I’ll be honest. This is a difficult column to write, however, transparency is required with regard to a challenging situation that impacts all of us at AAPG. In previous columns, I’ve discussed the deterioration of AAPG’s financial situation. While AAPG’s cash flow has improved with the end of the pandemic, it is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels; further, even pre-pandemic levels cannot relieve our financial strain. Consistent operational losses occurred for most of the decade before the pandemic.
AAPG’s continued decline in annual membership also impacts the balance sheet. Many of our older members are retiring and choose not to renew. Even more concerning, early professionals are not joining in the numbers they did in the past. Fewer students are entering the oil and gas industry, and some university professors are shunning support for AAPG.
The Choice Before Us
We are at the point that we either evolve or fade away. I’m reminded of a quote from Rachel Carson: “We stand now where two roads diverge. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one less traveled by – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” Rachel was speaking about the environment, but the quote is also applicable to the current state of AAPG.
Some members have stated that we should just follow the same road and continue “business as usual” and AAPG will return to the “good old days.” However, AAPG’s membership and financial losses indicate that we would have to return to conditions prevalent nearly a decade ago for that to happen – back when membership was again approaching 40,000 members and AAPG had nearly three times the paid staff to manage programs and support member efforts. Moreover, our volunteer base was larger, with an emphasis on technical acumen and gaining leadership experience and skills. If we continue “as is,” it is unrealistic to expect a return to those conditions.
Following this trajectory or “fork” leads AAPG to insolvency within three years. AAPG will fade away.
The second “fork” provides another approach, which is to evolve. AAPG’s purpose is to foster scientific research, to advance the science of geology, to promote technology and to inspire high professional conduct. Rethinking and reimagining AAPG should focus on its mission: science and fellowship, technical content and outreach. A reimagined AAPG can broaden its scope to encompass all energy sources while maintaining our history and commitment to the oil and gas sector.
AAPG should also pursue improvement to its member value proposition. AAPG’s Membership committees should emphasize outreach to those in the energy industry today and reaching the next generation. Updated governance can concentrate member volunteerism in technical communities, giving members more opportunity to share and build their reputations alongside the work they do day-to-day.
What could this look like?
- Simplifying AAPG’s governance to a board of directors to streamline Association business, focused on revenue and membership. This simplification is in line with other professional organizations.
- Organizing and operating AAPG as a business concentrates attention on new emerging aspects of the energy landscape and geosciences – and generates fresh, cutting-edge content to our publications, conventions and scientific meetings.
- A renewed focus on science advancement and technical content would foster community within AAPG and strengthen relationships with universities, academics, and energy industry leaders and vendors.
- Improving AAPG’s online and social presence is also necessary to allow easier member access to data and information and the ability to connect within technical communities.
Over the years, AAPG has tried incremental change. Despite this, the last decade of small steps has led us to this juncture, and AAPG’s survival is now at stake. Time is running out. We should choose change while we can still make a choice.
John F. Kennedy said “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” This leads us back to our options or “forks”: continue as-is or make a choice for the future. We need a direction, and change takes effort and mettle. However, I believe if we have the courage to embrace change, AAPG will have a bright and robust future that supports our membership, purpose, mission and legacy.
As noted in last month’s EXPLORER, an ad-hoc governance committee is working to propose a new structure for AAPG, utilizing material generated from the Advisory Council and from several past strategic planning committees for their work. The proposal will be brought before the EC for consideration, which will then engage the AAPG House of Delegates and the entire membership in discussion and consideration of the proposal.
As more information becomes available, I encourage you to join me in reading, sharing your thoughts and discussing them with colleagues, Delegates and AAPG Leadership. I thank you for your time, attention and reflection.