SPE Names First International Sustainability Award Winner

Among the awards to be presented at SPE’s 2019 Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition is the inaugural Sustainability and Stewardship in the Oil and Gas Industry Award, which was earned by Karen Olson with Southwestern Energy.


Among the awards to be presented at SPE’s 2019 Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) is the inaugural Sustainability and Stewardship in the Oil and Gas Industry Award, which was earned by Karen Olson with Southwestern Energy.


Olson, technology director for Southwestern Energy, was an SPE distinguished lecturer for 2018–2019, traveling around the world to present “Freshwater Neutral: Managing Water Use and Giving Back to the Environment.” Her leading role in Southwestern Energy’s ECH2O—Energy Conserving Water—initiative to replenish or offset each gallon of fresh water used in hydraulic-fracturing operations through conservation practices, projects, and technologies led to her receiving the award.

“I’m humbled and honored to receive this award,” Olson said. “It recognizes the innovative achievements that our company challenged itself to meet with beneficial freshwater management, and which I’m proud to have helped conceive, design, and implement. We did something no other oil and gas company has ever done, as we successfully accomplished freshwater neutral for our operations and have continued to maintain this distinction since 2016.”

The initiative, the first by any oil and gas company, was launched in late 2012 and had achieved freshwater neutrality for each operational basin by the end of 2016. By the end of 2018, the company had completed nine aquatic conservation projects in three states in concert with multiple and varied stakeholders. All told, the sum of the conservation projects currently provides a freshwater benefit of more than 71 million bbl/year to the local environments.

“We got the idea from Coca Cola, which had done something similar, and began by defining the meaning and setting standards,” Olson said. “The initiative also included chemical safety and wellbore integrity. And, we allowed universities to research groundwater while we were fracturing and to publish their findings without our review.”

For Olson, leading the charge on freshwater neutrality was a logical extension of her extensive, career-long work in design, modeling, and operational execution of hydraulic fracturing. It was also an opportunity to apply the approach she believes has been a key enabler of her accomplishments.

“Every project, every accomplishment, follows a pattern,” Olson said. “I set goals, and I try to assemble a solid team. Then I plant those goals as a vision for the team and throughout the company. I try always to think outside the box, to ask what’s happening and why. I really try to focus on understanding the why,” she said.

After joining Southwestern Energy in 2010, Olson and her team applied the technical fundamentals of data gathering and diagnostics, using large blocks of outcrop rock analogous to different horizons in the Fayetteville shale, to advance understanding of fracture complexity. Their work led to understanding that fracture complexity is in the rock and can be enhanced with fluids and other techniques but not created with them.

“It took a concerted effort from many folks at all levels within Southwestern Energy, as well as support from external stakeholders, state agencies, and community leaders,” Olson said. “I’m proud to represent this large, varied, and wonderfully committed group of people with the receipt of this prestigious award.”

Other HSE and sustainability awards to be presented at 2019 ATCE

  • International HSE Award—Sally Benson

HSE Regional Awards

  • Africa Region—Christopher A. Egwuatu, Nigeria LNG Limited
  • Canada Region—Gareth Igloliorte, Canada Husky Energy
  • Gulf Coast North America Region—Philip Grossweiler, M&H Energy Services
  • North Sea Region—Jop Groeneweg, Leiden University
  • Russia and Caspian Region—Ilyas Sarybekov, JSC Embamunaigas
  • South America and Caribbean Region—Helton Luiz Oliveira, Petrobras
  • South Central and Eastern Europe Region—Celine Mollet, Technip France
  • Western North America Region—Adam Brandt, Stanford University

Sustainability and Stewardship Regional Awards

  • Eastern North America Region—Martin Poitzsch, Aramco Services
  • Gulf Coast North America Region—Nigel Jenvey, Gaffney, Cline and Associates
  • Middle East and North Africa Region—Abdulrahman A. Al-Ghamdi, Saudi Aramco NAOO
  • Russia and Caspian Region—Richard Howe, North Caspian Operating Company
  • Rocky Mountain North America Region—Linda Battalora, Colorado School of Mines
  • Western North America Region—Adam Brandt, Stanford University

Find a complete list of award winners here.