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President’s Column

Education is the Solution to Improving Our Industry’s Image

pic of SPE PresidentPublic mistrust and misconceptions about the oil and gas industry have grown after the 2010 Macondo blowout and the concerns raised over the environmental damage from hydraulic fracturing.  It is very important for our industry to respond with factual information and to dispel the misinformation. Education is the answer, both in the schools and in our outreach to the general public.

We must take ownership of the education about our industry. Oil and gas exploration and production is not an old-fashioned, dying industry; on the contrary, it is a very scientific, dynamic field that requires a high level of technology. Instead of talking mostly about our profession or the technology, which can become dry, we need to better communicate the excitement and importance of what we do. We must emphasize the role that oil and gas plays in daily lives. Oil and natural gas provide fuel for our vehicles and heat for our homes, and they are used to make myriad products that make modern life possible. Everyone’s quality of life depends on the availability and affordability of energy. And despite the promise of alternative sources, oil and gas remains the primary source of efficient and affordable energy.

What can we as individuals and as SPE members do? From the individual’s standpoint, it can be overwhelming, but as part of a 100,000-member organization with resources at hand, a great deal can be accomplished. We start by working together with students and educators to raise the awareness of the role of oil and gas in our society, and its importance to our daily lives. This educational effort should first get the younger children interested in math and science, and then show the older children how their interests and passions can lead to a dynamic and meaningful career that benefits mankind.

The SPE is working to educate teachers and students globally through its Energy4me program (www.energy4me.org) with workshops and classroom curriculum. The program’s flexibility offers an easy way for SPE sections and members to start community outreach programs, which can be big or small, ongoing or scheduled, and carried out with minimal cost or time investment. With more resources, members can engage corporate sponsors or partner with other organizations.

Recently, the SPE Dallas Section joined with the Ellison Miles Geotechnology Institute to host a daylong tour in North Texas to acquaint science teachers with the natural gas drilling process. It started with an informational session on topics such as the basics of gas drilling, hydraulic fracturing technology, and the history of the Barnett Shale in the region. Then the teachers toured a pad site to see drilling activities, a hydraulic fracturing facility to learn about the process and safeguards used, and finally, a completed pad location. This is a great example of how misinformation can be dispelled by educating teachers, who are also members of a community deluged with information, true and false, about hydraulic fracturing. The hands-on approach could help change public opinion for the better.

Some of the ways that you can get involved are as follows:

SPE Sections and Members

  • Donate Energy4me materials to schools.
  • Offer scholarships/grants.
  • Start a classroom presentation program.
  • Mentor a school science club.
  • Take part in Engineers Week and Earth Science Week activities.
  • Hold an energy-themed art contest.
  • Lead teachers or students in educational activities at select SPE conferences.
  • Translate Energy4me materials into the local language.
  • Judge science fairs.
  • Help schoolchildren earn energy or engineering merit badges.

SPE Student Chapters and Members

  • Start a classroom presentation program.
  • Mentor a school science club.
  • Take part in Engineers Week and Earth Science Week activities.
  • Many organizations and energy and service companies have initiatives and programs in place. Some of them are the US National Energy Education Development Project. It focuses on educators and students in elementary through high schools to promote an energy-conscious and educated society
    (www.need.org).
  • Science museums highlight the history and growth of the oil and gas industry. Examples are the Offshore Energy Center in Galveston, Texas  (www.oceanstaroec.com), and the Indonesian Oil and Gas Museum in Jakarta (www.museum-migas.go.id).
  • A number of oil and gas production and service companies have educational programs, which include the following :
    Shell has the Energize Your Future program.
    Total has an online “serious” game called Total Genius Campus, where students build an energy system for a country (www.totalgeniuscampus.com).
    ExxonMobil is educating teachers through its Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy (www.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/community_math_academy.aspx) and has sponsored teacher workshops at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition among other activities.
    Schlumberger has an Excellence in Educational Development program (www.planetseed.com).
  • The American Petroleum Institute has many resources. It is running a campaign on the facts and benefits of shale energy through its Energy From Shale website (www.energyfromshale.org).

There are many ways to help educate students and the public about the oil and gas industry. The right information and education is vital to the future of the industry and important for the general public. We need your help in this mission. Please get involved by joining a continuing effort or starting a new program through your local SPE section.