Listening to “Marcia Funebre” from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 as I write prompted me to think about what I have been hearing. Certainly, a wide range of emotions, from triumph and happiness to the misery of loss, along with beautiful dissonance. That’s why people listen to Beethoven again and again.
Leaders are reminded repeatedly to publicly support decisions made by boards, even when they disagree. However, when decisions are made in an environment of misinformation, that best practice of publicly supporting decisions becomes insupportable.
Last month, the AAPG Executive Committee voted 4 to 4 on a motion to resume and complete suspended work on the merger and commit to a vote of the members on the proposal to merge with the Society of Petroleum Engineers. The tie-vote caused the motion to fail, thereby terminating the “Plan A” strategy of strengthening AAPG by combining efforts with SPE to better serve members. I encourage you to review the minutes of the meeting – available on request from the AAPG secretary, Dr. Jonathan Allen – to better understand the discussion within the Executive Committee. However, even the minutes do not provide clarity on the merger proposal itself, which included details about the proposed name, branding, governance and so on. Obtaining member feedback on those details would have been helpful, no matter which way a vote might have gone.
Error-riddled LinkedIn posts and other comments by observers, some of whom have served on the Executive Committee, make clear that available information has not been read or understood by a small but vocal minority. Why bother with facts when it is easier to make assumptions? In so doing, fear has prevented changing AAPG to address known challenges – the energy transition, ESG requirements and diversity and inclusion, to name a few. Whether you personally agree or not, these challenges directly relate to the AAPG value proposition for prospective members – and the companies that employ them – and the quality of support AAPG will deliver to younger professionals throughout their careers. Failure to meet them head-on could mean that some AAPG members think that the organization can remain a hotbed of exploration independents, unencumbered by the issue of climate change, not paralyzed by political correctness, and unconcerned about the competitive threat from renewables. Would an AAPG that looks like the 1970s improve the AAPG value proposition?
Had we taken this opportunity to change and adapt, AAPG would have been better positioned to move forward and enable our members to contribute to projects in renewable energy, geothermal, carbon capture, and hydrogen storage.
Do we still have a chance to do this as an organization?
Members, you tell me.
Operating in a Fact-Based World
Members have had ample time to consider the realities confronting AAPG. Most of Rick Fritz’s President’s Columns in the EXPLORER during fiscal year 2020-21 documented the problems with a steady drumbeat of facts. It is sad that, rather than stepping up, volunteering or providing financial support, a few members chose to complain and impugn the motives of the leadership. In the ensuing din, professional advice sought and paid for by AAPG – including audits, association best practices and legal guidance, not to mention the advice and perspectives of AAPG staff – was not accepted. How can we as geoscientists demand respect for our profession when we do not extend that courtesy to other professionals?
The bottom line really is the bottom line: AAPG is a member services organization that must engage its members and generate a profit to survive. A key challenge is that the AAPG value proposition is no longer sufficiently compelling to attract or retain enough members, so AAPG is already managing decline and executing its Plan B, which began with a 25-percent staff cut in 2021. This has added significantly to the stress created by the roughly 40-percent staff cut in 2016, because only one staff member serves in each of many service areas. Staff cuts of this severity mean that queries from individual members might not receive immediate responses. This is not the fault of the AAPG staff, for whom I have the greatest respect, because we cannot expect services for which we as an Association are unable to pay. We must establish different ways of serving the mission of AAPG.
Strategic Planning and Maintaining the Mission
Our strategic and budget review for FY 2023 is beginning with a review of the reports of the Tactical Action Groups put in place by then-President Rick Fritz as well as previous strategic studies. Six strategic recommendations were reviewed and discussed with the EC, Advisory Council and Corporate Advisory Board last year. Of most significant interest was the recommendation to pursue partnerships and mergers (Plan A) that would support implementation of the other recommendations, which were related to expanding the scientific and technical focus of AAPG, including additional forms of energy and emissions; stabilizing finances through shared services, cost reductions and product focus; and implementing adaptable governance based on best practices.
That final piece – nimble, responsive, efficient, mission-focused governance – received the attention of another Tactical Action Group, which recommended that governance focus on enhancing the business of AAPG and its service to members, establishing a Board-led governance, replacement of the Advisory Council, reduction of the House of Delegates to become a membership and career service group, and other changes meant to increase focus on AAPG’s core purposes rather than politics and governance. AAPG cannot afford minor incremental nips and tucks, because significant change has been needed since 2015.
People Are Saying …
Whenever an interaction or social media post begins with the ominous phrase, “People are saying … ,” I brace myself for misinformation and innuendo. For example, I was confronted by a Member with a “people are saying” comment alleging that I talk too much about diversity and inclusion, as if that is a bad thing. Considering that many organizations and businesses recognize the criticality of engaging a diversified workforce and are adding positions like “chief diversity officer” to their ranks, it seems like maybe I am not talking about this topic enough. I am happy to have groups like the AAPG Women’s Network and ALLY, a company that focuses on careers in an equitable energy transition, supporting women in the industry and improving diversity and inclusion in our careers. A more inclusive AAPG would translate into more members as well as better engagement from existing ones!
Unfortunately, some recent public social media posts from a few AAPG members are of a seriously retrograde “people are saying” variety. I do not take these public comments lightly because AAPG has a Code of Ethics that emphasizes positive behaviors like professional responsibility, not injuring the reputations of others, and not divulging confidential information. A few members have since removed their unseemly posts, aware of their violations, but evidently unaware that the internet remembers everything. In the coming months, it is my hope that the Ethics Committee will restore the trust of members by actively shoring up ethical behavior, especially among elected officers and volunteer leaders.
The proposal to merge AAPG and SPE has stirred deep passions in our membership. I understand that any proposal for significant change does that. But as a longtime volunteer for AAPG now entrusted to lead the Association and make robust decisions, it has been clear to me that AAPG must change dramatically, and the merger proposal was the best strategic option to preserve the AAPG mission and member services into the future.
Failing to access and understand available information will not change that fact.
Defaming me will not change that fact.
Leaking unreleased, strategically consequential documents will not change that fact.
Strap in as AAPG takes rapid action to face the future. Most of those actions must address the inevitable decline in membership and revenue now that the merger with SPE is terminated. What actions will you take to support AAPG and fulfill its mission?
How Do You Plan to Help?
I have always encouraged the companies I work for and interact with to support AAPG and other scientific societies. I always encourage geoscientists to join AAPG. I am personally providing modest sponsorship for the Latin America and Caribbean Region Student and Young Professional Leadership Summit that is being held in Cartagena, Colombia, after the International Conference and Exhibition this month. Participants from AAPG’s five other regions and a representative from the sections in the United States have been invited. I look forward to meeting with participants to talk about our amazing industry and its exciting future.
In the short term, you can support AAPG by logging into AAPG.org, updating your profile, paying your dues, registering for a conference, buying a book and recruiting new members.
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 Europe as an online comment to this EXPLORER article. This comes at a poignant moment as Ukraine is engulfed in conflict and violence. I certainly hope for a peaceful resolution to this and other conflicts worldwide so that we can safely return to the international collaboration that supports our members and fulfills AAPG’s scientific mission.
Beethoven was composing the brilliant Eroica Symphony after being diagnosed with hearing loss. Scholars interpret that Beethoven experienced both acceptance of his condition and depression that affected his composition of Eroica. Both conditions are relatable, but I prefer to reminisce about playing this amazing piece as a 17-year-old violist in her first concert in the Pre-College program at the Juilliard School. My emotions were different then, but my commitment to doing justice to challenging music was the same as my commitment to serving AAPG to the best of my ability.
Congratulations to our March winner, Jeremy Boak, who stated, “New Mexico is the only place I am aware of where a metamorphic rock sequence containing all three polymorphs of Al2SiO5 (Sillimanite, Andalusite, and Kyanite) has been reported.” You can find the relevant publication through GeoScienceWorld: Jeffrey A. Grambling; Kyanite, andalusite, sillimanite, and related mineral assemblages in the Truchas Peaks region, New Mexico. American Mineralogist 1981; 66 (7-8): 702–722. Dave Cook reminded me that these minerals also occur in the Barrovian metamorphic facies in the Highlands of Scotland. Time for a couple of field trips!
A couple of unclaimed monthly prizes are being redirected to provide Ana Maria Vielma Amarista, a doctoral student at the University of Houston, with a copy of AAPG Memoir 123, “South America-Caribbean-Central Atlantic Boundary: Tectonic Evolution, Basin Architecture and Petroleum Systems,” edited by 2022 Honorary Member Award recipient Claudio Bartolini.
Until next time,