AAPG at The Crossroads

This is likely the most important letter I shall write to AAPG members as their president.

I began it during a three-week tour of Europe (Oct. 30-Nov. 18), as I met with leading geoscientists and students from Norway, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Czech Republic and Austria.

I am finishing it after returning from the inaugural International Petroleum Technology Conference (IPTC), held Nov. 19-23 in Doha, Qatar, having talked with leading geoscientists and students from Bahrain, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

We discussed our various energy futures, our respective views about the geoscience profession and how AAPG can build bridges with them on a global basis to become “indispensable to their geoscientific careers,” as our Strategic Plan mandates.

John Brooks, president of AAPG’s European Region, traveled with me during the first three weeks. We were both overwhelmed by the warmth of the reception accorded us by our European colleagues, and the deep respect for AAPG that this conveys. We have high hopes that this respect will translate in the coming months to substantially increased participation of European geoscientists in the affairs of the European Region as well as the parent Association.

Already, we’ve laid the foundations for six new student chapters, at the universities of Warsaw, Krakow, Gubkin, Moscow State, Tyumen (West Siberia) and Leoben (Austria). And we have urged literally hundreds of European geoscientists to join AAPG.

More than 2,500 engineers, geoscientists and executives attended IPTC, where I spoke to more than 100 students at Education Day about careers in international E&P, as well as becoming acquainted with many leading geoscientists and engineers from various states and companies in the Middle East, during the four days of that conference.


It has become absolutely clear that AAPG has now come to a key decision point in its future direction.

We need to decide what we want our organization to be in the 21st century — a group of professional, mostly North American geoscientists, one among many regional societies in the world? Or a truly international community of professional geoscientists involved in all aspects of energy resources on a global scale?

One direction honors the status quo, and leads inevitably to some degree of future insularity as petroleum E&P becomes increasingly global. The other recognizes the distribution of global petroleum resources and attendant historical and economic tides, and leads inevitably to an increasingly international AAPG community, networked together for purposes of geoscience and the petroleum E&P business. North American geoscientists can play a leadership role in this coming community for many years to come.

I intend to lead AAPG in the second direction — the direction called for in our Strategic Plan — which will invigorate and expand our Association. To stay as we are will mean stagnation, departure of international members, loss of future opportunities and the steady decline of AAPG’s present prestige.

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This is likely the most important letter I shall write to AAPG members as their president.

I began it during a three-week tour of Europe (Oct. 30-Nov. 18), as I met with leading geoscientists and students from Norway, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Czech Republic and Austria.

I am finishing it after returning from the inaugural International Petroleum Technology Conference (IPTC), held Nov. 19-23 in Doha, Qatar, having talked with leading geoscientists and students from Bahrain, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

We discussed our various energy futures, our respective views about the geoscience profession and how AAPG can build bridges with them on a global basis to become “indispensable to their geoscientific careers,” as our Strategic Plan mandates.

John Brooks, president of AAPG’s European Region, traveled with me during the first three weeks. We were both overwhelmed by the warmth of the reception accorded us by our European colleagues, and the deep respect for AAPG that this conveys. We have high hopes that this respect will translate in the coming months to substantially increased participation of European geoscientists in the affairs of the European Region as well as the parent Association.

Already, we’ve laid the foundations for six new student chapters, at the universities of Warsaw, Krakow, Gubkin, Moscow State, Tyumen (West Siberia) and Leoben (Austria). And we have urged literally hundreds of European geoscientists to join AAPG.

More than 2,500 engineers, geoscientists and executives attended IPTC, where I spoke to more than 100 students at Education Day about careers in international E&P, as well as becoming acquainted with many leading geoscientists and engineers from various states and companies in the Middle East, during the four days of that conference.


It has become absolutely clear that AAPG has now come to a key decision point in its future direction.

We need to decide what we want our organization to be in the 21st century — a group of professional, mostly North American geoscientists, one among many regional societies in the world? Or a truly international community of professional geoscientists involved in all aspects of energy resources on a global scale?

One direction honors the status quo, and leads inevitably to some degree of future insularity as petroleum E&P becomes increasingly global. The other recognizes the distribution of global petroleum resources and attendant historical and economic tides, and leads inevitably to an increasingly international AAPG community, networked together for purposes of geoscience and the petroleum E&P business. North American geoscientists can play a leadership role in this coming community for many years to come.

I intend to lead AAPG in the second direction — the direction called for in our Strategic Plan — which will invigorate and expand our Association. To stay as we are will mean stagnation, departure of international members, loss of future opportunities and the steady decline of AAPG’s present prestige.

And I ask all members for their support in helping achieve this transition.


We need to decide now which path we choose. Putting off the decision is, in fact, choosing the first course. Present generations of international geoscientists are not going to sit around and wait while AAPG dithers. Some of them are AAPG members now — and they are growing justifiably impatient.

Moreover, our sister societies already have embraced the global pathway. They already are establishing significant presences in E&P centers such as Moscow, Dubai, London and Kuala Lumpur. So we need to decide whether AAPG wants to be present in the regions of the largest remaining petroleum resources (Middle East and Russia), and/or the fastest growing economies in the world (China and India).

The stakes are high. We have suffered steady decline in Active membership over the last 15 years. Only our international and student membership has grown in that period — and now that growth has flattened. We need to decide now.


The global pathway rests on four elements:

  • International Regions.
  • Local societies/chapters.
  • Simplified application/sponsorship process.
  • Membership fees adjusted to local purchasing power.

AAPG created six international regions six years ago, and encouraged them to choose officers, representatives to the Advisory Council and delegates to the House of Delegates. Beyond a few sporadic meetings, however, progress has been spotty, and AAPG has its smallest international presence where E&P future potential is highest, such as in Russia and the Middle East.

Our recent decisions to publish the EXPLORER and the BULLETIN electronically were important steps to reach our international members more efficiently, and the new electronic balloting facilitates their participation in our governance and elections of officers. And the EC’s recent decision to establish a new position at Tulsa HQ — coordinator for Regions and Sections, reporting directly to Executive Director Rick Fritz — should greatly facilitate their interactions with the administration.

However, we have now lost more than three years, with little positive effort from the parent organization toward building regional communities.

U.S. members need to recognize that our International Regions, except for the ever-stellar Canadian Region, are not like U.S. Sections. They are composed of many different nationalities, with diverse languages. Many of their members have different customs; some of them are not accustomed to our traditions of individual volunteers cooperating on various society projects. We can benefit from their geologic models, insights, and collegiality; they can benefit from our mentoring, example and support.

Substantial flexibility may be warranted to try some new approaches in the five overseas Regions. We have been tardy in helping them get established — for example, it has only been recently that the European Region finally got its own bank account established!

All five overseas Regions may need seed money to underwrite important early initiatives. AAPG may need to cover clerical costs of Region officers whose office expenses are not covered by their corporate employers.

We may need to open small offices in localities such as Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Moscow and/or London/Aberdeen to serve our international members. These could be cooperative with EAGE, SEG and/or SPE.

The long-range goal, of course, is for all five overseas Regions to achieve financial independence. Long-time AAPG members may take such independence for granted, forgetting that the U.S. Sections (and Canada Region, built on its parent, CSPG) have been in existence for more than 50 years. Rome was not built in a day!


But we also need to make some legislative and procedural changes.

We say that we solicit new international members, but we continue to require formal, signed sponsorship by two Active AAPG members for all new applicants. Finding the requisite number of AAPG sponsors is not difficult in Houston, Texas, or Casper, Wyo., but it may be nearly impossible for a Russian geologist in Novosibirsk, or a Chilean geologist in Santiago. Moreover, we might make it easier if applications were also printed in Russian, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.

Also, we need to align our application procedures with today’s world of online purchasing — mailing in paper applications and waiting three months for the mail to arrive is simply inconsistent with how business is done today.

Moreover, present annual international dues of $85, while inexpensive by North American standards, is often unaffordable to a Russian, Latin American or Indonesian geologist. Our sister society, SPE, has adopted a dues policy based on international standard-of-living levels. SPE has grown rapidly over the past few years, especially in its international cadres. We have not.

We say that we are an “international” Association (and our Strategic Plan calls repeatedly for AAPG to expand internationally), but our international members have not been adequately represented on our Executive Committee. Over the past seven years, one international member has been elected as an AAPG officer. If they had been represented proportional to their numbers, about 30 percent of AAPG officers would have been from the international regions — of 42 possible officers, parity would have suggested about 12, rather than one. During the same period, the House of Delegates provided two Canadian members as HoD chairs to ex-officio posts on the Executive Committee, of a possible seven.

We need to assure that our international members always have a voice representing their interests on AAPG’s Executive Committee.


So, on November 19, at my request, Don Clarke, chair of AAPG’s House of Delegates, and the HoD leadership began to prepare amendments to our Bylaws, to be considered by the HoD next April at our Houston Convention.

They address two immediate deficiencies:

  1. Adopt a sliding dues scale consistent with recognized international standard salary scales such as the World Bank’s, and consistent with prudent financial management of the Association.
  2. Establish a new post on AAPG’s Executive Committee to represent international members; I suggest this new elected officer (who must be a non-U.S. resident) should be called the international vice president.

At its Dec. 1 meeting, AAPG’s Executive Committee approved a resolution to the HoD endorsing item 1. Although favorably disposed toward item 2, the EC deferred action until their January 14 meeting, pending notification of the HoD’s version of the enabling legislation.

The EC also approved a variety of administrative and procedural changes designed to immediately facilitate International membership; these do not require approval by the HoD:

  • Online application for Active and Associate membership, with timely electronic response by AAPG HQ.
  • Translation of application forms into Russian, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.
  • For applicants for Active membership, changes of wording that explain and allow applications by geoscientists who are unable to locate sponsoring AAPG members.
  • Establishment of Regional Application Review committees to vet new applications.
  • For applications for Associate membership, drop the present requirement for a signature by an Active AAPG member.
  • Streamline procedure for EC approval of applications not meeting standard requirements.
  • Adoption of group (= company) membership-block deals, honoring all current individual requirements for Active membership.

The EC will monitor progress on all these changes at its Jan. 14-15 meeting.

In late November, I asked Executive Director Rick Fritz to provide, with highest priority, a base-case financial analysis of a sliding dues-scale on AAPG’s budgetary bottom line, based on the SPE experience; this analysis was delivered to the HoD leadership for their use as they draft amendments, and to the EC for its consideration at their Dec. 1 meeting.

Preliminary indications are that adoption of such a scale would have little or no effect on the bottom line. Additional scenarios, conservative and optimistic, are now being developed by HQ staff.


So the choice will soon be up to the voting membership of AAPG — U.S. as well as international — through their elected representation in AAPG’s House of Delegates, Advisory Council and Executive Committee.

The stakes could not be higher — it is clear that we are now in the emerging stages of a true global energy industry. Will AAPG be an integral part of it, or will we be watching from the sidelines? Shall we actively embrace a global future, or stay with the status quo?

I urge all members to contact their elected representatives and express their wishes. Please know that I shall spare no effort in leading AAPG into a global future, and I earnestly solicit your help. Meanwhile, stay tuned!


Recommended Reading:

The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas L. Friedman (2005, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), is the latest in a series of insightful and provocative books by Friedman about international affairs and globalization.

This latest one expounds his view that globalization is already a fact in many high-tech industries (like ours), and discusses its implications.

Read it, you’ll like it.

Onward!

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