Forum Included Q&A From Public

Shortly after lunch on Oct. 14 people began filing into the ballroom of the Tulsa Marriott Southern Hills Hotel. They included attendees of the 2009 AAPG Mid-Continent Section meeting, members of the general public and two busloads of students from local high schools.

They were there to participate in a conversation about energy – its past and its future.

At 1 p.m. the panelists were on the rostrum, I was at the podium, and the microphones went live.

It was in April 2008 at the AAPG convention in San Antonio when Edith Wilson first told me about the idea to host a public forum on energy as part of the Mid-Continent Section meeting. In a follow-up phone conversation later that month, she asked if I would be willing to assist her and the committee in developing the event and moderate the forum.

The forum’s purpose was to engage “business professionals, scientists, students and members of the general public in a discussion of energy challenges and opportunities facing the mid-continent region.”

Tulsa is widely considered the first oil capital, and therefore perhaps an odd place to hold a public event on energy. Doesn’t everyone in Tulsa already understand the energy business?

Well, no, they really don’t. And the energy business is changing. New oil and natural gas plays, such as shale gas, demonstrate the continued vitality of the petroleum industry.

At the same time, society is pushing the advancement of alternative energy sources. Meanwhile, much of the discussion about energy is framed in an “either-or” context – fossil fuels or alternatives – which is a false choice. We need fossil fuels and alternatives.

The theme for the forum, “America’s Energy Heartland, America’s Energy Future”, expresses the fact that energy has historically played a critical role in the economic development of the midcontinent, and will remain vital to the region long into the future.


We wanted to present useful information to the approximately 350 attendees at a level that would be informative and stimulate questions from the audience.

Getting the right panelists to participate – individuals who could deliver the necessary technical information in an engaging manner – was paramount. And we were fortunate to find four individuals who met the criteria: James Smith, an economist and the Carey M. Maguire Chair in Oil and Gas Management at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business; AAPG member Rod Nelson, vice president of communications and vice president of innovation and collaboration for Schlumberger; AAPG member Art Green, retired chief geoscientist for ExxonMobil Exploration Company; and AAPG member Pete Stark, vice president of industry relations for IHS.

We divided the forum into a first session, “Energy From the Heartland,” where we focused on the role energy plays historically and today with these presentations:

  • World Oil: Market or Mayhem (Smith).
  • Not Your Father’s Oil Patch – How Technology Changes the Industry (Nelson).
  • A Look at Global Supply and Demand (Green).
  • The Mid-Continent Shale Gas Boom (Stark).

The first session concluded with a question and answer period, and audience members were able to ask their questions in person or text them to a phone number provided.

After a brief intermission, the second session considered energy for the future and where the energy business is heading:

  • The Portents of Peak Oil (Smith).
  • Natural Gas – Key to Our Energy Future (Stark).
  • A Future With Fewer Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Nelson).
  • Tomorrow’s Energy Explorers (Green).

The forum concluded with a 40-minute conversation between the panelists and the audience – and we had more questions than time to address them all.

The presentations made by the panelists in both sessions will be posted at AAPG’s online e-magazine Search and Discovery as they become available from the authors.


It is always difficult to tell the impact of a public event such as this forum. But the substantive nature of the questions suggests that the audience did engage on the topic of energy during the course of the afternoon. And such conversations, informing the public about the energy geosciences and the environment, are an important task for AAPG.

Thanks to our sponsors for making the event possible: IHS, Tulco Oils Inc., Tallgrass Energy, AAPG, Schlumberger, OERB – Oklahoma’s Oil and Natural Gas Producers and Royalty Owners, and the Friends of Finance.

A special thanks also is due to our four panelists for their time and effort that made the forum a success.

Finally, this event would have merely been a “nice idea” without the steering committee, which had the vision to develop it and the tenacity to pull it off. Thanks to Edith Wilson, Shane Matson, Mike Thompson and Rick Fritz for their commitment and leadership.

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Policy Watch is a monthly column of the EXPLORER written by the director of AAPG's  Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, D.C. *The first article appeared in February 2006 under the name "Washington Watch" and the column name was changed to "Policy Watch" in January 2013 to broaden the subject matter to a more global view.

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