Oil rigs moored in Cromarty Firth. Invergordon, Scotland, UK -- Berardo62/flickr.com

UK Women Speak Out About Their Role in the Oil and Gas Industry

It’s easy to see the fledgling UK oil and gas industry as a microcosm for the issues we have in the United States. In some cases, the problems facing the UK’s energy sector are more pronounced than those at home. Take, for instance, the seemingly unending number of difficulties facing fracking company Cuadrilla as they launched their first fracking well in Lancashire. The fracker saw years of protests and litigation before they were able to begin work in earnest.

Fortunately for the United Kingdom, the march of progress would not be slowed, and the oil and gas industry in the United Kingdom is finally beginning to chug along. Cuadrilla discovered “a rich reservoir of high quality and recoverable gas.” Geologists have also found fresh reserves in the UK’s North Sea, as well. 

Progress is slow, but it’s happening.

Growing Pains in the Workforce

Now, however, the UK oil and gas industry is faced with another dilemma that echoes problems encountered in the United States: they need to draft more women. At the moment, only one out of four employees in the oil and gas industry are female. That runs about equal to the US, where 25.5% of the industry are women.

While the old days of seeing women as something of an oddity in the industry are long gone, that antiquated stigma — that oil and gas is exclusively a man’s world — still hangs around the industry’s neck.

Now, however, a new book from Katy Heidenreich titled The Oil Industry’s Best Kept Secret: A book full of inspiration and advice hopes to reverse the idea that women don’t belong in the United Kingdom’s oil and gas industry.

Diversity, Progress, and Adventure

One of Heidenreich’s case studies for her book, a petroleum engineer at BP explained, “Life offshore is a different world. The platforms and FPSOs [floating production storage and offloading] are amazing feats of engineering. The camaraderie is second to none, which is important when you’re together for weeks at a time. To round it off, I get to take a helicopter to work.”

For those women searching for a career that’s anything but mundane, oil and gas may be just the ticket. Of course, attracting women to the industry is about more than merely getting females on the payroll.

Writes Heidenreich, “Women can bring different leadership skills and behaviours, but it’s not just about diversity of gender, it’s about diversity of thought – more balanced teams make better decisions.”

Scrubbing Off the Wrong Idea

When it comes right down to it, it would appear as though the UK has in its success the same problem as the United States. It’s the same thing that keeps women from vying for lucrative, rewarding professions in the UK oil and gas industry and it’s the same thing that keeps protestors lined up outside fracking sites across the United States and the United Kingdom. That problem: decades of misinformation.

It’s a daunting hill to climb, but with enough education courtesy of writers like Heidenreich and enough perseverance like the kind shown by Cuadrilla and other companies like them, the industry is bound to get there.

TheoRivierenlaan/pixabay.com

US as a Net Exporter? Absolutely. US as Energy Independent? Not Just Yet.

Over the last several months, the United States energy industry celebrated a hugely significant milestone: a return status as one of the world’s net energy exporter. New discoveries in sites like the Permian Basin have revealed the United States is sitting on a massive reserve of oil and gas, and entrepreneurs throughout the nation are ready to charge into this brave, new world.  

Don’t confuse “net energy exporter” with “energy independent,” however. There’s still a long way to go before the United States can rely solely on itself to meet the country’s growing energy needs. In the meantime, diplomacy is the best response.

The 50-Year Record

Even if you’re not intimately tied into the United States oil and gas industry, you’ve likely heard someone proudly exclaim that the United States is set to become a net exporter of energy by 2020, a feat the nation hasn’t accomplished since 1953. Make no mistake, that’s a big deal.

No, really, “It’s a big deal,” said Michael Tran, managing director of global energy strategy at RBC Capital Markets. “We’re not as reliant on foreign oil as we were.”

‘Not as Reliant’ Doesn’t Mean Independent

There’s no stopping the US oil and gas boom. Some estimates put the United States as surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia combined as soon as 2025. Should that estimate hold true, the United States could control more than 50 percent of the world’s liquids market. It’s an exciting possibility that could have incredible implications for the US economy.

That said, without work on the US refinery system, the title “energy exporter” won’t help the United States get any closer to energy independence.

Building the Right Vessel

The southern coast of the United States is dotted with several critically-important refineries designed to transform “heavy” grades of crude oil into usable energy. The only problem with that is that heavy oil isn’t produced in the United States. It comes from Venezuela, Canada, Mexico, and other foreign nations.

The United States, on the other hand, produces what’s known as “sweet” crude. US refineries are capable of handling some sweet crude, but not enough. As a result, the surplus oil extracted in the United States needs to be exported to foreign countries with the ability to refine it.

A Bridge to International Cooperation

The US oil boom is a fantastic development in no uncertain terms. It can help improve the struggling US economy and establish the country once more as a power in the world’s energy sector. However, the US oil boom’s capacity for building relationships hasn’t been largely explored. 

Almost by accident, the United States finds itself sitting on a goldmine of oil that it can’t (yet) refine. Several other nations find themselves in the same situation, only with different grades of crude underneath their territory. Meanwhile, the global demand for oil is increasing at an exponential rate. The only possible response — at least until enough US refineries are built to accommodate the Permian’s supply — is to reach out and work alongside the rest of the world.

DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos/Wikimedia Commons

Oil and Gas Isn’t Immune to the Government Shutdown

The Trump administration is showing blatant favoritism to the energy industry. 

That’s the complaint coming from several critics of the current administration who feel that state and federal outlets of the Department of the Interior should cease any and all oil and gas-related business while the government is shut down. It’s certainly tempting to believe that the president is twisting the government to his own capitalism-loving ends, but there’s nothing wrong (ethically or legally) with the Interior Department’s handling of the government shutdown.

‘Utterly Immoral’ Behavior from the White House

In the words of California Democrat Alan Lowenthal, “At a time when the shutdown is imposing pain on Americans across all walks of life, it is utterly immoral that the Trump administration treats one group of friendly businesses — the fossil fuel industry — as more valuable and deserving than all others.”

Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva jumped on the anti-energy bandwagon, as well, writing an open letter to David Bernhardt, the acting director of the Interior Department, chastising Bernhardt for, “making sure it’s business as usual for oil and gas industry.”

Those volleys make for intriguing headlines, but they couldn’t be farther from the truth.

A Slimmed-Down BLM

The Department of the Interior — and the oil and gas industry, by extension — has felt the pinch of the longest government shutdown in US history. Throughout the nation, individual offices of the Bureau of Land Management are operating on a skeleton crew. Projects approved before the shutdown and projects that were all but complete before the shutdown are the sole focus of the remaining employees at the BLM. 

New projects, by comparison, have been stopped in their tracks. Though some of the Interior  Department offices remain open for business, to say that the government agency remains untouched by the government shutdown is ludicrous.

You Don’t Want the Government to Halt Oil and Gas Projects

In response to the assault on oil and gas, Western Energy Alliance president Kathleen Sgamma countered, “Just because the government is shut down doesn’t mean private-sector economic activity grinds to a halt.”

Sgamma argues that partisan arguments impacting the government should not derail a thriving economic sector on which millions of Americans rely. There’s also the billions in tax benefits the oil and gas industry delivers every year. That’s to say nothing of the growing number of nations that rely on United States energy development to keep the lights on. 

In other words, to lock the door of the Interior Department would be to jeopardize not only the United States economy, but an energy revolution that’s changing the way the world works. 

That’s not favoritism. It’s a safety net.

Jeffrey Beall/Flickr.com

Colorado Supreme Court Decision Ends the So-Called ‘Children’s Crusade’

Just like to tragic historical happening for which it was named, the modern day “Children’s Crusade,” as it was dubbed, has concluded in defeat. Frankly, it’s about time.

Martinez v. COGCC

For those unacquainted with the long-running battle, the COGCC has been under attack since 2013, when Xiuhtezcatl Martinez filed a petition with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (or COGCC) that demanded the regulatory agency suspend all new projects until they could prove conclusively that oil and gas development was not harmful to the environment. For nearly six years, the national oil and gas industry has been threatened by anti-fracking activists whose primary selling point is that they’re too young to go into a bar.

Sure, on the surface, that sounds like a noble quest. The fact that Martinez was a kid also made for stylish headlines, as well. Regardless of the long-running debate surrounding it, Martinez’s petition never amounted to more than a poorly-executed ploy designed to shame one of the hardest working regulatory bodies in the country.

Building an Industry While Handcuffed

In the ruling, Justice Richard L. Gabriel pointed out that the primary role of the COGCC is to “foster the development” of Colorado oil and gas. Ceding economic growth to niche environmental concerns comes a clearly defined second. Even then, the COGCC mandate states that addressing environmental concerns should come, “only after taking into consideration cost-effectiveness and technical feasibility.”

Meanwhile, the COGCC finds themselves operating under regulations that are both wildly restrictive and self-imposed. 

In a statement from President & CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association Dan Haley, the exec wrote, “The plaintiffs in the Martinez v. COGCC case ignored, and attempted to disrupt, decades of regulatory precedent and legal oversight. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act (Act) directs the COGCC to consider multiple factors in making its decisions, including environmental priorities. Following the Act, which is existing Colorado law, the COGCC has enacted the most extensive and stringent regulations for the oil and natural gas industry in the country.” 

Still, however, Colorado oil and gas finds a way to thrive.

The Battle the Continues

The Supreme Court ruling handed down early this week is an undeniable victory for the state’s energy companies. That said, there’s little time for Colorado oil and gas to revel. Opponents of hydraulic fracturing, including the newly elected governor of Colorado, have voiced their disapproval at the decision. In short, it’s only a matter of time before the state’s, and the nation’s energy interests are threatened once more.

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Can We Stop Talking About How Much the Oil and Gas Company Spends on Elections?

Anyone who lived in Colorado in 2018 won’t soon forget the intensity of the midterm election. Throughout the year, competing interests butted heads over the state’s energy future. In particular, anti-fracking advocates waged an active campaign to pass oil and gas setback legislation known as Proposition 112.

Ultimately, that effort went in vain as Colorado voters defeated Prop 112 at the polls (and thank goodness for that). In the aftermath of that loss, some critics of the energy industry are placing the blame on financial donations from oil and gas.

The Numbers in Black and White

When everything was said and done, seven of the top ten corporate and nonprofit donors in Colorado’s previous election were representatives of the oil and gas industry. Altogether, they spent $31,170,944 to fund Protect Colorado, a PAC designed to make sure Prop 112 died on election day.

When it’s plopped down on the pavement, that much money funneled into combatting one amendment but let’s consider this: the money that the oil and gas industry put into fighting Prop 112 was there to balance the constant stream of media attention bathed on those trying to pass it.

In the months leading up to November’s election, anecdotes about the poor people suffering under the supposedly oppressive oil and gas industry in Colorado. The Denver Post ran an extensive piece on the issue. Colorado Public Radio sounded off. Even national outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times found reasons to weigh in on the topic. And all in the service of painting Colorado’s oil and gas industry as a semi-nefarious organism dedicated to ruining the environment to improve their bottom line.

Mountains of “real news” articles were published that determined to turn people against a single piece of legislation. If you don’t think that influenced voters, then let’s look at a real-world example.

Let’s Talk About Trump’s 2016 Campaign

When the election cycle ends, there’s inevitably a series of articles that probe each candidate’s campaign coffers. The idea is to infer that somebody won because they paid more money to get the job done. Even the stat fans at FiveThirtyEight.com have out-and-out said: “The candidate who spends the most money usually wins.”

Donald Trump bucked that trend when he spent roughly half the amount of money as his chief competitor Hillary Clinton. Of course, news outlets immediately rushed to say that all the media attention paid to Donald Trump amounted to money spent on his elections. The Washington Post put the number at around $2 billion. CNBC’s estimate reached $4.6 billion.

In other words, the free media attention paid to Donald Trump amounted to a massive campaign war chest, especially when compared to Clinton. Media exposure was considered the same thing as campaign contributions.

It Wasn’t a One-Sided Fight

Now, even as press outlets decry the supposed influence of the energy industry on the fate of Prop 112, they fail to acknowledge that their spotlight — at least, by their definition — amounted to campaign donations on behalf of the amendment.

From that angle, the $31 million and change the energy industry spent on the Colorado 2018 election was more balancing act than anything else.