Guest Commentary by Global Energy Management Program Professor
Community Bans on Oil & Gas Fracking
By Richard P. Mignogna, Ph.D., P.E.
On election day, voters in four Colorado cities – Boulder, Lafayette, Fort Collins, and Broomfield – weighed in on whether or not to allow hydraulic fracturing in their communities. Measures to ban “fracking” passed easily in the first three while the Broomfield proposition fell short by only a few votes and appears headed for a recount. As is well known by now, the state regards the regulation of drilling activities as its sole domain and has filed suit over an earlier fracking restriction in Longmont.
It has been well documented that the state and nation as a whole have benefitted immensely from new oil and gas extraction technologies. The U.S. is now the world’s largest producer of natural gas and, thanks to new production in shale oil and shale gas, is on a path to become a net energy exporter in a few short years – something that would have been unthinkable not long ago. Moreover, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the electrical power sector are the result of the increase in natural gas fired power generation – a direct result of the decrease in price that has accompanied the increased supply due to fracking (the impact of renewables in achieving this reduction, in spite of receiving a disproportionate amount of press, has been negligible in this regard). So, in spite of the economic and environmental benefits of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, why did these communities vote to ban them?
First, there remains a widespread misunderstanding of the environmental concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing. Fracking occurs thousands of feet below the surface, well below any source of potable water in the country. And, in spite of some alarmist propaganda, there have been no demonstrable cases of fracking at depth contaminating ground water supplies. But, with that said, there have been problems, virtually all of which emanate from poor well completions and other surface or near surface drilling contamination. While these are not an issue with hydraulic fracturing per se (i.e. they could occur with conventional production as well) they are legitimate concerns. To some extent, the industry is its own worst enemy, whether it is its own failure to adequately take preventive measures against spills or specious claims about the need for trade secret protection for the constituents of frac fluids.
There are some 50,000 oil and gas wells in Colorado with more than 1,000 new permits issued each year. A check of the COGCC incident reporting database reveals that thus far in 2013, there were just over 100 spills that impacted surface or ground water, with about a quarter of those a result of the September floods. Most others appear not related to drilling and completion activity but resulted from mechanical failures in collection and distribution systems. Still, perhaps there is something to learn from the exemplary safety record of the airline industry and the transparency afforded by the Airline Safety Reporting System (ASRS) which allows everyone to share and learn from critical incidents that are voluntarily reported by pilots.
It is a fair question to ask why local communities should not have the same right to regulate this type of industrial activity within their borders as they do in regulating building permits, construction, transmission lines, or other industrial activities? But, perhaps they should consider establishing systems to evaluate drilling activity on a well by well basis rather than enact outright bans. It strikes me that the referenda on hydraulic fracturing are as much a statement on the state’s oversight of drilling as on concerns with fracking itself. In other words, do the residents of these communities trust the state and its cognizant regulatory authority, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), to protect their interests? The answer, it seems, may be no.
I have written in the past about the inconsistency in energy development regulation in Colorado noting that, while the state asserts primacy in the regulation of oil and gas drilling, it remains strangely disinterested in permitting electric generating facilities, be they renewable energy related or otherwise. For instance, I would venture to say that most citizens are entirely unaware that neither the Public Utilities Commission nor the Colorado Energy Office requires even the most minimal registration of, or could provide data on, all of the electrical generating facilities in the state, the principal exception being the Department of Public Health and Environment which issues air quality permits for them. At least drillers must file a permit application for each well they seek to drill.
The bottom line is that I would be no more in favor of having a drilling rig 500 feet from my back door than I am having a 400-foot wind turbine there. And, before critics decry this as NIMBYism at its worst, consider that both drilling and renewable energy facilities represent industrial development that is not wholly compatible with residential neighborhoods. The important point is not that these types of energy development do not belong anywhere, but rather that they do not belong everywhere. And, until the supply of energy (be it liquid fuels or electricity) becomes so critically short, there is no reason to find that no land – be it residential or wilderness – should not be off limits.
Yes, the state and the oil and gas industry need to get their acts together and do a better job of understanding and responding to the legitimate concerns of the public. Perhaps a reporting system analogous to the ASRS mentioned above would help. Local communities that seek to ban hydraulic fracturing entirely, on the other hand, need to consider more flexible regulatory schemas that can be applied with more precision than a sledge hammer. The nation, the economy, and the environment have benefitted from unconventional oil and gas development and we need to figure out how to keep this train rolling.
RICHARD P. MIGNOGNA, Ph.D., P.E., is Principal Consultant with Renewable & Alternative Energy Management, LLC in Golden, Colorado and also teaches in the Global Energy Management Program at CU Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Livermore, 29, a member of Cohort VIII, is an electromagnetics geoscientist at NEOS GeoSolutions.
“The GEM program has encouraged me to investigate facets of the energy industry that I had no prior experience with, enabling a deeper understanding of the complexity of energy development both domestically and abroad,” she said. “I have gained an entirely new skill set that is relevant, practical, and highly valuable as a professional in the energy industry.”
NEOS GeoSolutions is a start-up company that Livermore has admired since its inception due to its emphasis on multi-measurement interpretation. The company’s integrated approach incorporates multiple geophysical techniques in order to reduce the ambiguity intrinsic to individual geophysical data sets and enable a robust interpretation of the subsurface.
At the URTeC conference in Denver in August 2013, Livermore attended a NEOS presentation and met several members of the NEOS team. Livermore was contacted by NEOS GeoSolutions for an interview on the last GEM cohort weekend, during one of the breaks from class.
“I was extremely excited about the opportunity; my classmates and professors provided support, career advice, and references to assist me into the next phase of my career,” she said. “I am grateful for their assistance and friendship. My position as an EM geoscientist with NEOS GeoSolutions is my ideal position because I am able to continue working with electromagnetic data as well as learn about airborne data processing techniques, while living near my friends and family in my home state of Colorado.
“Additionally, I have the opportunity to apply the new skill set I have learned from the GEM program to the overall growth and development of the company. I can’t wait to get started.”
Briefly describe your current role and responsibilities.
I joined the electromagnetics (EM) team at NEOS GeoSolutions this November as a geoscientist and I will be assisting in the data processing, modeling, and interpretation of airborne and surface EM data. These data will be integrated into a multi-measurement subsurface interpretation in conjunction with gravity, magnetic, hyperspectral, radiometric, and well log data. The resultant constrained 3D model of the subsurface will assist in the delineation of oil & gas, mineral, and geothermal resources.
How has the GEM program benefited you?
The GEM program has encouraged me to investigate facets of the energy industry that I had no prior experience with, enabling a deeper understanding of the complexity of energy development both domestically and abroad. I have gained an entirely new skill set that is relevant, practical, and highly valuable as a professional in the energy industry.
What were some of your favorite things to do during cohort weekends?
Cohort weekends were a great opportunity to get to know my fellow classmates in Season 8. I would have to say that going to the speakeasies in Denver after class in the evenings is always a good idea.
What are some of the things that you never forgot to bring to cohort weekends?
Coffee. Five-hour energy. Endurance.
Please share a story about GEM that will entertain other students.
During the first quarter of GEM, I traveled to Iceland to attend a conference about the business aspects of geothermal energy development. The first day of the conference included a field trip to the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant where we had the opportunity to observe steam venting from a geothermal well- now that is an experience I will never forget! The evening before this field trip I was compiling my portion of a group assignment on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and was awake into the wee hours of the morning completing this research paper. After the field trip the next day, a few of us from the conference went to dinner and the topic of CCS was brought up in conversation. I was not only able to contribute to the conversation, but also to hold a friendly debate on this topic amongst the table. I did not have that depth of knowledge of CCS prior to the GEM program, or even a week before this conversation! The next morning, one of the gentlemen from that conversation stood up as one of the presenters at the conference. It turns out he was the CCS Analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance in London! My jaw dropped to the floor. This is only one of many coincidences and practical applications of GEM knowledge I have experienced over the past 18 months.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you GEM faculty, staff, and Season 8 for everything!
This month, we would like to honor Navneet Singh, a current student in Cohort X, as the November GEM’s GEM. Singh, a senior engineer at Ontario’s Independent Electricity System, was delighted to discover how quickly the GEM curriculum began expanding her perspective on the energy industry.
My work experience after completing my undergrad has been solely in the electricity sector,” she said. “The GEM Program has opened up a whole new world for me. There are so many aspects of the energy industry that I had not been exposed to before the GEM Program. GEM has given me a new understanding of how the different sectors of the energy industry impact one another. It has also given me the opportunity to learn from a cohort full of bright and passionate individuals from different areas in the industry.”
Singh currently works in the Compliance and Support department of the Operations division.
“I enjoy working in the energy industry and hope to make an impact on the industry at a higher level,” she said. “The decision to go back to school is a major one, especially with a program such as GEM, where you will be required to balance work, school, and your personal life. It will really test your time management skills, but the people you will meet, the experiences you will have, and the knowledge you will gain will be worth it.”
Briefly describe your current role and responsibilities.
I currently work in the Compliance and Support department within the Operations Division. The team I work on is responsible for ensuring the Operations Division remains compliant with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) reliability standards and Northeast Power Coordinating Council, Inc. (NPCC) reliability criteria. We ensure compliance by performing gap analysis, improving processes, monitoring compliance activities, and supporting assessment of non-compliance events and preparation of compliance self-reporting.
How has the GEM program benefited you and your company?
The GEM program has given me opportunities to work on skills that I apply at work daily. Working in teams and having the chance to lead assignments and projects have been instrumental in developing my teamwork and leadership skills. The program provides many opportunities to hone your communication skills, and the professors do a great job at providing feedback on where you can improve. It has also improved my approach to solving problems at work by seeing the bigger picture.
What are some of your favorite things to do during cohort weekends?
My favorite thing to do during cohort weekends is really just spending time with and getting to know my cohort outside of the classroom. The local students have been really great about taking us “out-of-towners” to different restaurants and pubs. I hope to explore more of Colorado during the next few cohort weekends.
What are some of the things that you never forgot to bring to cohort weekends?
My workout clothes – I try to utilize the hotel gyms and facilities as much as possible, and also Denver has some really nice places to go for runs. I`m always grabbing caffeinated drinks from Starbucks (necessity when you are in class for 10 hours a day), and luckily there seems to be a Starbucks on every corner in downtown Denver.
Please share a story about GEM that will entertain other students.
Being the only Canadian in a classroom with a group of non-Canadians can be fun! I may have gotten a little excited in class when one of the professors was talking about the population of Canada and was a little off (he knocked off about 1/3 of the population). Also, some of my classmates seem to think Canadians speak a certain way! I don’t know what they are talking aboot, eh.
Why did you choose the GEM Program at CU Denver?
I enjoy working in the energy industry and hope to make an impact on the industry at a higher level. It’s an industry that is constantly evolving and is in need of strong leaders. The GEM Program caught my eye because it has the right balance between business and technical curriculum and is focused on creating leaders in the energy industry.
Has GEM changed your perspective? If so, how so?
Definitely. I had worked a couple of summers as a student in the Ministry of Natural Resources and had started to learn a little about the oil and gas sector in Ontario. My work experience after completing my undergrad has been solely in the electricity sector. The GEM Program has opened up a whole new world for me. There are so many aspects of the energy industry that I had not been exposed to before the GEM program. GEM has given me a new understanding of how the different sectors of the energy industry impact one another. It has also given me the opportunity to learn from a cohort full of bright and passionate individuals from different areas in the industry.
GEM alumnus gives Sen. Udall a tour of urban redevelopment project that uses cost-cutting geothermal energy system
A Global Energy Management Program alumnus recently gave U.S. Senator Mark Udall a tour of Denver Housing Authority’s Benedict Park Place. This mixed-use, urban redevelopment project uses an energy-efficient, cost-cutting geothermal energy system.
“From an industry stand point, broader adoption of geothermal heating and cooling will be realized when lawmakers and utilities begin to see the geothermal ‘loop field’ as a valuable asset to their portfolio,” said Joel Poppert, M.Sc., director of business development and marketing at Major Geothermal. “The ‘loop field’ is the infrastructural component of the geothermal system that harnesses the free renewable energy of the earth 24/7/365; it will last for many generations of buildings, and from a utility standpoint, can provide more efficient, reliable, and profitable revenue streams than their conventional infrastructural investments such natural gas distribution and fossil fuel generation fleets.”
Sen. Udall visited Benedict Park Place on Oct. 26, and Poppert was asked to participate as a geothermal expert to discuss the technology applications, energy benefits, and strategies that can help realize broader adoption of this valuable resource.
“Utility investments in the loop field will remove the upfront cost barriers holding geothermal back, provide more efficiency to the grid, and most importantly save all ratepayers over time,” Poppert said. “Sen. Udall is one of the few federal congressmen that fully understands our technology, and I have full confidence that he will include us in the national energy conversation.”
The Benedict Park Place is a mixed-income, mixed-use redevelopment project that uses over 40 geothermal wells to cut energy costs. The geothermal system, along with other efficient technologies and design practices, helped the building achieve LEED Gold designation and results in a 62 percent reduction in operating costs.
This visit was part of Udall’s statewide energy tour, a series of roundtables and events with Colorado energy industry officials, local leaders, and the public. Udall’s tour highlights how Colorado’s balanced approach to energy is creating good-paying, middle-class jobs while making America more energy independent. Recent stops include visits to a micro-hydro project in Ridgeway, a methane-capture site in Somerset, and a solar-thermal facility in Aurora.
Joel Poppert currently acts as the Director of Business Development for Major Geothermal, an internationally recognized geothermal design and consulting firm based out of Wheat Ridge, CO. As part of his job, Mr. Poppert spends a considerable amount of time facilitating discussions with strategic stakeholders to insure they understand the magnitude of benefits geothermal heating and cooling holds both for the built environment and our energy portfolio.
For more information please visit the following link, http://govne.ws/item/Udall-Tours-the-Denver-Housing-Authority-s-Benedict-Park-Place-Reviews-the-Building-s-Geothermal-Energy-System-1#.
GEM Offers Open Access Global Energy Business Course
Course begins on Monday, Nov. 4, 2013
The Global Energy Management (GEM) Program at the University of Colorado Denver Business School is excited to offer an open access energy business course starting on Monday, Nov. 4 on Coursera.
Coursera is a learning platform that partners with universities to offer free online courses globally. This opportunity gives the GEM Program worldwide exposure to diverse audiences and raises the program’s visibility in the energy community and across society as a whole.
“The GEM program is providing this introduction to energy course as a contribution to the global energy discussion,” said Jim Marchiori, GEM executive director. “We care about sources and uses of energy in all its forms and about all the people who produce energy and all the people who use it – that’s pretty much everybody,” Marchiori said. “The huge platform and reach that Coursera provides gives us a chance to contribute to the education of not just our students, but the whole world of energy users.”
Delivering quality online courses in energy is not new to the GEM Program. GEM currently offers a Master of Science (MS) degree in Global Energy Management via “hybrid-online” curriculum delivery. Energy professionals from around the world enroll in GEM because of its business focus on energy as well as the accessibility the classroom-online model provides to full-time professionals.
“The Business School is committed to exploring multiple ways to share our special expertise across the globe through varied modalities. This course furthers GEM’s position as a contributor and thought leader in energy education,” said Sueann Ambron, dean of the CU Denver Business School. “Upon successful completion, some students in the open course may want to further their education in the business side of the energy industry and that’s where GEM’s MS degree plays an important role.”
Registration is now open for this online, five-week course. It is “asynchronous,” which means that students can log in and complete the course at their own pace, but all work must be completed during the five week period. Students who take this class will gain an understanding of the essential, systemic nature of energy development and learn why the energy sector motivates such an enormous amount of business activity and political interest. Please click here for more details and to register.
GEM lecturer Dr. Michael Orlando will teach The Fundamentals of Global Energy Business course, which will provide students with an introduction to the business of primary energy production. It will examine the nature of demand and supply in global energy markets and business considerations for participants in those markets.
“Developing online lectures for GEM has been good preparation for Coursera,” Orlando said. “In GEM, preparing recorded lectures requires me to really think through a narrative that ties together the course material. This is doubly important on Coursera because I will never get to meet the vast majority of my students. I’ll likely be reaching many more students in this one class than I’ve taught in all of my other classes, combined.”
Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor. They will not receive college credit for the course from the University of Colorado Denver or have a transcript from the course on file with the University’s registrar.
Coursera is a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities around the world to offer courses online which anyone can take for free.
For more information contact: Kim Halpern, Director of Marketing, University of Colorado Denver Business School (303-315-8010 or email@example.com) or Cathy Steffek, Director of External Affairs, Global Energy Management (GEM) Program, University of Colorado Denver Business School (303-315-8061 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Jim Marchiori, GEM’s new executive director, has more than three decades of experience working in the energy industry and played an active role in the program as a former member of the GEM Advisory Council. He has served as interim executive director for the past three months.
“We are very excited about Jim’s appointment as GEM’s executive director,” said CU Denver Business School dean, Sueann Ambron. “His extensive experience in the energy industry will be instrumental to the program’s continued growth and success.”
As executive director, Marchiori is focused on the strategic mission of the Global Energy Management Program.
“If we say that the role of the energy industry is to provide the world with economically and environmentally sustainable energy, then I want to see GEM as a key source of leaders and ideas that help the industry fulfill its role,” he said. “Our industry is very diverse: technologically, economically, geographically, culturally, and just about every other kind of “-ly” you can imagine. We’re a business school, not a technology incubator – I see us working across the whole energy portfolio to help develop leaders who will harness all of this diversity into practical business solutions to our energy needs.”
Marchiori wants GEM to be a place where the industry comes to share and explore ideas. While discourse exists in the energy community, one of the biggest challenges the GEM Program addresses is the need for a relevant and lasting platform where industry-driven intellectual exchanges can occur on a productive scale.
“Energy is a completely international industry,” Marchiori said. “All of the demands we have for leadership and management skills in the U.S. exist all around the world, however the capacity to teach and develop those skills may not. With our worldwide reach and our flexible delivery methodology, we can bring leadership and management development resources to places where they have been hard to find before.”
As a GEM Advisory Council member, Marchiori has presented at GEM Speaker Series events and attended annual faculty meetings. Marchiori joined the AC in 2009, while serving as the Director of Organization Capability at DCP Midstream. His former boss, Chris Lewis, was one of GEM’s founding members of the Advisory Council.
“The GEM program gives me a chance to interact on a daily basis with some of the best minds and leaders in the industry, and the university’s status as a nonprofit, state institution gives us credibility that is hard for a for-profit company to achieve,” he said. “This means that we have the capacity to bring people together from across different parts of our industry in ways that maybe they have not come together before. If I can help make one contribution to the Denver energy community, I hope that will be it.”
Marchiori has a long background in learning and developing people. After starting out in training design with a vocational school and the US Army, then consulting with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he entered the energy industry in 1981. He consulted at IHRDC in Doha and Dubai doing job analysis to help the Qatar General Petroleum Company and the Dubai Natural Gas Company set up their succession planning and career development programs. He took on a permanent role with Dubai Natural Gas for the next seven years to build their Training Department, and has been in energy in either a full-time or consulting role ever since. He’s worked all over the world, including North America, Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the former Soviet Union, always building or helping companies to build, develop, and align their strategic talent.
“There is absolutely nothing like the energy industry,” Marchiori said. “Energy is fundamental to everything people do; human society cannot thrive or evolve without it. In human history nothing else other than agriculture has that kind of fundamental importance. Governments can rise and fall based on energy. Couple that with the diversity I mentioned earlier, and the kind of resources that go toward making advancements in energy and you’re combining the best that science, technology, and business have to offer with a basic human need. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Marchiori plans to use his experience in leadership, strategy and talent management to build a “pipeline” of talented individuals who will make a meaningful impact within the GEM Program and on the global energy landscape.