Editor’s note: An abridged version of this “No One Asked Me, But …” column appears in the February issue of Oil and Gas Investor magazine.
A lot of people have tried to convince me that the “S” and “G” in ESG are somehow less important than the “E.” Oh, how I beg to differ.
Their thinking goes, whether in casual conversation, in a presentation or on that circus of intellectual fallacy, Twitter, that in the energy sector it’s all about decarbonization. All you need to do is figure out how to cut your carbon emissions, monitor your methane output, offset your carbon footprint, invest in carbon capture and so on. Do that, and the governments will leave you alone and investors will love you once again.
Without getting too “Seussical” (Oh, who am I kidding. Let’s do it.), with no S and G, there is no E, you see. For it’s the G that makes the E go, you know. Should you ignore the S, people will not see your E, and that may mean you cease to be.
ESG is a single entity. As an editor, I tend to look at the grammar. Prepositions are important. When we define ESG, it’s environmental, social and governance. Notice there is no “or.” If you’re trying to assign percentages and priorities to ESG, you’re really missing the point. And, unfortunately, you’re probably falling behind, even if you are cutting your emissions, putting it in a sustainability report and posting it on a website.
That’s all great. You need to do that for sure. Decarbonization is the star of the game.
But, I’ll submit that ESG isn’t a “what have you done for me lately” kind of game. For investors, it’s really about what you are going to do for me in the future. Simply complying with current regulations and expectations doesn’t tell anyone what they really want to know—how are you changing your company’s management, strategy and investments to be able to withstand a future that is sure to include ever-changing expectations and requirements. Appeasement won’t be a success in this case.
I listened to Danny Brown, CEO of Oasis Petroleum, discuss this at a recent Houston Producers Forum luncheon. As he described the company’s “transformative year,” he touted the establishment of the company’s board-level ESG committee led by independent director Samantha Holroyd. What Oasis realizes is what everyone should: ESG needs to be taken seriously as an opportunity to secure your future, not as a burden that needs to be solved.
Want further evidence?
“There have been more than 2,000 independent studies on the impact of ESG on equity returns that find that companies that have strong ESG propositions actually correlate to higher returns,” said Angie Gildea, national sector leader of energy, natural resources and chemicals at KPMG, during a recent roundtable on HartEnergy.com.
So, it’s important enough to stop messing around and to put it at the top of your corporate governance. Only then will you show investors, regulators and the public that you’re serious about being part of an ESG-focused future.
Finally, let’s talk about the messaging, a vital part of the S. Although it’s fabulous that the oil and gas industry has finally started to stand up for itself, defiance isn’t the message anyone outside of the industry wants to hear, and they probably aren’t responding to it. As I said earlier, ESG is about the future, not the past or the present. While it’s vital that we remind the world of the role oil and gas has played in the development of modern civilization—and hopefully it helps people understand that this isn’t Big Tobacco, or even the porn industry, as it has been compared to—that’s not the message that will win the day.
We established that investors want to know your plan for a cleaner future with less negative social impact. Politicians and laypersons want to know even more. And they’re less inclined to be interested in parsing data and numbers placed in a report. They need to know why the oil and gas industry will continue to be safe not only for the atmosphere but also for the daily lives of the public. How will you make them feel that way in the future?
As much as oil and gas executives might not like to admit it, they have the job interview of a lifetime. The world’s population is hiring for a new energy provider, and the job will be done by those who present the best all-around plan for the future.
A word about leadership and strength
Goodbye to a Dear Friend
On Feb 18, Oil and Gas Investor and Hart Energy lost one of its most prominent figures, Leslie Haines. Leslie, the longtime and iconic editor-in-chief of Oil and Gas Investor passed away suddenly after a brief illness. You can read our tribute to our friend and mentor here.
On a personal note, Leslie was the first Hart Energy editor I talked to when I was considering coming to the company back in 2014. We had a lengthy discussion at DUG East in Pittsburgh, where I was living at the time, and she was instrumental in convincing me to take the trip to Houston to see what the company was all about. The interesting part is she really never tried to convince me of anything. She was matter-of-fact and open, and that went a lot further than any recruiting pitch I could have been given.
In the years since, I came to realize Leslie was just being herself during that meeting. She was a true journalist at all times and never mislead anyone. I know that's why so many people in the oil and gas industry came to trust her so much.
She will be missed by all.
2023-12-03 - The rules, two years in the making, were announced by U.S. officials at the U.N.’s COP28 climate change conference in Dubai. The U.S. and other nations attending the summit are expected to detail how they will achieve a 150-country pledge made two years ago to slash methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.
2023-11-21 - A number of regulatory forces are in motion to lower methane emissions that are going to have a profound impact on the U.S. oil and natural gas industry in the coming years.
2023-09-14 - California’s climate disclosure law was passed by the California Legislature on Sept. 12 and could be a prelude to the SEC’s emissions reporting requirements.
2023-09-29 - The Biden administration’s proposed 2024–2029 National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program would allow for the “smallest number” of offshore oil lease sales — three — in the history of five-year programs.
2023-10-15 - Combined, the seven hydrogen hubs announced Oct. 13 are targeting more than 3 million metric tons of hydrogen per year but the lack of offtake agreements continues to hamstring projects.