Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Trip to the Bakken: Day 3

We covered a lot of ground today, driving up from Medora, ND, to Williston, ND, through Watford City.  The traffic was not terrible for us, though the truck traffic and the road construction was slow going for a while.  We're told we missed the worst of the traffic because our timing was good. It still felt like big city traffic in what is not a big city.  Traffic

Watford City has been a prime example of a place where the oil boom has caused significant growing pains. A recent article in The Atlantic asked, What If Your Small Town Suddenly Got Huge?, and explained: 

The Bakken oil boom has brought rapid growth to many towns and cities in western North Dakota, including Williston, north of the Missouri River, and Dickinson, alongside Interstate 94. But Watford City, where the population has jumped from just 1,400 people six years ago to more than 10,000 today, has experienced a particularly dramatic shift in character. 

There is dirt being moved everywhere: for roads, for housing, and, of course, for oil.  Driving this region you see very few homes, rolling hills, a few small buttes, and some abandoned farm homes. Oil wells blend in surprisingly well in many spots, as the sites are often small, and they look like small farms, without the farm house or barn.  The colors of the sites blend in with the landscape, and are often easy to miss if they are far from the road, other than the flicker (and sometimes blaze) of flared natural gas that comes up with the oil and has no where else to go.   Notfarm

It continues to be striking to me that here in oil country, that gas is burned rather than saved, when back in West Virginia and the rest of the Marcellus Shale play (and in Texas's Barnett Shale), millions of dollars are spent per well to pull that exact commondity from the ground.  Efforts to gather the gas here in North Dakota are underway, but it's not an easy undertaking.  There is little immediate need here for natural gas, as there is abundant electricity already available because of lignite coal, and even some wind and hydro power in the state. The crew camp we visited on Tuesday is completely electric (no natural gas)-- even for heat, because the prices are so low.  

Later in the day discussed traffic issues in the area with the state Department of Transportation, landowner issues with a landowner group, and air and water quality with a state health department official. I plan to write more on each of these issues in the next few weeks, so for now I'll just note that, as you'd expect, traffic is bad; landowners without mineral rights are sometimes not happy; and the health department has some challenges.

We also had the chance to speak with a geologist in the area, who explained the basics of the formation and how it works. It was interesting, but I'll leave that to the geology folks, as there are plenty of sources discussing that (PDF). The thing I wanted to note now was her explanation of the North Dakota's library of core samples. A recent Bismarck Tribune article explains:

In the early 1950s when the oil activity began, then-North Dakota State Geologist Wilson M. Laird, Ph.D., went to the legislature and lobbied to preserve the rocks of the producing zones and store them into a library. They bought Laird's concept, created a law based on the Model Act drafted by the Legal Committee of the Interstate Oil Compact Commission and the archives began.

This collection of rocks may be the most valuable rocks on the planet as they hold the secrets to the Bakken. Those secrets are being unlocked everyday as new technologies are created in response to the publicly-owned core samples of North Dakota.

Some states have adopted similar libraries, some have not. Looking across state lines at Montana where the Bakken crude also roams underfoot, less production is occurring. According to many in the industry, the historical shared data within the Wilson Laird library is one of the key reasons.

"In 2013, industry and academia examined 79,000 feet of core, an all-time record in the core library." Ed Burns, North Dakota State Geologist said. "More specifically, we had 28 companies and nine separate universities use the library."

In the past sharing data was not as common due to the large amounts of information, intellectually property rights and competition. North Dakota was the exception to that rule.

Apparently core samples are required about every 30 feet (horizontally or vertically) once the well gets below 8,000 feet vertically. (There are some exceptions when things get going quickly, but even then samples are needed about every 90 feet.) Because so much of North Dakota's information is publicly available, this information can help companies figure out what to look for in the drilling process, which can help maxmize production from wells. 

This kind of forced data sharing is rather remarkable in that it's not something we usually see among competitors.  That said, in an industry with a depleteable resource where virtually every state has a law outlawing "waste," it does makes some sense.  See, e.g., the North Dakota Century Code: 

43-02-03-06. Waste prohibited. All operators, contractors, drillers, carriers, gas distributors, service companies, pipe pulling and salvaging contractors, or other persons shall at all times conduct their operations in the drilling, equipping, operating, producing, plugging, and site reclamation of oil and gas wells in a manner that will prevent waste.

The industry would be well served to share such information and show a similar commitment to avoiding waste in all aspects of the process (not just oil and gas).  We'd probably see less water use, better environmental protection, and faster clean up where things go wrong.  There's some indication that at least the best of the industry are doing so, and I sincerely hope that continues. Stay tuned for Day 4.  

September 10, 2014 in Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, Joshua P. Fershee, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Trip to the Bakken: Some Pictures

Following are some pictures from my adventures so far, as described in my prior posts on my Bakken Oil trip in western North Dakota, here and here. Thanks to co-blogger Haskell Murray for the suggestion.

 This is a picture of one of the mudrooms from a crew camp near Dickinson, ND, in Dunn County:

Mudroom

This is a VIP room in the same facility. It has a private bath, while other rooms are smaller and share a jack-and-jill style bathroom. 

VIP

This is the sign for the guest laundry -- No Greasers. 

NoGrease

This is a picture of the crude oil site for loading oil on the tanker cars.  

OIlfield

A crude storage tank: 

CrudeStorage

Most of the oil coming out of North Dakota, 1 million barrels a day, is shipped by rail: 

Railcars

This is North Dakota crude. It comes from the ground a little more orange in color, but mellows to this over time.  It's not thick; it almost like iced tea. 

NDCrude

Flaring natural gas remains a problem, though some gathering is underway to help reduced the amount of flaring in the state. 

Flare

Finally, some pictures from Theodore Roosevelt National Park:

TRPark1

TR2

Ttpan

TRHorses

September 10, 2014 in Joshua P. Fershee, Travel | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Corporate Idealist’s Conflict About Going to Brazil for the World Cup (Twice)- Part One

The title of this post refers to the thought-provoking book by former BP executive, Christine Bader, The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil. I will save a review for next week in Part 2 of this post. Briefly, Bader discusses the internal and external struggles that she and other “corporate idealists” face when trying to provide practical, culturally appropriate, innovative ways to implement corporate social responsibility and human rights programs around the world. Much of what she said resonated with me based upon my years as a compliance and ethics officer for a multinational corporation and as a current consultant on these issues.

Like comedian/TV commentator John Oliver, I am torn about the World Cup and the significant power that soccer/futbol’s international governing body FIFA has over both Brazil and its residents. His hilarious but educational rant is worth a close watch, and I experienced the conflict he describes firsthand during my two recent trips to Salvador, Brazil. I went to watch what the rest of the world calls “the beautiful game” in a country where soccer is a religion. That's not an exaggeration by the way-- I bought a statuette of a monk holding a soccer ball in a local cathedral. The monk had a place of honor in the display case right next to the rosaries. The Cup has political consequences as well -- if Brazil doesn’t win the Cup at home, politicians will feel it in Fall’s election.

Trip one to Brazil was purely for pleasure with sixteen aficionados to experience one of the world's most diverse and beautiful cultures while catching two matches. Because I have spent the last couple of year’s researching and writing on business and human rights, when the US team advanced to the quarter finals, I took advantage of my frequent flyer miles, hastily organized some meetings with human rights activists that I had never met, snagged a ticket to the US v. Belgium match, and spent three days mixing business with pleasure.

I had done my homework of course (see e.g. this on the money aspect, this petition to vote for the worst sponsor, this on police response to protestors, and this from David Zirin on Brazil's actions with the World Cup and Olympics). I also knew that FIFA, the nonprofit with a one billion dollar reserve, pays no taxes to the host country. Indeed, while FIFA will earn several billions in profit from the 2014 Cup, Brazil will have spent over ten billion to host. Luckily Brazil loves soccer, but as you may have seen on the news, protests have erupted in the major cities about the perceived broken promises from the government to the people. The infrastructure, schools, hospitals and other projects have not materialized as promised. And while FIFA only requires eight stadiums for a World Cup, Brazil inexplicably built twelve. The Manaus Stadium in the middle of the Amazon cost $250 million and there is no soccer team there. At least the Salvador stadium, which cost $350 million to tear down and rebuild, can host its two teams as well as some of the soccer for the 2016 Olympics. The favelas where the poorest residents live are in clear view of the luxurious new facility in Salvador because they are within walking distance.

For the privilege of hosting the Cup, Brazil agreed to suspend its 2003 law banning alcohol in stadiums so that Budweiser could sell beer; institute World Cup courts to fast track convictions; exempt sponsor companies from some taxes; and establish exclusion zones 2 kilometers around FIFA-designated areas so that no local vendors can sell their wares—this in a country that is at the bottom 10% on the world for income inequality.

A few hours after I landed, I met with an organizer of the some of the protests in Salvador, Brazil’s third largest city. The next day I met with an activist for the homeless in the office of the Public Defender for Human Rights. Despite government funding, the Public Defender and activist communities in Salvador work closely together to address human rights abuses. I learned the following, among other things. Over 250,000 people throughout Brazil were displaced for the games, many with no compensation. Salvador, a city with over 4,000 homeless, only developed housing for 200 families despite knowing about the games for seven years. Homeless people who did not move when told were harassed by the police. If the harassment didn’t work, police confiscated their documentation and/or clothing and destroyed them. If that didn’t work, street cleaning trucks bombarded them with soap and water as though they were trash. Through the joint efforts of the Public Defender and activists, this activity, which started last September, largely stopped.

I also learned that religious groups can protest against abortion and drug use in exclusion zones but those protesting against FIFA must secretly hand out pamphlets in groups smaller than three people to avoid detection, arrest and jail time (sometimes charged as “terrorists.”). FIFA established almost a dozen agencies to ensure that the Cup went smoothly but most locals have experienced nothing but serious disruption. Hundreds of vendors who had eagerly staked out spaces to sell to tourists were banned and the government gave them no place else to go. People have died and suffered serious injury as FIFA has pressured the Brazilian government to complete projects on time. Although protestors have not focused on them, others have raised questions about the environmental impact of the Cup.

Sony, Johnson & Johnson, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, and McDonald's -- all key sponsors paying upwards of a minimum of $10 million-- tout their corporate social responsibility programs so I have the following ten questions about the business of the World Cup.

1)   Is FIFA, the nonprofit corporation, really acting as a quasi-government and if so, what are its responsibilities to protect and respect local communities?

2)   Does FIFA have more power than the host country and will it use that power when it requires voters to consider a bidding country’s human rights record when awarding the 2026 Cup as it has suggested?

3)   If Qatar remains the site of the 2022 Cup after the various bribery and human rights abuse investigations, will FIFA force that country to make concessions about alcohol and gender roles to appease corporate sponsors?

4)   Will/should corporate sponsors feel comfortable supporting the Cup in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 given those countries’ records and the sponsors’ own CSR priorities?

5)   Does FIFA’s antidiscrimination campaign extend beyond racism to human rights or are its own actions antithetical to these rights?

6)   Are the sponsors commenting publicly on the protests and human right violations? Should they and what could they say that has an impact? Should they have asked for or conducted a social impact analysis or is their involvement as sponsors too attenuated for that?

7)   Should socially responsible investors ask questions about whether companies could have done more for local communities by donating to relevant causes as part of their CSR programs?

8)   Are corporations acting as "bystanders", a term coined by Professor Jena Martin?      

9)   Is the International Olympic Committee, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, taking notes?

10)  Do consumers, the beneficiaries of creative corporate commercials and  viral YouTube videos, care about any of this?

I have thoughts but no answers to my questions and will spend my summer on these corporate responsibility issues. I definitely don’t envy the corporate idealists working for any of these sponsors.

 

 

July 4, 2014 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Ethics, Marcia Narine, Television, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Best Country for a Securities Professor to Visit?

Today, rather than my usual profound insights, I’m going to pose a question to our readers. (What do you mean, what “usual profound insights”?)

I have been thinking about applying for a Fulbright to teach overseas. The problem is that Fulbright applications are country-specific and I’m having trouble deciding where I would like to teach.

There are several ways to approach this problem. The first approach would be to look for the greatest possible geographical distance from Lincoln, Nebraska. I think this would be my Dean’s preference. But, as my Dean will tell you, pleasing her is almost never one of my criteria.

The second approach would be to choose the place with the greatest beach. This seems like a sound approach to me, but there seems to be a serious shortage of teaching opportunities in places like Tahiti.

That leaves but one possibility—choosing a location that best fits my particular teaching and research interests. My primary focus is securities regulation, particularly the application of securities law to small businesses. Given that focus what would be the best country to visit? Where would I find both (1) interesting things going on in securities regulation of small businesses and (2) people interested in learning about the U.S. approach to these issues?

China is an obvious choice, but what other countries would make sense? (I’m a coward, so please don’t suggest any countries that would require me to dodge bullets.)

Here’s your chance, blog readers: tell me where to go. (Keep it nice.)

June 9, 2014 in C. Steven Bradford, Securities Regulation, Travel | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

FOMO and Family

A friend with two small children recently told me that he has a bad case of FOMO (“fear of missing out”) at work because of his obligations at home.  His comment struck a chord with me because I recently turned down an opportunity to present a paper because the conference falls on my son’s upcoming first birthday.  Last year, I passed on another wonderful opportunity because it was extremely close to my son’s due date.  (Privileged, first world problems, I realize).  Unlike some of our readers, I am not usually inundated with requests to speak, so both of these opportunities were difficult to turn down. 

Do not get me wrong, the flexibility provided by a career as a professor is fabulous for raising a family.  However, while the baseline day-to-day work requirements for professors are relatively limited, the possible uses of our time are infinite.  For Type-A people like me (and most business and law professors I know), it can be difficult to know where to draw the line at work.  And even when we do draw the line, like I did in the two cases mentioned above, there can be nagging feelings that we are missing out, that those types of opportunities will not surface again, and that we will “fall behind” our peers.

My FOMO is exacerbated by the fear that I am simply not good enough.  Surrounded by brilliant Harvard-Yale-Stanford graduates, I have a gigantic state-school chip on my shoulder.  With no disrespect to my alma mater intended, every time I am introduced at a conference as a graduate of Georgia State University School of Law – usually surrounded by people with much more impressive resumes – I fear I will be taken a bit (or a lot) less seriously than others.  I am also (constantly) reminded how incredibly fortunate I am to have a tenure-track professor position. 

I have plenty on my plate for the rest of 2014, but missed opportunities still eat at me. 

Yes, I know, I am experiencing only a very small fraction of what female professors experience.  I do not approach Professor Usha Rodrigues’ schedule and sacrifices that she blogged about in January 2013.  That said, as a man who wants to be deeply involved at home, but also wants to excel as a professor—I live in that family-work tension.

April 1, 2014 in Haskell Murray, Travel | Permalink | Comments (2)