Editorial: To return to normal, industry must make better use of best tool available: the vaccine

R.H. “Bob” Geddes, 2021 IADC Chairman

By R.H. “Bob” Geddes, 2021 IADC Chairman

The past 12 months as IADC Chairman has made me think a lot about leadership. When I reflect on 2021, I am proud of the progress we have made as an industry in yet another year of adversity. Usually, industrywide challenges take the form of dramatic drops in energy prices. What nostalgia for being in charge during hard times like those!

Leadership requires decisions to be made for the benefit of all. It is a weight, to be sure, but it is also about weighing costs to benefits. 

And what is effective leadership? I see it being threefold: (1) hire the best people to work for you and take care of them; (2) identify the best tools and resources available for your people; and (3) ensure the best processes are in place so individuals can work together as one team. 

Our industry is founded on the principle of linking smaller pieces together to reach our goal. A drill string can be the most advanced piece of machinery ever assembled, but if the top drive does not spin the drill string, the rig will not be making hole that day.

2021 saw the energy industry broaden ESG initiatives without sacrificing our commitment to effective operations. The new IADC Sustainability Committee was formally announced at the beginning of 2021 and has quickly organized its priorities and initiatives. Its mandate is to create guidance documents to assist IADC members in reporting compliance. While guidance like this exists in other industries, it has never been created for the drilling industry. That’s alright. We have the expertise of an industry. The IADC Sustainability Committee is collaborating across the industry to seek input on the principles, ratings and frameworks that make the most sense for drilling operations.

The association has placed the industry’s sustainability efforts as a centerpiece of its collaboration efforts. These are not simple changing of nameplates but actual allocation of time and space in rebranded HSE & Sustainability conferences. These are opportunities for our association to hold open forums on the industry’s newest innovations, developments and best practices. These conferences serve as a public place to showcase the empirical results of real-world work. 

Additionally, the IADC Energy Efficiency Subcommittee, founded by the Advanced Rig Technology Committee, has been formed to align operators, drilling contractors, vendors and regulators in the overall energy transition of the oil and gas industry. Each industry segment measures success differently, converting energy expenditures across fuel types while we streamline our industry’s calculations of emissions reductions. Simultaneously, it is important to capture, review and share best practices from drilling operations. These ESG goals will only be achieved by aligning the private sector with government organizations. Standardization efforts like these require a lot of technical input to keep the industry innovating.

While the industry makes continual improvements to its day-to-day work, I don’t believe it’s using the best tools available to deal with current challenges facing the world. Despite having access to the right tool, in my opinion, to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination rates in our industry are still far too low compared with what’s needed to return to “the old normal.” There are no accepted standard protocols promulgated across the industry. Without guidance on how we can keep our people safe, rig sites are being shut down. This means crews are having to miss a paycheck or two due to post-hoc quarantine protocols. By not using the best tools and resources available to our industry, we’re sacrificing on the safety and efficiency we have worked so hard to achieve.

I say this because I believe vaccines are the right tool for the right job. I am perplexed at how a society of adults – who have received no less than 16 vaccines from birth to age 18 – have all of a sudden taken up the concept that vaccine science should come under scrutiny. It is truly absurd. The facts are simple: You are less likely to develop serious complications and end up in the ICU if you are fully vaccinated. 

These vaccines have been empirically tested across the world with hundreds of thousands of clinical trial participants. It’s a mesmerizing demonstration of how effective collaboration can be between private sector and government regulators.

While normal vaccine development suffers from a lack of funding, personnel prioritization or knowledge sharing, the urgency to return life to normal has pushed almost the entire slate of experts from every corner of the world to model, test and manufacture vaccines. As I am sure everyone reading this has experienced firsthand, if an entire team can seamlessly work together toward a common goal, great things are possible.

As leaders of an industry, we know how great innovation has made operations safer and more efficient. We can talk about how our previous efforts toward emissions reductions mean we’re drilling the same barrel of oil in half the time that it took 10 years ago. We can highlight that, nowadays, it’s three times safer to work on a rig than it is to drive to it. The costs and benefits of these investments have been decisions the industry has had to weigh and decide on. They didn’t just happen with rhetoric. They happened because of leadership.

So, be a leader, and take a shot for the team (excuse the pun). DC

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