The Role of Sustainable Development Planning in Our Industry

SPE creates a definition of sustainability for the international oil and gas industry.

Fig. 1—Elements of a sustainability management system.

Sustainability, nontechnical risk, environmental and social performance, as well as corporate (social) responsibility are interrelated terms that refer to an important set of competencies viewed as increasingly strategic in value for the oil and gas industry. Over the past 15 years, sustainability as a term has matured from its initial “green” scope to embrace social agendas and has evolved from being an external force to become a set of organizational values and operating principles that govern development and operations in the oil and gas sector. A plethora of standards, guidelines, and good and best practices have been created by various sectors with the oil and gas industry being one of the most active in evolving its own guidelines. Both corporate strategy and corporate risk management have identified opportunities and risks and built in new checkpoints in their processes.

Consequently, securing and maintaining a license to operate (as well as growing the commercial value beyond this threshold) extends well beyond legislative and regulatory permitting to encompass both the mitigation of adverse social and environmental effects as well as the advancement of financial, societal, and environmental benefits by the execution of strong sustainability performance. Significant to this is the new organizational refinements on, not just the license to operate, but also new phrasing such as “social license to operate” and “permission to operate” with the accompanying strategic financial benefits of becoming a preferred developer or operator.

Sustainability Task Force

Fernando L. Benalcazar, Equitable Origin
Melanie C. Brooke-Lander, Baker Hughes
Ilse Castellanos Rodriguez, Statoil
Libby Cheney, Cheney Energy
Johana Dunlop, Schlumberger, chairperson
Michael Ellekjaer, Maersk A/S-AP Moeller
Jean-Marc Fontaine, Total
Sonia Gupta, Suncor Energy-Canada
David N. Hollas
Thomas L. Knode, Halliburton
Sylvie Le Douaran, Total E&P
Erin Moore, Anadarko Petroleum
Phil Middleton, BP
Jonathan Motherwell, JTM and Associates
Kelly Moynihan, ExxonMobil
Michael Oxman, Acorn International
Paola Maria Pedroni, Eni
Carmen Santamaria, Repsol Exploracion
Trey Shaffer, Environmental Resources Management
Marco Stampa, Saipem
Brian Sullivan, IPIECA

Given the increasing prominence of sustainability in the oil and gas industry, SPE embarked on a path in 2010 when it created a Sustainability Task Force to

  • Explore SPE’s role and strategy in addressing sustainability.
  • Explore SPE’s role in encouraging a methodical approach to sustainability for our industry.
  • Generate proposals for the SPE Board to direct resources to address identified needs and opportunities.
  • Fully participate in global sustainability discussions as an enthusiastic participant and contributor and not as a passive observer.

Under the direction and leadership of Johana Dunlop of Schlumberger, this work group made up of 20-plus sustainability professionals from across the industry turned its attention to how best to leverage SPE’s strengths and strategic direction in the service of the industry’s sustainability challenges. The team came up with a program that would take advantage of SPE’s capacity to convene, to share knowledge, to reach individuals across the entire breadth of the industry and in multiple audience categories and to promote best practices. The program is described further below.

As the work progressed, it became clear that a definition was needed—an expression of what sustainability means to SPE and how the topic of sustainable development would be addressed within SPE for the benefit of its members. Following an extensive information gathering effort to see what our member companies and industry in general were already doing, the team presented the following definition that was approved by the SPE Board in 2014:

“Exploration, development and production of oil and gas resources provide affordable energy that contributes significantly to well-being and prosperity. SPE encourages the responsible management of these oil and gas resources and operations including the appropriate management of social and environmental impacts and their related risks. SPE demonstrates this commitment by offering its members opportunities to train, share knowledge, and advance practices for doing business in ways that balance economic growth, social development, and environmental protection to meet societal needs today and in the future.”

With this as a backdrop, the Board endorsed the development of a business plan that could show how this key, strategic topic could be implemented for the benefit of SPE’s members worldwide. The overarching near-term objectives included the following:

  • Accelerate the integration of sustainability elements across the life cycle management systems and operations of oil and gas activities.
  • Promote performance improvements in sustainability within the upstream oil and gas industry.
  • Spotlight best practice and facilitate deployment of lessons learned across SPE.
  • Professionalize sustainability and associated disciplines.
  • Build a framework to support individual and corporate capabilities on existing and emerging sustainability topics.

The Sustainability Task Force had identified competency development as the optimal way for SPE to “accelerate the integration of sustainability practices to the operations of our industry.” A primary objective of this new training program would then be to promote much-needed conversations between the expert practitioners and the operations decision makers, as well as deepen competencies. Key benefits anticipated from this program go beyond professional development to improve risk and reputation management, and to enhance the prospects for the success of oil and gas projects by improving the industry’s social and environmental performance.

As the team interviewed various industry representatives on the topic, feedback confirmed and validated the need for increased competency and greater integration of sustainability practices with feedback such as:

  • “You can have the best technical people in the world but if you don’t have sustainability covered, you probably don’t have a project.”
  • “Not looking at sustainability now points to significant value erosion—the ability to get licenses, to get permitting on time—all the challenges we face are on the above ground issues and risks. When we look at the projects where the NPV (net present value) is affected—spending on sustainability sells itself right away.”
  • “The SPE sustainability course has got to focus on the big picture of managing risk, making the project more cost-effective, understanding the options for contribution to the project and recognizing your individual part, your level of influence.”
  • “Leadership must have understanding that sustainability is an important element of the decision-making processes.”

This program supports SPE’s Vision and Strategic Priorities within its Strategic Framework (2013–2017) and creates an avenue for future growth by generating a new revenue stream and a means for attracting new members. Specifically, the following is a direct response to SPE’s Strategic Priorities:

  1. Capability development (to support industry in dealing with the “big crew change”)
  2. Knowledge transfer
  3. Promoting professionalism and social responsibility
  4. Public education about the petroleum engineering profession and industry issues

Stepping back a moment to visit the overall strategy of the Sustainability Task Force, the vision presents four work tracks:

  • Development. Support the integration of sustainability into the management systems and operations of a company by focusing on sustainability capability development for the practitioner and decision makers in our industry.
  • Communication. Better socialize and communicate existing industry practice to members, nonmembers, academics, students, and other audiences.
  • Events. Ensure sustainability content is present at any SPE event where it can add value, particularly in support of nonpractitioner capability development.
  • Outreach. Work with young professionals, SPE chapters, relevant committees, sister societies, and academics.

So, what is next? First of all, a panel of industry experts will focus on the topic of sustainability at the upcoming SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition in Amsterdam this month; everyone is encouraged to become more familiar with the topic and gain a better understanding of its importance to our industry. The Professional Development program has moved from proof of concept to pilot phase and the current plan is to pilot a course in March 2015 when the SPE E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference–Americas is planned. Stay tuned on SPE Connect, the HSE Now web page, and the SPE HSSE‑SR discipline page for dates of upcoming webinars, workshops, and other events. SPE is looking to increase its level of engagement in this area, including possible collaboration with other professional societies when appropriate. All in all, this is an exciting time as we continue to progress this initiative.


The author would like to thank the following individuals for their leadership in developing the sustainable development business plan and professional development framework, which contributed much of the content of this article: Johana Dunlop, Schlumberger; Linda Brewer, ERM; Eric Olson, BSR; Shasta Foy, SPE: and Ken Leonard, SPE.

Roland Moreau has served as the technical director of Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility (HSSE‑SR) on the SPE Board of Directors since 2011. He recently retired with 34 years of services from ExxonMobil, where he held the position of manager of Safety, Security, Health, and Environment for ExxonMobil’s Upstream Research, Gas, and Power Marketing, and Upstream Ventures business units. Moreau began his career with Exxon Company, USA, as a project engineer at the Bayway Refinery in New Jersey in 1981. He then held various technical, supervisory, and managerial assignments for Exxon, and then ExxonMobil, in the upstream production, development, and research organizations. Before working for Exxon, he worked for 5 years in the naval nuclear industry. Moreau holds a BS in mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and an MBA in finance from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He remains active in various SPE initiatives. Most recently, he served as program chair of the SPE International Conference on Health, Safety, and Environment in Long Beach, California, in March 2014.