Shell chief promotes proper regs, practices for public protection

Marvin Odum

ASPEN — Proper industry practices and regulations are key to safeguarding onshore oil and gas development in the United States, the president of Shell Oil Co. said Thursday.

Marvin Odum’s comments at the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Ideas Festival came after Shell earlier this week used the festival as a venue to make public its own principles for protecting the environment and public in its global onshore operations.

Odum said Shell’s hope is to motivate regulators and other companies to also work to ensure proper industry practices.

“This is all about: How do you keep people safe, and how do you drill a well that has real integrity?” he said.

Shell’s principles include measures such as shifting to entirely pitless drilling, testing domestic groundwater before and after development to determine if there are any impacts from drilling, disclosing chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing to the extent allowed by suppliers, and supporting regulations to require suppliers to release that information.

Locally, Shell is pursuing a possible method of using heat to produce kerogen from oil shale formations. Elsewhere in the country, it is one of numerous companies developing natural gas and conventional oil by fracturing shale formations. Such efforts have led to widespread public concern about the need to protect groundwater from fracturing constituents.

Odum said he doesn’t consider fracturing itself to be a threat to groundwater, but it’s important to construct and monitor wells in a way that ensures they don’t serve as a conduit for contaminants of any sort to reach domestic water zones.

Odum’s interviewer Thursday, columnist Joe Nocera of the New York Times, worried that while Shell might do things right, other companies may not.

“It’s sort of like saying, ‘Well, we’re going to build our wells offshore with integrity, but if BP had one that blows up, there’s nothing we can do about it,’ ” Nocera said.

Odum said last year’s Gulf spill was a big reason for Shell deciding to stop just working behind the scenes and go public with its principles about how onshore drilling can be done the right way. The Gulf spill led to regulations that have made offshore drilling safer, he said.

“I think the same thing needs to happen, without the disaster, in natural gas,” he said.

Odum said he is fine with having some overarching federal regulation of drilling, but he favors states taking the lead in regulation and enforcement, providing they have the resources.

Some issues, such as wildlife protection, are best addressed in a state-specific way, he said, and states know what regulations local residents want.

“I think there’s plenty of good examples out there of how states can do this well and may even be in a better position to do it” than the federal government, he said.

Odum said the amount of natural gas that companies are unlocking in shale formations holds the promise of a plentiful and cheap supply that utilities, states and others are realizing can play a major role in the nation’s energy future.

“It’s just kind of now coming into everybody’s thinking,” he said.


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