In a post on LinkedIn this week, T. Boone Pickens offered his opinions and suggestions for “How To Make America Great Again” in regards to national energy policy and the oil and gas industry.  One of his recommendations follows:

“3. Work with industry, not against it. Federal and state agencies should have a policy of working with the oil and gas industry to improve any safety or environmental issues rather than unilaterally imposing new regulations without understanding the full effects, or punishing the industry …….. “


I’m disappointed, but not surprised to read Mr. Picken’s attempt to portray the oil & gas industry as a victim of environmental, health and safety regulations. His blanket statement is a familiar industry marketing tactic designed to vilify reasonable EHS regulations as obstacles to growth and opportunity, while at the same time ignoring the pesky facts and realities.

I’ll go ahead and summarize some of those pesky details now… I’ll get to the real victims of EHS related issues as they pertain to the O&G industry in a minute, but will begin by addressing Mr. Picken’s “unilateral” accusation.

In reality, there’s rarely anything “unilateral” about how OSHA and EPA goes about implementing new regulations. Both agencies have comprehensive processes surrounding implementation of new regulations that include extensive feedback and involvement from all “stakeholders’ including industry players. For example, take the almost 3 year process that OSHA recently undertook while trying to update their silica exposure rules. A process that included significantly feedback, and push-back, from O&G and other industries.

Mr. Pickens, doesn’t this constitute “working with” the oil and gast industry??
Now back to the victims issue: The real victims surrounding O&G industry environmental, health and safety related issues isn’t the industry itself, it’s the workers, the public and the overall environment.

Consider the following:

  • The O&G industry is one of the most dangerous workplaces in the US, and had 7x greater fatality rates than any other industry from 2003-2012. From 2012 through 2014, while fracking really boomed, the industry again had the greatest increases in injuries and fatality rates as compared to any other industry.
  • Here’s a quick sampling of how O&G workers were injured and killed and injured in 2012: 79 lost limbs, 82 were crushed, 92 suffered burns & 675 suffered broke bones.
  • Local residents living near oilfields have seen their drinking water seriously contaminated, and in some cases becoming flammable, after fracking occurred in their communities. This doesn’t always occur, but it‘s happened far too often with devastating consequences.
  • Oklahoma historically had 1-5 small earthquakes per year, but experienced major increases after the oil and gas boom. The spike began in 2010 when just under 500 quakes occurred, increasing to a maximum of nearly 6300 in 2015. These quakes are believed to be caused by waste water injection wells used to dispose of fracking related wastes.
  • In 2013, 47 residents of Lac-Megantic, Quebec were incinerated when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in the downtown area resulting in a catastrophic explosion and fire.
  • Oil spills have long had devastating impacts on the environment.
  • O&G exploration and production activities have other major negative environmental impacts including pollution from transportation activities, CO2 emissions from flares and other burining sources, etc. all of which contribute to climate change. (Yes, climate change is real).

If the oil and gas industry continues to grow, these devastating trends and events will only get worse.

Mr. Pickens, are these some of the “full effects” you had in mind while drafting your statement? Are these the kinds of things you believe will “Make America Great Again?”

Look, I’m a realist and understand that all industries have associated EHS risks, and that grand ambitions like energy independence are going to have corresponding and significant costs. Heck, I founded and used to own a small O&G services business that operated in the Eagle Ford (and “lost my ass” on it, as Mr. Picken’s apparently has too…), and before that founded and owned a wind energy services business that operated all over the US. My single biggest “take away” from both experiences was very simple: the fossil fuel lobby essentially controls Washington policy. I don’t have the time or space to elaborate, but anyone who knows anything about US energy policy knows that renewables will always be the “red headed stepchild” to it’s big and favorite brother, fossil fuels. That’s just a fact, which brings me back to my original point: Mr. Picken’s Oil and Gas industry is no victim to EHS regulations, nor anything else originating from Washington (or the states for that matter).   But as strong as the industry and lobby is, they’re no match for the market forces that dictate fluctuating commodity pricing for crude and natural gas. This is the big risk that Mr. Picken’s refers to in his article. At the end of the day, Mr. Pickens and his industry must figure out a way to factor in EHS regulation costs and responsibility into their ROI, and if they can’t, then maybe, just maybe, the O&G industry can’t really deliver on the grand promise to “Make America Great Again” after all….


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