Why the Petroleum Hall of Fame needs to meet the Energy Futures Lab

This is a tale of two energy industry non-profits – both doing good things for the sector.

At first blush, it might appear their names suggest seemingly disparate purposes.

The two?

The Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame Society (CPHOF) and the Energy Futures Lab (EFL). (Full disclosure: I have the honour of chairing the former and the privilege of advising the latter).

It’s easy to make the honest mistake of believing the Hall of Fame is stained in sepia; that it is all about – as Bruce Springsteen might say – recalling the “glory days.” Equally, it’s easy to believe the EFL is all about messing about in some fuzzy future state, without really attending pragmatically to resolving today’s pressures.

Those perceptions are, in fact, dead wrong. Both organizations are actually focused on the same thing: ensuring continuity and consistency of the sector’s health – wherein the past conditions the present and thereby shapes the future.

Indeed, two words actually bind the two organizations more closely than they might imagine: inspiration and aspiration. Those two words help illuminate an interesting meeting-of-the-minds opportunity, where the combination of experience and enthusiasm, of vision and values and attitude and aptitude could produce some amazingly creative results.

At a time when the upstream sector seems far more stressed and uncertain of itself than it has ever been – and for sure, it has been in tough times before – I can’t help but wonder what a “meeting of the minds” might produce in terms of inspirational and imaginative ways of helping the industry navigate not only to a more certain future, but actually shape that future in a way that is more readily apparent than anything else currently happening.

Think of the burdens, for example, that haven’t been there in times of prior adversity: energy’s lacklustre competitiveness environment? Its perceived steadily-diminishing innovation reputation? Stressed balance sheets teetering on the brink of collapse? Environmental, sustainability and regulatory imperatives. Political tensions. A largely ignorant consumer base.

The mind boggles at the tangled complexity of those challenges.

But then imagine, for a moment, Hall of Famers Peter Tertzakian, Brett Wilson, Jim Gray, Keith McPhail, Hank Swartout, Bob Brawn, Hal Kvisle, Ron Matheson, Doug Ramsay, Pat Carlson, Joy Romero (and the inductee list goes on) sitting down to brainstorm with EFL fellows Wendy Ell, Megan Zimmerman, Liz Lappin, Juli Rohl, Alison Thompson, Anouk Kendall, Elizabeth Shirt, Bruce Edgelow and Arpoov Sinha (and this fellows list goes on).

More than 70 living Hall of Famers and nearly 60 EFL fellows.

What a brain trust to talk about synergistic thinking. It’s fascinating to think of the collaborative hills they could climb together – the opportunity vistas they would view – and the daring solutions they would propose.

Hall of Famers have been there and done that. But more important, they’re still doing that. Investing. Inspiring. Leading. Motivating. Above all: they’re thinking about the future. Hall of Fame inductee status is merely a way point on journeys of contribution that productively continue.

EFL fellows are doing the very same things: creatively framing solutions to major challenges ranging from methane management to using aging energy assets for geothermal. They’re thinking about energy from a systems and transitions perspective that will ensure that hydrocarbons will continue to be an important part of the energy mix – with a stress on “mix.” Put another way; they’re doing the things that will someday potentially secure their place as inductees into something that might be called the Canadian Energy Hall of Fame.

No Petroleum Hall of Famer would disagree with the notion of an energy mix as part of a secure and stable energy future that includes petroleum. But they would also wisely point out that even the EFL fellows have no way of knowing what type of adversity will confront them – but that the key to managing adversity is recognize that it is also “part of the mix.”

So there you have it: two great groups doing great things. Together, potentially even greater things. At a time when most things we are trying as a sector either don’t seem to gain meaningful traction – or collapse under the weight of unimaginative inertia.

I will be advocating for both groups to get together and help shape our sector’s next act together in 2019.

(The Hall of Fame inducts its 2019 honorees Nov. 23 at the Calgary Petroleum Club).

Bill Whitelaw is Managing Director, Strategy & Business Development at geoLOGIC Systems Ltd. & JWN Energy. Bill is a director on many industry sector boards including the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources and the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame. He speaks frequently on the subjects of social licence, innovation and technology, and energy supply networks.

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