By Don Richardson, Ph.D. – Managing Partner, Shared Value Solutions Ltd., Canada
A version of this post also appears with the Shared Value Initiative Community website.
What happens when you mix Neil Young, renowned Harvard Business School strategist Michael Porter, a rapid and massive transformation of the North American oil and gas industry, frustrated Aboriginal peoples in Alberta, a massive inland heavy oil pipeline spill in Michigan, and the deaths of 47 people in Quebec? We may soon find out, and the mix might just yield a positive way forward through the most challenging industrial energy transformation the people of North America have ever experienced. The way forward involves Michael Porter’s 20-plus year old hypothesis about environmental regulation, a bit of Porter’s Creating Shared Value thinking, some creative energy industry leaders, and a people who have been stewards of the land for over 10,000 years. It’s an interesting picture.
“There’s More to the Picture Than Meets the Eye”
Until you recognize and name a problem, it’s impossible to solve it. Part of the challenge with the massive industrial oil and gas transformation in North America is that very few of us know that it’s happening and it’s hard to connect the dots to see the big picture of the very real human safety and environmental problems this rapid change is creating. Whatever you may think about Neil Young, he’s helping generate a new conversation and new awareness of some of what is going on. But, as Neil so movingly sings, “there’s more to the picture than meets the eye”. And it’s not just a picture of problems, money, polarized politics and arguments; it’s a picture that includes some positive and beneficial solutions.
Across North America, we are witnessing tremendous growth in “unconventional” oil and gas production. The decline in availability of more easily accessed “conventional” oil and gas from simply drilling wells is yielding to new and more complicated approaches to extracting oil and gas where it is more solidly embedded in the ground. As a result, we are seeing a massive investment in the extraction of “unconventional” fossil fuels. From the Bakken oil field production in North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, to the heavy oils of the Alberta oil sands, to the rapid growth of shale gas production in areas such as the Marcellus shale formation in the northeastern United States, unconventional fossil fuel production is transforming North America into a new Saudi Arabia.