of Environmental Geosciences I get to begin my tenure with my views and thoughts of an area that DEG, and AAPG in general, needs to address.
I have been involved in oil and gas exploration, environmental cleanup and research for over 35 years. Through my work in the environmental arena I have seen up close what can happen when an industry does not develop trust with the public and regulators.
Our industry has had several notable disasters on the E&P side, such as the Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Lake Peigneur accident and Piney Woods Mississippi hydrogen sulfide gas fire. The industry continues to feel the lingering distrust by the public and many politicians. Some of that is opportunism for political gain, to support efforts to limit the industry, or to support the push to a wind/solar energy policy.
The current hot environmental topic continues to be hydraulic fracturing and its impact on the environment. In many parts of the world, this is tied to the development of resource plays.
Hydraulic fracturing is not new to the industry. It has been used by the oil industry (in some form) since 1865. The first frac job, performed in the Hugoton field, was in 1947. It has been performed thousands of times, safely and without any impact to the environment.
As we have moved from traditional “oil patch” country into urban and suburban environments, public mistrust has become epidemic and regulators are put in the position of having to react through public forums, technical panels and outright bans, with regulations varying wildly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
For example, the Pennsylvania state court recently ruled that local governments could use zoning laws to regulate oil and gas drilling activities, whereas the state of Colorado has threatened lawsuits with cities and counties that have considered or passed local regulations of the O&G industry in contravention of state resources law.
We geologists have traditionally been slow to react – if at all – to explain what we do and how it affects the environment and surrounding communities.
If we react at all, the approach has been to spout technical jargon. The majority of the American public is no longer educated technically or cares enough to understand what we do, preferring to get their information off the Internet or from a newscast, whether or not it is factual and/or true.
Spouting jargon only leaves the public confused, turned off and makes them think you are trying to pull something over on them. This was a lesson learned very painfully in the early days of RCRA and CERCLA clean up actions.
This inaction – or “mis-action” – has resulted in the imposition of regulations and created the image of the industry as an evildoer.
My mentor and friend Bill Kanes used to say, “There is no education from the second kick from a mule.” By my recollection, we are way past the second kick and still have not learned how to deal with the public and regulators.
As part of DEG’s efforts to address the current public distrust of hydraulic fracturing and its use by the O&G industry, we co-sponsored, with EMD, a Geoscience Technology Workshop on the technology in August, in Golden, Colo. The workshop was just one of the first steps toward the goal to addressing negative perceptions and reactions to exploration and production where possible.
We need to get involved at all levels and get the word out to politicians and the public.
How can you as a geoscientist get involved?
♦ Take any opportunity to speak to the public and the regulators.
The keynote address at the DEG luncheon in Long Beach was “Hydraulic Fracturing: Separating Myth from Reality” by Steve Leifer, an attorney for Baker Botts LLP. For anyone interested, Steve has allowed us to distribute his slides from the talk on the DEG website. It is an excellent resource.
DEG members are in a unique position to spread the truth because many of us live and work in non-oil patch parts of the United States and the world.
♦ If public speaking is not your thing then volunteer to serve on a DEG committee, serve as a councilor for DEG or help collect facts and figures for inclusion on our website to dispel the myths associated with our industry.
The DEG hopes that this and other efforts in the coming year will keep you engaged – and if you are not a DEG member consider joining and getting involved in DEG and the environmental side of the energy industry.
DEG will continue to do its best to keep those issues in front of the AAPG membership.