Walters: Industry Must Improve Communication Skills

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

The energy industry needs to do a better job of engaging communities near drilling sites and informing them of safe energy practices that protect human health and the environment, according to one Colorado engineer.

Craig Walters, Anadarko Petroleum’s director of Wattenberg field operations in northern Colorado, said his company has taken steps to improve communication with stakeholders affected by the company’s drilling activities and assure them of the business’ environmental and safety excellence.

 “We want to make sure it’s a positive experience for everybody when the drilling rigs show up,” he said.

Walters made his remarks earlier this year as one of the speakers at the annual 3-D Seismic Symposium in Denver.

“Historically, the first exposure that the public has to drilling is when the seismic truck shows up,” he said. “Usually seismic is incentivized to get in and get out fast, and often is handled by contractors.”

When asked by the public who they work for, these contractors typically identify the operator, he said.

“So it’s our name that’s attached to the activity, and that can be a problem,” Walters said. “Seismic crews historically didn’t answer questions from the public.”

To improve relations with new neighbors, Anadarko now asks seismic crews to hand out business cards to the public so they can contact the company to get their questions answered.

“This program has been hugely successful,” Walters said.

Initially, Anadarko visits the area in advance to meet its new neighbors, often contacting homeowners associations, he said.

“We send direct mailers out telling homeowners what to expect and what the timeline on the drilling activity is. We’ve found if we let the neighbors know what’s coming, everything goes better. We listen to them. ‘Would they like a 30-foot sound wall or something more natural?’ for example,” he said.

“You’ve got to have open communication but also effective communication. You have to listen to them,” he said. “We can’t incorporate everything they would like but when we can, we definitely try to.”

For example, Anadarko tries to use smaller vibe trucks in neighborhoods as well as fail-safe vibrator protection. It also has adopted a flexible shooting schedule from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and tries to stay off neighborhood roads when school buses are out, he said.

Walters noted that several communities in Colorado have passed bans and moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing recently.

“We as an industry need to do a much better job of communicating what we do, how we do it safely and how it doesn't impact human health and the environment,” he said.

Engaging the Public

The key to working effectively with the public is to engage and protect the stakeholders.

“It’s a long list of people and extensive. You need to take the time to do it thoroughly,” he said.

In the Wattenberg area in Weld County, Colorado, Anadarko tries to communicate with the public and keep them informed of activities.

About 120,000 people live in municipalities in the region, and a total of about 500,000 reside in the entire affected area, he said.

The company has about 350,000 net acres in Core Wattenberg, so there could be “a significant amount of activity over the next decade,” Walters said.

Currently there are 17,000 vertical wells in the Wattenberg field; Anadarko operates about a third of them.

“Horizontal volumes are quickly replacing the vertical base,” he said. “We’re rapidly expanding the in-field infrastructure.”

Anadarko has a global portfolio, but the bulk of their operations are domestic. 

“Our bread and butter really is the U.S. onshore. That includes the Rocky Mountains, Texas and the Marcellus,” he said.

In the Rockies, Anadarko has spent $1.5 billion in development in the last year and will continue to spend that much annually over the next five to eight years, he said.

“We’re spending about $4 million on a typical horizontal well right now,” he said.

“Indirectly, we work to provide a basic resource to people. The lifestyle in America is driven by energy. It is a noble cause and it’s also important to protect the environment,” he said.

“We utilize very little water in the state compared to the agricultural industry,” he noted.

Walters also said the energy industry needs to let the public know how it contributes to the community: “We let people understand how important it is to us with our tax payments,” he said.

From 2007 to 2012, the company paid more than $600 million in taxes, royalties and salaries in the area, he said.

Weld County benefited from $75 million in taxes from Anadarko in 2012. About 50 percent of that went to junior colleges and school districts in the area, he said.

“We employ more than 1,500 people in Colorado and 100 indirect employees for every drilling rig,” he said. “Our average wage is 52 percent higher than the state average.”


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