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Energy’s Struggle With Rapidly Changing Roles, Responsibilities, and Reputation

Source: Getty Images.

Almost every aspect of modern society is supported or influenced by energy—and yet it is one of the least understood and possibly one of the most reviled industries on the planet. Whether we like it or not, the energy sector’s public image has been shaped over the past couple of generations to be synonymous with corporate profiteering, environmental disregard, and social abstinence. It is hard for those of us who work in this industry to rationalize such a reputation when we know that our collective programs on safety, the environment, corporate social responsibility, and technology innovation are among the best to be found in any sector.

This is the energy paradox, and in the face of an ever-growing and daunting demand for energy, it is apparent that the industry’s relationship with society has to change. But is it one that we can tackle on our own?

Changes at Scale

Nowhere is the energy paradox more evident than with the shale revolution in the United States. In just a few years, the industry has moved from initial experimentation to drilling almost 40,000 wells per year—changing employment and prosperity in many parts of the country, creating the potential for energy independence, and disrupting long-standing equilibria in the geopolitical landscape. In addition to this direct impact, the promise of sustained, accessible, and affordable energy is becoming a powerful economic multiplier, with an increasing number of new manufacturing plants replacing coal with natural gas, resulting in a marked impact on the reduction of carbon emissions.

The sheer scale of this activity, though, is stressing domestic infrastructure beyond design, overloading pipelines, roadways, and rail networks. More and more, these activities are expanding into private land and creating new engagements among companies that represent our industry and stakeholders in communities, local governments, and states. It remains to be seen to what degree these constituents are willing to deal with what is, in effect, the reindustrialization of the United States when it is in their own backyards.

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Energy’s Struggle With Rapidly Changing Roles, Responsibilities, and Reputation

Derek Mathieson, SPE, Chief Strategy Officer, Baker Hughes, and Peter J. Bryant, Senior Fellow, Kellogg Innovation Network

01 November 2014

Volume: 66 | Issue: 11

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