Did you know that I am one of 18 presidents in AAPG? This is just one of the many arcane aspects of governance within the Association. Most professional societies have a fairly simple governance structure. However, one of the unexpected benefits of the merger talks with the Society of Petroleum Engineers, was that they made it apparent that our governance structure is vastly more complex and convoluted than those of most other professional societies.
Our governing structure was relatively simple when AAPG was founded back in 1917, but has become increasingly complex as our science and our industry have changed. These changes have come through a continuing evolution of applied geoscience and from concerns that major decisions were being made in smoke-filled back rooms. The smoke-filled back rooms are long gone, but our various subsurface pursuits have continued to grow and become more complexly interlinked.
Although many of our members focus exclusively on oil and gas, we now have a large portion of our membership focused on other areas such as coal, uranium, coal bed methane, hydrothermal, CCUS, digital data integration and other initiatives. As the interests of our members have broadened into these other areas, AAPG governance has expanded to support those members.
A Brief But Important Digression
Speaking of that broadening of expertise outside of oil and gas, I would like to address a concern I have heard from several of our members. I have been shocked that some folks believe AAPG is abandoning the oil and gas sector to replace it with support for alternative energy sources. That could not be further from the truth. AAPG will always focus predominantly on the oil and gas sector, and there is no interest in changing that.
I never heard the concern that AAPG was abandoning oil and gas when we began supporting geoscientists in the uranium and the coal industries in the 1970s. We expanded our mission then to support those geoscience fields while still fully supporting oil and gas geoscientists. Why would we not embrace all aspects of geoscience in energy where our surface and subsurface understanding might be applied? Today we are continuing to follow that same policy of embracing the full range of geoscience pursuits while still supporting oil and gas.
I fully endorse supporting those many members who are not focused exclusively on oil and gas, and I expect the organization will also continue to do so into the future while still strongly supporting our oil and gas-focused members.
AAPG’s Governance Structure
Getting back to the topic of governance, AAPG has several major governing bodies. We have an elected Executive Committee that sets the direction for the organization. The EC also supports several standing committees within AAPG. In addition to the EC, we also have a House of Delegates that serves as the legislative body for our organization, and it has several committees to support its work. We also have the Advisory Council, which proposes strategic initiatives and nominates candidates and award recipients.
Our governance is outlined in our Constitution and Bylaws, which are available on our webpage. It should be noted that our Constitution and Bylaws have continuously been changed over the years as AAPG has grown and adapted to the changing needs of our members. The House of Delegates, for instance, was created in 1970.
Other changes have been made in response to the changing needs of our members, such as the formation of the Division of Professional Affairs, the Division of Environmental Geology, the Energy Minerals Division and the Petroleum Structure and Geomechanics Division. These divisions have their own governance structure and are guided by still more elected leaders.
As if this was not complicated enough, AAPG also has sections representing local geoscientists in the United States, and regions representing members in various international areas, each with their own governmental structures.
Finally, AAPG has a large number of affiliated societies, which are independent of the AAPG governance structure, but just like the sections and regions, affiliated societies play a role in nominating and electing representative to the House of Delegates. They do not provide direct financial contributions to AAPG itself, and in some cases directly compete with AAPG, but they provide technical contributions to our conventions, webinars, publications and other facets of our organization.
Framing the Problem
Why am I pointing out our complex governance structure?
If you are like me and you joined AAPG for the science and professional development, your eyes might be glazing over at the mention of governance and you might be thinking, “I couldn’t care less!” If this is the case, thanks for sticking with me to this point. It is important because there are two major governance issues that adversely impact AAPG.
● Volunteers: We need volunteers to help run our society.
As the preceding discussion established, AAPG has a huge number of leadership positions that have to be filled each year. During the booming oil industry days of the past, this was not an issue. With the changing focus of industry and the corresponding decrease in our membership, it has become increasingly difficult to find volunteers to help operate our huge governance structure. You might have noticed that some recent elections have run with a single member unopposed for each office, and it is for this reason. In one recent election, one of our staff went above and beyond to actually go out to find someone to run for an office when the previous officers could not find anyone.
● Finances: I have addressed our finances in prior columns. AAPG’s governance costs a great deal of staff time and money. A past treasurer determined with our staff’s help that we currently spend about $103.00 per year, per member for our governance. If sourced from dues alone, this amount would be more than 80 percent of your $125 membership dues!
With the impact of the recent pandemic and the recent recessionary pressure on the financial markets, our operating costs have increased and our “rainy day” investment portfolio fund has decreased significantly. Taken together, this means our operating cushion is lower than it has been for some time. As an organization, we are going to have to make some major changes to increase the financial strength of our organization.
You are the Solution
The Strategic Planning Group and the staff are working hard to develop strategies to address our financial problems, and I will go into that in greater detail in a future column. One of the charges to the group will be to streamline our governance structure without negatively impacting the services our members expect from AAPG. I don’t think any of us want 80 percent or more of our dues to pay for governance.
What can you do as a member to help with these issues?
First and foremost, jump in and volunteer. If asked, consider giving some of your time to be a candidate for one of the many offices within AAPG. Serving in office is a great way to develop leadership skills and to network with your peers. Besides, it looks great on a resume!
Second, for the sake of our Association, support needed change within AAPG. The Association must continue to adapt if we want to stay financially secure and socially relevant in our rapidly evolving environment. Going back in time is not an option. We must face the future. We will need you, our members, to support us in making the changes necessary to overcome our current challenges. Together, we can build a stronger AAPG that will prosper into the future and continue to support our science and our profession.