Posted on: Sep , 2021

I’ve just returned from NADOA‘s annual conference last week. It was a treat to see folks in person. As expected, the conference was filled with great information and networking.

I had the honor of presenting a keynote on environmental law this year. Our industry gets a bad rap when it comes to the environment, and it’s quite unfair. We do care about clean air, water and the planet and do our part to protect resources – and yes, our work does impact the environment.

The part most people don’t realize is that so much of our modern world would not exist without us – in fact, more than 6,000 products are made with the byproducts of oil. So, we have to balance those two realities. I’ve shared below an excerpt of my keynote commentary that sets the stage.

Earth, Wind & Fire: Environmental Laws for Land Professionals

To put it simply, our modern world would not exist without our industry. The world was truly primitive before the discovery of oil and gas. You know the first thing oil was used for was kerosene. They figured out a way to boil the oil and use the condensation that formed along the coils to drip into a bucket and produce kerosene. The invention of kerosene literally lit up America; it was a better illuminant than candles and lit up streets so people could go out at night. Then, of course when the automobile was invented – that just changed the world and what did they use to power it?  Ethylene – a product of oil.

But oil and gas is not only useful for transportation and electricity. Today, 96% of everything you use in the modern world is a by-product of oil. Rockefeller figured out how to use chemistry to break apart these long hydrocarbon (hydrogen and carbon atoms) and create all kinds of other products.

My father-in law passed away last month. He was a Ph.d. geologist college professor and used to tell his students that if you take all the oil and gas out of this room, most of you would be pretty embarrassed.  Because, when you crack some of these long hydrocarbon chains, they form ester linkages and if you put all those esters together, you get a polyester.

There are 42 gallons in a barrel of oil, 19.5 gallons goes to gasoline and the rest, over 50% goes to the products. Do you know what these objects are? Almost everything you see comes from oil including the light fixtures, the carpet, the upholstery on your chains, ball point pens, soft contact lens, the makeup you are wearing, Yeti cups – none of these would exist without oil.

In fact, there are over 6,000 products that come from oil. (Find a sample listing here for the US Department of Energy.)

So, when you hear people criticize our industry, I always think to myself, they just have no idea about all the good that we truly do and how difficult their lives would be without our industry.

Now, I can’t say that the drilling, production, and refining of oil has no impact on the environment. What I’m saying is that you have to balance that impact against the necessity that cheap, abundant, and reliable energy provides to mankind.

U.S. Environmental Laws
Now, let’s turn to the environmental laws that drive our industry. It’s important to realize that each of these laws was created as the result of a truly tragic, horrific accident that occurred. They are key laws to protect our people, animals, and planet.

My keynote covered details on the following laws – how they came about, what they mean, and how our industry responds:

  • 1970 – Clean Air Act
  • 1972 – Clean Water Act
  • 1973 – Endangered Species Act
  • 1974 – Safe Drinking Water Act
  • 1976 – RCRA
  • 1980 – CERCLA
  • 1986 – SARA – Amendment to CERCLA
  • 1990 – Oil Pollution Act
  • 2002 – Brownsfield Revitalization Initiatives – Amendment to SARA

(We cover these laws in my online courses, so sign up when our law modules run.)

Yes, it’s a balance and we can always work to lessen our footprint but must be mindful as well of the value we bring. I’m proud of our industry. I hope you are proud of yourself and the work that you do and recognize the contribution that you are making to better the world.

If you are a reader, you’ll find Alex Epstein’s book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, a great read. He’s a philosopher who explores our industry and (spoiler alert) becomes a huge fan of oil and gas in the end

And, dear reader, please remember: you are making a difference every day, not only for our planet, but for mankind.