Making a Difference

Providing the World With More Than Energy

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

It’s not hard to find a member of the public with a negative opinion about the oil and gas industry. Criticized for being money hungry, destructive to the environment and indifferent toward the communities where they drill, industry leaders have acknowledged they must balance the lopsided equation of public opinion.

Committed to going the extra mile to improve lives and communicate to an often skeptical public, Houston-based Noble Energy has experienced an outpouring of gratitude from the communities in which they operate.

Its successes were highlighted at AAPG’s Annual Convention and Exhibition in Houston.

Susan Cunningham
Susan Cunningham

In a presentation called, “Exploration and the Oil and Gas Industry: Having a Positive Impact on People and the World,” AAPG member Susan M. Cunningham, senior vice president of the Gulf of Mexico, West Africa and Frontier region at Noble, showed that by slowing down, a company can actually gain momentum.

Noble is a leading independent energy and S&P 500 company with a broad asset base that includes development and exploration in Colorado, the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, West Africa, Israel and Cyprus.

The premise underscoring all of Noble’s projects is that the opportunity to explore and develop is a privilege and not a right, Cunningham told a sold-out crowd at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

As such, the company is committed to:

  • Providing people with cleaner and more affordable energy.
  • Creating and contributing to diverse social programs.
  • Boosting local economies.
  • Explaining the myths and facts of controversial practices, such as hydraulic fracturing.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Performing simple acts of responsibility, such as closing a property’s gates at the end of the day.

“I don’t know how many times in my career I have had conversations in which we, as an industry, have said we’ve done a bad job communicating. And then each individual company goes and does its own thing, and none of us takes that on,” Cunningham said.

“But Noble is … doing everything we can,” she said, “to ensure that everyone we work with – landowners, the government, employees, stakeholders, the communities we are in, our partners, suppliers, everybody – benefits.”

‘Bettering People’s Lives’

Cunningham, who received an AAPG Distinguished Service award in 2011, focused part of her talk on her company’s experience with cause-and-effect in Israel.

Despite industry predictions of high pressure wells, high well costs and a low probability of a discovery in Israel’s offshore Tamar Field, Noble and its partners made one of its largest discoveries there in 2009 – as well as seven consecutive discoveries in the Levant Basin.

They now are paving the way for Israel’s energy independence and economic prosperity, Cunningham said.

Noble currently dominates Israel’s natural gas production and has transformed the country’s electricity generation by providing clean, reliable and domestically produced energy for the first time in Israel’s history.

Natural gas is now the fuel of choice rather than coal and diesel. The resulting reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can be likened to removing all the cars in Israel from the road for 16 years, she said.

In Equatorial Guinea on Africa’s west coast, Noble is leaving behind a social legacy. The only oil and natural gas company to maintain a continuous presence there for more than 20 years, Noble’s three producing offshore wells were responsible for 28 percent of the company’s total sales volume in 2013, Cunningham said. The company has been able to invest $13 million in area programs to eradicate malaria, staying true to its mission of “energizing the world, bettering people’s lives.”

To date, the malaria parasite there has been reduced by 75 percent in children younger than 15, she said. The company also is supporting the development of a potential vaccine for the virus.

The Ripple Effect

In Colorado, Noble’s commitment to bettering communities and the environment has created ripple effects throughout the state, where the company is currently operating in the DJ Basin. Noble executives proactively meet with local communities to quell any anxieties they might have, Cunningham said.

“It’s the first impression of the industry,” she explained. “It’s a privilege that they allow us to drill, and therefore we owe it to them to be respectful by meeting with them and leaving the place better than it was before.

“You’ve got to really listen to people because they are afraid of the unknown, and that means us,” Cunningham continued. “You can’t just tell people they’re wrong. You need a conversation to understand why a person is upset and attempt to see the matter from their perspective.”

Initially reluctant to shoot 3-D seismic in Colorado because of the technology’s high costs, Cunningham said now the company “can’t live without it.” While 2-D seismic can reveal large structural traps, 3-D seismic can often pinpoint complex formations and stratigraphic plays, improving the odds of a discovery and reducing the number of exploration wells.

“It’s more than paid for itself,” she said, explaining that the average cost of seismic per well is approximately $4,000, which is less than 0.1 percent of the cost of a typical well.

In Colorado, Noble recently worked with the Environmental Defense Fund, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and EnCana Corporation to develop language for some of the most stringent air rules regulating hydrocarbon emissions in the country.

“We want to keep methane in the pipe and out of the air,” Cunningham said. “We don’t look at regulators as the enemy but as trying to make the world a better place.”

By moving to centralized facilities, tankless operations and oil and water gathering systems, Noble has removed 224,000 truck trips from Colorado roads, eliminating 626,000 tons of CO2 emissions (equivalent to 118,000 passenger vehicles) and 200 million road miles.

In 2012, the oil and natural gas industry generated $30 billion for the Colorado economy, which equates to $81 million a day, Cunningham said.

“That’s more than 110,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in tax revenue for important things like schools, parks and roads,” she said. Furthermore, oil and natural gas production in Colorado also contributes to making household energy costs 23 percent lower than the national average.

“For us to be sustainable and grow at the rate we intend to, we have to take a long-term view and slow down to understand things,” she said. “It’s all about being purposeful in everything we do. It’s recognizing that every human being wants to make a positive difference in the world.

“We believe we can have the energy we need,” she said, “and the economy we want.”

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Making A Difference

"Making a Difference" is a feature in the Explorer that reports on AAPG members and various companies that are having an impact on the world that goes far beyond Association activities.

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Susan Cunningham's Bio


Susan M. Cunningham serves as senior vice president of the Gulf of Mexico, Africa and Frontier region for Noble Energy, a leading independent energy company engaged in worldwide oil and gas exploration and production. She has been with Noble since 2001 and brings more than 30 years of industry experience to her current position.

Cunningham served as chairman of the Offshore Technology Conference in 2010 and 2011.

She was elected to the board of Cliffs Natural Resources in 2005. She also has served on the boards of the Houston Area Women’s Center, the Houston Geological Society and the AAPG Advisory Board.

She received AAPG’s Distinguished Service Award in 2011.

Cunningham earned a bachelor’s degree in geology and physical geography from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. She also has completed a management program through Rice University’s Office of Executive Development.



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