December 2017

First Oil

A need for leadership
Kurt Abraham / World Oil

When we contact World Oil’s editorial advisors each year, to again give their annual assessments of various industry sectors, we usually don’t give them any specific instructions or coaching. Our advisors are veteran, knowledgeable people, who are well-versed in their specialties. So, we trust them to decide what to talk about. Accordingly, sometimes patterns or trends develop among the group as a whole, and other times no discernable themes emerge. 

End-of-2017 trends. This year, we have three trends emerging among the group—Big Data and the digital transformation, robotics, and public perception of the industry. Most of us have heard plenty about the first two items in the last year. In fact, on page 55, in this month’s Newfoundland and Labrador report, there is an item that describes the use of robotics to generate high-resolution 3D models of existing subsea assets.

But it’s the third item, public perception of the industry, that this editor fears is getting far less attention, even though it is just as critical. Most industry personnel in the U.S. don’t seem to be dialed into this issue, perhaps feeling that now that Donald J. Trump is President and brings a very pro-industry attitude to the White House, all of our problems are solved. True, much has been done in just 11 months at the Department of the Interior and the EPA, to clean up the regulatory mess that Mr. Obama left in his wake. But that progress is only a part of the equation. 

The White House and Republicans in Congress can only do so much without the support of public opinion. And this is the problem—too many people in the U.S. have a negative perception of oil and gas. We all can cite our favorite reasons for this: 1) the incredibly ignorant, but deliberately distorting national media, who attack the industry like rabid dogs; 2) The alarming volume of left-wing teachers in U.S. public school systems, who bring their anti-industry, incredibly unrealistic vision to the unsuspecting minds of young people; and 3) the incessant efforts of the most radical elements of environmentalism to “excise” oil and gas from the planet.

Where are the leaders? In contrast, the industry is not doing enough to win the public perception battle. Those mild-mannered ads run by a few industry companies on the Sunday morning talk shows are really only aimed at Washington insiders. A far more extensive and aggressive campaign needs to be waged by the industry, to explain to the public, the significant, positive role that oil and gas play in their daily lives, and why we must continue to develop future supplies.

But this message also needs industry leaders to articulate that discussion, and there seems to be a discernable lack of executives willing to speak up for oil and gas to the public. In the 1975-2000 period, we had such stalwarts as Shell’s John Bookout, Arco’s Robert O. Anderson, Mitchell Energy’s George Mitchell, Apache Corp.’s Raymond Plank, Anadarko Petroleum’s Bob Allison, and, more recently, former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister. This industry needs leaders of similar caliber to step forward, if it is to maintain its place within U.S. society, in the long term. 

Point-counterpoint on Norway. Seldom do we have two columnists take opposing stands on the same topic in one particular monthly issue of World Oil, but such is the case this month. On page 23 in this issue, you see that our Contributing Editor and renowned energy economist, Øystein Noreng, has taken a generally favorable tone toward the decison by Norway’s sovereign wealth fund to withdraw from petroleum stocks. But on page 78, you see that our veteran Technical Editor and geologist by trade, Craig Fleming, has a generally critical view of the fund’s decision. We’ll leave it up to you, the readers, to decide which of these gentlemen’s opinions you side with. But to make things more fun, drop me an email note, and tell me who you think is right on the subject, and why. If we get enough responses, we’ll announce the results and some of the comments in the next month or two. wo-box_blue.gif

About the Authors
Kurt Abraham
World Oil
Kurt Abraham
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