Social License and Public Acceptance in Canada

Today, the Canadian Network for Energy Policy Research and Analysis published its report: “Energy Projects, Social Licence, Public Acceptance and Regulatory Systems in Canada: A White Paper.” This white paper reports on the results of a year-long interdisciplinary collaboration aimed at identifying and summarizing extant research regarding social license and related concepts, with a particular emphasis on understanding its implications for public acceptance of energy projects in Canada, and their related regulatory processes.

The report is available through SSRN and ResearchGate.

Emerging Technology Disrupters in Oil, Gas and Data

O'Reilly Report Cover

Last week I learned that WellWiki.org was profiled in O’Reilly’s Oil, Gas and Data report. Written by Daniel Cowles, the O’Reilly report covers a variety of emerging technology disruptors. The report was handed out to attendees at the Strata + Hadoop World big data conference in London.  Below is an excerpt…

O'Reilly Report Page 16

Risk, Sustainability and Oil Sands

I was recently invited to to give a talk on risk and sustainability at the CSPG-AAPG Oil Sands and Heavy Oil Symposium: A Local to Global Multidisciplinary Collaboration. The symposium is being jointly sponsored by the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists (CSPG) and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), the two predominant petroleum geology organizations in North America. It will be held in Calgary at the Metropolitan Centre on October 14-16, 2014.

According to the organizers, the conference is expected to attract 500 geologists from Canada and the U.S., plus representatives from other heavy oil producers in China, Venezuela, and Russia. The topics of discussion will include the international nature of oil sands and heavy oil resources, the geology and characterization of producing deposits, technological advances, and sustainability.

My talk will be part of a session on regulatory and sustainability issues, being co-chaired by Kevin Parks and Travis Hurst. I’ll be speaking on work that I have been doing with Michael Lounsbury, Lianne Lefsrud, and Chang Lu that looks at multiple perspectives on risk, with a particular emphasis on cross cultural understandings of risk. Our analysis finds that technical, financial and perceptual understandings of risk are seldom sufficient to explain how societies decide what is risky, what is safe, and whether and how to proceed.

Update: A copy of my presentation is below. Additionally, a short companion paper is available through SSRN.

The Fossil Free Divestment Movement

gam-masthead

Today, our article on the fossil fuel divestment movement was published in The Globe and Mail. Founded in 1844, The Globe and Mail is nationally distributed throughout Canada and its most widely read daily newspaper. The article is available below and online: What the Divestment Movement Could Mean for Alberta and Canada. Continue reading

WellWiki in the News

Recently, my WellWiki.org project has garnered some nice media attention.

WellWiki.org

The first article — “A Public Wiki Shines Light on North America’s 4 Million Oil & Gas Wells” — was courtesy of Lisa Song at InsideClimate News. It ran on July 30, 2014. This story was later syndicated in a variety of newspapers, from the Miami Herald to the Buffalo News.

This article prompted some follow-up stories, including two in The Edmonton Journal. Sheila Pratt’s article — “‘Wellwiki’ compendium of oil and gas info to launch in fall” — ran on August 1, 2014. A few days later, The Edmonton Journal ran a follow-up story: “CAPP welcomes Wellwiki idea.”

Carrie Gilkison of the Epoch Times interviewed me for an August 6, 2014, article entitled: “New ‘WellWiki’ to Provide Info on Every Oil and Gas Well in Canada.”

Finally, on August 31, 2014, I was interviewed by Peter Watts on “The Alberta Weekend Morning Show.” The interview aired on Corus Entertainment’s CHQR-AM 770 Calgary and CHED-AM 630 Edmonton. The interview starts about 9:35 into the program and lasts until about 15:25.

630CHEDinterview

Showing Versus Telling and the Debate Over Unconventional Shale Development

Over the past decade, it has become clear that unconventional shale development poses major challenges to the state agencies tasked with regulating it. In many cases, the concerns are related to issues of information containment and information disclosure. For instance, Pennsylvania and its state agencies have been criticized repeatedly, most recently in a scathing report by the Commonwealth’s Auditor General.

Although the Department of Environmental Protection has born the bulk of this criticism, the Department of Health has come under fire too. According to StateImpact Pennsylvania, two retirees from the Department say “its employees were silenced on the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling.” The issue of “organizational silence,” or the collective-level phenomenon of saying or doing little in the face of significant problems, is an area of considerable research. Although in many cases organizational silence comes about tacitly, in this case, the retired employees claim the silence was deliberate.

Michael Wolf is Pennsylvania’s current Health Secretary. In a recent newspaper editorial, he responded to these criticisms of the Health Department. Below are some excerpts from his editorial, as well as some observations that occurred to me in the course of reading his comments:

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has specific protocols for all public health inquiries and concerns that employees must follow.

This sounds very promising. Inquiring minds want to know:

  • What are these protocols?
  • Are they adequate for handling inquiries and concerns related to unconventional shale developing and hydraulic fracturing?
  • How often are the Department’s protocols followed and ignored?
  • How do these protocols compare, such as with other state protocols and with peer-reviewed literature regarding the potential health impacts of unconventional shale development and hydraulic fracturing?

All inquiries are immediately reported to the department’s Bureau of Epidemiology, the experts who have training in controlling and preventing the spread of disease or illness, for review and follow-up. This is a strict and standard protocol for any health report the department receives, whether it’s related to Marcellus Shale or other environmental health issues. The process includes a review, investigation, data collection and a formal response to the complainant. The Bureau of Epidemiology works directly with the caller or patient’s physician in charge for follow-up, and any immediate threats to the public’s health found would be given a priority…. A log is kept of each complaint that comes in, responses are tracked, and outcomes noted.

Based on this statement, it seems that the Department of Health (unlike the Department of Environmental Protection) should be able to quickly provide answers to questions such as:

  • How many inquiries related to Marcellus Shale have been received?
  • What is the status of the review process and what responses have been issued in relation to these inquiries?
  • What are the outcomes of the investigations?
  • What “immediate threats to the public’s health” have been found and how are these being prioritized?
  • Are there any examples of situations where these procedures “controlled” or “prevented” the spread of potential health impacts related to unconventional shale development and hydraulic fracturing?

Our goal is, and will continue to be, to provide information and a forum for discourse on public health issues.

This is an admirable goal. As one check on how the Department has done with regard to its goal of providing information and a forum for discourse on public health issues related to unconventional shale development and hydraulic fracturing, I used the “search Agency” box on the Department website to search for terms such as “Marcellus,” “shale,” “hydraulic fracturing” and “fracking.” The results below suggest that the Department is not providing any such information on its website:

  • For “Marcellus” there were 23 results. Of these, 22 reported on the number of newborn children who were named “Marcellus.” The other document was entitled “Final Progress Report for Research Projects Funded by Health Research Grants.” The document refers to a $66,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation for “Use of information in Marcellus Shale environmental and health quality public discourse debates.”
  • For “shale” there were 8 results. Of these, 6 reported on the number of newborn children who were named “Shale.” Another result was to the same Final Progress Report referenced above. The final result was entitled “Boron Fact Sheet,” according to which, “Boron is a naturally occurring element found in many types of rocks including shale.”
  • There were no results for the terms “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking.”

We may not have a multi-million dollar health registry right now at the department as some have called for, but the records are kept, the proactive follow-up and coordination is happening and we are leveraging the talents and resources we have to get the job done.

The expression “show, don’t tell” is well known among writers of all kinds. By comparison, the Secretary’s editorial is long on telling and short on showing. Perhaps in the future, the Department of Health will provide evidence of its claims? After all, the strongest rebuttal to the allegations that have been made would be evidence to the contrary. But on that point the Department of Health remains … silent.

Oil and Gas Well Facility Siting

This week I’ll be giving an invited talk to the University of Alberta’s Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology (REES) in the Faculty of Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES). The talk will be on Thursday, March 20 at 3:30 pm in 550 General Services Building. For more details, visit the REES Seminars and Lectures website. The title of my talk is: “Community Vulnerability and Facility Siting: The Case of Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling, 2004-2012.” This work is joint with Dror Etzion of McGill University.

Abstract: Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has rapidly emerged as an ubiquitous technology for extracting oil and gas from previously inaccessible geological formations. Due to the nature of the technology and its relatively small surface footprint, wells can be sited virtually anywhere, including in close proximity to homes, schools and other sensitive locations. With many uncertainties about the technology still unresolved, critics point to the potential for unequally distributed negative health outcomes among those in regular proximity to drilling sites. Accordingly, for oil and gas companies, deciding upon well sites can be a contentious activity, incorporating not only economic and geological factors but social and community ones as well. In this study, we examine all hydraulically fractured wells in the Marcellus shale play from 2004-2012 in the state of Pennsylvania and assess whether community vulnerabilities played a role in well siting decisions. We find that indicators of socio-demographics, social cohesion and municipal governance are predictors of well siting decisions, beyond the traditional attributes of race and income usually highlighted in the environmental justice literature. Our findings suggest that research on community health should not be limited to phenomena like nuclear power plants and hazardous waste facilities, but should expand to include routine, commonplace and autonomous organizational siting decisions characterized by minimal regulatory involvement.

We are scheduled to present subsequent iterations of this research at the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability, in May 2014 at Cornell University, and again at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting, in August 2014 in Philadelphia.

Marcellus Shale Drilling Talk

This week I was invited to give a talk to the University of Alberta’s Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology (REES) in the Faculty of Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES), and I am really looking forward to it. The talk is scheduled for March. I’ll be presenting research related to Marcellus Shale Drilling that I have been working on with Dror Etzion from McGill University.

For more details, check back here, or visit the REES Seminars and Lectures website: http://www.rees.ualberta.ca/SeminarsandLectures.aspx

Global Sustainable Energy Essay Contest 2013

The Global Energy Essay Contest provides an exciting opportunity for college and university students around the world to engage in critical thinking and present their ideas and solutions to tackle the key energy issues that humanity faces today.

Eligibility

The essay contest is open to all students from across the world that are currently enrolled in university working towards a degree program (e.g. B.A., B.S., M.A., M.S, M.B.A, M.Ed., Ph.D., etc.) to take part in the contest.

Essay Topic

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2014 to 2024 as the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All and taking inspiration from this, students are invited to share their thoughts by writing a 1,200 to 1,500 word essay on the topic: “A Vision for The Decade (2014-2024) of Sustainable Energy for All.”

Prizes

The 1st and 2nd place winners will receive an invitation to the Global Energy Conference at the United Nations on December 11 and 12, 2013. The 1st place winner will also have a speaking opportunity during the award presentation ceremony. Airfare and accommodation to New York, United States will be covered. The top ten finalists will receive certificates from Global Energy Initiative.

The deadline for submission is October 28, 2013. Prize-winners will be announced on November 8, 2013. For essay guidelines and additional contest details visit http://globalenergyinitiative.org.