Listening to “Simple Song” as I write prompted me to think about choosing to go it alone. As we know, geologists do not go it alone – we engage in a vibrant and diverse community and across disciplines to solve many of the world’s biggest problems, starting with water and energy and extending into topics like mineral resources and natural hazards. AAPG is a pillar of the geoscience community and its members engage with geoscientists, engineers and other energy professional internationally. AAPG members are rightfully proud of the vital work we do.
Like most members, I joined AAPG for access to literature, events and networking. Along the way, I benefited from training and volunteer opportunities. Now I spend most of my time giving back to AAPG, regretfully recognizing that it cannot stay as it is. A steady decrease in membership (see figure 1) and an ongoing challenge to produce positive financial results from operations (figure 2) make change an imperative, especially in an evolving energy landscape. The financial issue was exacerbated by COVID, but the trend was already there, and initiatives were attempted to turn the tide, including major staff reductions and further reductions after that, to little avail.
Change comes hard for most of us, but when the world changes around you, change becomes inevitable. It is a distressing fact that numerous member-led task forces over the last 10 years made recommendations that were not accepted for adapting AAPG to help it thrive as our business environment changed. AAPG is now approaching the point at which leaders will have to make changes to ensure AAPG’s mere survival.
AAPG Plans A and B
As various AAPG leaders have stated, the proposed merger with the Society of Petroleum Engineers has been approved by two Executive Committees as our best strategic path – our Plan A. This is a strategy for AAPG to thrive as a larger, stronger organization that connects a global community of geoscientists, engineers and other energy professionals with expertise in petroleum to advance and share the knowledge, technology and experiences needed to achieve a safe and sustainable energy future. Its vision is safe, reliable and affordable energy for everyone, with the understanding that the energy future relies heavily on the oil and gas that AAPG members have pursued for more than a century.
At the same time, AAPG has been executing its Plan B, which focuses on essential services. Plan B began with a painful 25-percent staff reduction that leaves little capacity for organic growth.
Despite the focus of Plan B, the ravages of COVID-19 resulted in a loss of more than $2 million from operations in FY 2020-21. We have not yet proven that Plan B is a viable survival strategy. The initial budget forecast for FY 2021-22 was financially positive, but three weeks into the year, the delta variant of COVID began to impact preparations for the inaugural IMAGE event. The event was successful in many ways, but not financially. And while AAPG is described as a not-for-profit organization, AAPG cannot lose money indefinitely and survive. Luck with the AAPG investment portfolio is not a strategy for survival. Read the Treasurer’s Report prepared by AAPG Treasurer Denise Stone for more detail.
Plan A – the merger – would represent a choice to prepare AAPG to support incoming generations of members for decades to come. In the merger, all the AAPG services you value most would continue: the AAPG Bulletin, EXPLORER, events, divisions and certification, and Members would gain access to SPE’s engineering information on top of all that. Plan A is a strategy for thriving.
The AAPG Executive Committee met in special session on February 14 to review the Agreement and Plan of Merger for the proposed AAPG and SPE merger. After deliberation, the EC referred issues and concerns to the joint Merger Steering Committee for additional review. As a result, the independent AAPG and SPE member votes scheduled to begin on March 4 are suspended, and members will receive additional updates as information becomes available.
Plan C and the Inevitability of Change
Whether the proposed merger vote is held or not, AAPG will have to undergo major changes. If AAPG is forced into Plan C, it will require a major restructuring that will impact virtually all facets of our organization. While we might deceive ourselves with the wishful thinking that this option would avoid the discomforts of change that are inherent in a merger, Plan C will result in an AAPG that few of us would recognize. One obvious path for Plan C is a significantly reduced organization that provides a journal and limited services funded by significantly higher dues. AAPG in Plan C will be unable to serve our missions, our members, or society as we have for the last century. Our value proposition will be lessened for potential members. One of our committees whose recommendations were largely ignored warned of this option as the “atomic doomsday alternative.” It is.
Thus, if change must happen – and it must – I hope we can return to discussions for a merger that allows AAPG to keep our traditions, maintain our missions and services, and ensure an enduring home for the benefit of geoscientists.
Noise Drowning Out Signal
The Shins might be the best band you never heard of from Albuquerque, N.M., so please enjoy “Simple Song.” The lyrics resonate with me as we contemplate the future of AAPG: “I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone. Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough, to play like a stone.”
Since you have read this far, I will award a $100 AAPG gift certificate to the first person who provides an interesting fact about the geology of New Mexico as an online comment to this EXPLORER article.
Congratulations to February’s winner, William Dickson of Houston, Texas, for his comment about the seismic data offshore Nova Scotia and the problem of noise drowning out signal. He closed his comment by saying, “It took a while but the march of improvements in geoscience is relentless.”
Until next time,