Industry Professionals Can Lead The Way In Engaging The Public

Although not generally appreciated by government or the public, the network of scientific, engineering and business knowledge supporting the Canadian oil and gas industry is truly impressive. I’m tempted to say that it’s unparalleled in this country, and perhaps any other.

The whole story begins with exploration and geoscience.

Despite the views of well-known physicist Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory) — “Physics answers the question: What is the nature of the universe? Geology answers the question: you know, what’d I just trip over?” — petroleum geoscience is a complex discipline building on all the “pure” sciences. Physics, chemistry and biology (and mathematics, much as many geologists are reluctant to admit) are all essential background to understanding and exploring for petroleum reservoirs. Once hydrocarbons are found, we rely on a broad range of engineering disciplines to understand how the fluids move in the reservoir, how to efficiently drill and produce them, how to capture and transport products, and how to refine them.  And as I’ve learned from clients starting up new companies, the business and finance skills to raise investment dollars, get deals done, and maximize returns for investors are a complex mix of art, science and relationship building.

While most industry professionals start out with university or technical school training, it’s not until we start working in industry that we learn how to get things done. Not only must we apply our own technical knowledge, but we need to understand what our colleagues do, so that we can work effectively in teams. Teamwork becomes more and more important as industry moves away from drilling conventional prospects to designing massive programs to efficiently exploit unconventional reservoirs.

But these days it’s more and more difficult for new graduates to find summer and intern positions where they can learn how the industry works. Large companies, the traditional training centres, are pulling back or leaving Canada altogether, and smaller organizations don’t have the capacity to do much training.

Fortunately, industry technical and professional organizations provide many key technical and social / networking opportunities. Founded many years ago during better economic times, these groups have done an amazing job surviving as memberships decline. Dedicated volunteers keep the lights on, even as savings are depleted and more must be done with fewer resources.

In geoscience, the CSPG (Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists), CSEG (Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists) and CWLS (Canadian Well Logging Society) provide many technical events and publications for their members. Each reaches out to university students to introduce them to industry with lectures, courses, and networking opportunities. Several years ago, they formally combined forces to stage GeoConvention every spring, providing geoscientists with the opportunity to meet, exchange ideas, and learn from technical presentations, poster sessions, short courses and field trips. 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the CSPG Core Conference, held immediately after GeoConvention, where geologists can lay their hands on the rocks and learn about current plays and research.

Canadian geoscientists also enjoy close relationships with their American and international colleagues in AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists ) and SEG (Society of Exploration Geophysicists), not to mention more academic ties to the GAC (Geological Association of Canada) and GSA (Geological Society of America).

Reservoir engineers enjoy similar technical, networking and learning opportunities with SPE (Society of Petroleum Engineers), an international organization with an active Calgary Section dedicated to the Canadian oilpatch. Other technical societies filling similar essential roles for reservoir engineers include Canadian Heavy Oil Association (CHOA) and the Society of Petroleum Evaluation Engineers (SPEE). Facilities and pipeline engineers are supported by the Calgary Section of National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) and the Canadian Geotechnical Society.

CAPL (Canadian Association of Petroleum Landmen) provides courses, conferences and networking for land professionals, focusing on regulatory issues but providing education on negotiation skills and technical aspects of the industry as well.

One particularly impactful technical organization is CSUR (Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources). This is a relatively young society — it started out as CSUG (Canadian Society for Unconventional Gas) less than 20 years ago, with primary focus on coalbed methane. (Full disclosure: I’m a director with CSUR; I’m a past-president of CSPG.)

CSUR’s members are organizations, not individuals. Operating companies, regulators, governments, universities, financial institutions, and consulting and service firms belong to CSUR, and this diversity makes CSUR unique. Employees of members can attend technical events spanning all aspects of the unconventional oil and gas industry, providing them broader insights across the industry. While many events focus on geological and/or engineering subjects, regulatory and business topics are addressed as well. Special theme sessions, such as the annual B.C. Day, may address all of these subjects and include presentations directly from the regulators.

Perhaps most importantly, all of these technical organizations support industry in dealing with governments, regulators, and the public. Firstly, they reach out beyond their membership to invite university (and K-12) students to gain knowledge about the working oil and gas world. It is critically important to provide these perspectives, particularly as academics become more tightly focused on specific research areas, and core subject areas disappear from university curricula. I have found it very rewarding personally to share experiences and perspectives about not only geological topics, but about larger issues around our industry, the environment, and world energy supply and demand.

And in the larger public realm — oil and gas industry professionals with advanced scientific and /or engineering training work day to day with business, social and regulatory constraints. We understand, better than almost anybody else, how the material world works — and what it takes to actually secure resources and build infrastructure. I marvel when engaging on social media how so many people, including many in responsible positions and with advanced academic education, are poorly informed and lacking in perspective about energy and the environment. Few of them understand how difficult it is to create opportunity, make viable plans, and actually build new things — particularly in the sensitive energy sector.

I believe that with our unparalleled grounding in technical and practical issues, oil and gas industry professionals should speak out more strongly with voices of reason, critical analysis, and practicality on societal issues such as energy and climate. We can provide facts and perspective for concerned members of the public who are willing to listen and think.