We had a power outage yesterday afternoon, so my wife and I escaped to a movie. And as we enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel, I thought about comments John Hofmeister, CEO of Citizens for Affordable Energy and former President of Shell Oil Company made at the Utilities industry track at Oracle Industry Connect last week.
He pointed out the oil and gas and the public utility industries rank dead last in popularity compared to Hollywood and Silicon Valley in particular. His question was “where would they be without our fuel and electrons?” He lamented politicians, public policy and even industry executives (for safety lapses and getting away from the common consumer by divesting retail operations) for a state where these critical industries get little respect.
His rant deserves public debate.
The energy sector is capital intensive and complex. It will always be high-risk. My time in the 80s in the oil patch in Texas, Saudi, Netherlands taught me that in spades. Interviewing Statoil for my recent book, it was fascinating to hear about the elaborate systems that support their operations in the hostile waters of the North Sea. And how complex it is to evolve those same high standards now to shale exploration in N. America, oil drilling off Brazil and CO2 injection in gas fields in Algeria.
When I wrote a case study about BP in The New Polymath, I took heat for being nice to an “evil company”. The case study had focused on a small innovative team with a decade of innovations in their refineries, pipelines, and tankers. This team had nothing to do with the Gulf Oil spill – in fact they had introduced satellite imagery, robotic wave runners and other technology to the salvage effort. But as John suggests it’s much easier to just blame folks relatively unpopular industry.
So, we shrug our shoulders at scenarios like BP lays out it in its recent ad below (click to enlarge). But that does not make it right. As we watched the movie in air conditioned comfort yesterday and came home to restored power, John’s words ran very true for me.