By Velda Addison, Hart Energy

As former commander of the task force charged with coordinating military relief efforts for hurricanes Katrina and Rita, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré knows plenty about survival and motivating troops.

The now-retired general’s words came in handy recently when he delivered the keynote during the SAS Energy Analytics Forum in Houston. Oil prices have been chopped from highs of more than $100/bbl last summer to around $38 on Aug. 24. The WTI price for a barrel of oil had not reached such levels in the last six years.

The falling prices—the result of supplies that have outgrown demand—have caused oil and gas companies to cut back spending and lay off thousands of workers. However, just like the uncle or aunt who reminds the youngsters of having to walk three miles to school in the snow, times have been worse.

Honoré took the crowd back to Dec. 25, 1776, and spoke about how George Washington brought everyone together to work toward the same purpose during a surprise attack in icy conditions during the American Revolutionary War. Back then there was nowhere to get blood transfusions, and hospitals like today didn’t exist.

He spoke about the hurricane of 1900 in Galveston where thousands of people lost their lives. Many of the bodies buried at sea washed back ashore. He reminded the crowd of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans nearly 10 years ago, and the poor planning that made the situation worse such as generators being placed in basements when the city is below sea level.

He spoke about the importance of properly positioning troops when you know a storm is heading your way. That same advice is applicable for those who work in an industry known for being cyclical.

Now is the time to think outside of the box.

Remember when the oil and gas industry didn’t know how to get shale oil and gas from the ground?

“Disasters create opportunity. We are in a disaster,” Honoré said, referring to the oil and gas industry’s downturn. He asked “How do you use information to create opportunity?”

Honoré encouraged those in the industry to start a list of what they think is impossible to achieve, and figure out how to solve that problem.

Thinking outside of the box could also lead to new opportunities—especially water-related opportunities outside the oil and gas sector. He pointed out drought problems in California, noted places across the U.S. with too much water, and spoke of oil industry technology that has caught the military’s attention.

“You are holding a lot of IP [intellectual property] folks inside of your industry,” he said. “How are you going to harness that?”

That, he said, could pull you out of these tough times.

Good news is that the industry is doing just that by tapping new technology to grow production and make operations more efficient. Perhaps, it is time to spread that expertise to other sectors.

Velda Addison can be reached at or via Twitter @veldaaddison.