Letter from the President- October 2011

Get Out and Have Some FunI’ll start off this month’s column by encouraging everyone to get out and have some fun. Enjoy one of our outstanding technical programs or social activities going on this month. There is a lot to choose from. These activities are the heart and soul of HGS. There has been quite a bit of discussion recently, occasionally even informed discussion, about the process of hydraulic fracturing. This technology has helped transform oil and gas development activity in the U.S. onshore over the past few years. Many of us have seen our jobs as explorationists rapidly transformed as mudstones and other unconventional reservoirs have become increasingly important. While there have been some contrarian voices, most people in the industry seem to think that these unconventional resources are real and constitute a “game changer” in the energy sector. These resources would have significant ramifications for policy makers; however, they seem reluctant to embrace this new energy source. Perhaps this is because many of them are heavily, albeit conceptually, invested in “green energy.” Exactly how “green” this energy is depends on how you wish to total up the environmental footprints of each. It’s not clear that natural gas doesn’t compare favorably with other environmentally friendly energy sources, but I’ll defer to the experts. Outside of the oil and gas industry, we are treated to controversy about the “new” fracking technology. In a real sense, this has become the latest vehicle by which people who want to limit use of hydrocarbons advance their agenda. The state of New York placed a moratorium on fracks for over a year. According to an independent study, it cost the state billions of dollars in lost economic activity and millions in lost tax revenues, during a time of severe budget crises at the local level. Shortly after this study came out, the state started to reverse its course. Each energy source has its own particular environmental footprint and set of economic costs. The market is pretty good at determining some of these costs, but virtually has no mechanism to capture other costs. For this reason many want to dictate energy policy, which gets subjective in a hurry. Most objective facts seem to fly out the window and discussion becomes driven by halftruths and fear. The lack of a meaningful energy plan for our country hurts our economy and our aspirations for the future. It would help if the general public had a better understanding of science. Teaching science as a priority in the schools again is an important step though indications are that Texas may be moving in the wrong direction. Besides hand wringing, what can we do about it? Over the past few years HGS has engaged in a number of programs to help promote science education. HGS members assisted the State Board of Education write the earth science portion of study plans for an updated high school science curriculum. We also have a number of successful ongoing programs.  At the primary and secondary level, HGS provides judges in science fairs through the Engineering Council of Houston and scholarships for winners. Our representative here is Claudia Ludwig. We have bought a number of the USGS Tapestry of Time and Terrain geological maps that members can take to local schools as part of the Maps in Schools program. We are regularly asked for classroom speakers and supply these as we have volunteer resources available. Our big push this month is Earth Science Week with a number of activities October 8-16. Martha McRae is chair of this committee. An important resource in the city is the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and the HGS supplies volunteers there as well. Anyone interested in learning more about these programs can contact Inda Immega. At the university level, the HGS has its two scholarship programs, the HGS Foundation Fund and the Calvert Memorial Fund. This year, the HGS Board has once again agreed to provide matching funds up to $10,000 each to these two funds, and I urge you to consider making an individual contribution. We also support the regional Imperial Barrel Award competition, with judges and mentors to the local teams. It speaks to the quality of our region that the University of Texas at Austin team won the global competition last April. Our volunteer efforts for this activity are coordinated by Connie Mongold. Director Jennifer Burton works to pull all these programs together under the umbrella of the Educational Outreach Committee. Their goal is to continue successful programs and expand those where appropriate interest exists. What we need more than anything are additional volunteers. We were encouraged when 55 people responded to our initial request and have already held the inaugural meeting of this group. More about their activities is reported below. The committee plans to update its classroom materials, and make these kits available for members to check out. I encourage anyone who wished to help promote  earth science, either in the schools or to the general public, to contact Jennifer. I hope you will join us. Contribute your time in support of these programs. Our jobs and the economic future of our kids and grandkids may depend on it.  See you here again next month.

Steve Earle
Monday, September 26, 2011
From the President