Protests rise in response to Oil and Gas Energy Industry Forum

On April 6, the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering hosted the Oil and Gas Industry Energy Forum. Sponsored by the Case Alumni Association, the event brought in Case Western Reserve University alumni who are business leaders in the gas and oil industry to share their experiences working in the field.  

The Gas and Oil Forum was made possible through a designated endowment held at the Case Alumni Association. The forum was moderated by an Weatherhead School of Management alumnus and President of Nexus Engineering Group, Jeff Herzog. Herzog is also the president of the Case Alumni Association. With his help, the forum was able to assemble four panelists, who are all CWRU alumni and worked at the energy industry. The four panelists include: Myra Dria, president of Pearl Resources LLC and Ristra Energy LLC, Mark Smith, leader of PricewaterhouseCooper’s advisory practice for the Greater Texas Area, George Damiris, the president of HollyFrontier Corp., and Thomas Komos, the senior vice president of Fuel Supply at TravelCenters of America.  

According to the event webpage on the Case Alumni Association, the goal of the Oil and Gas Industry Energy Forum was to allow students, faculty and alumni insight into preparation and challenges when working in the oil and gas industry. However, the hosting of the event was met with some opposition.

Jack Turner was one voice who spoke against the hosting of the event and protested the event when it did take place. Turner cited the violent record, unsavory agenda and ethical failures of the oil and gas industry as the main reason for protesting the event. In an e-mail, he listed a number of activities that the industry is responsible for, including climate change, species extinction and academic silencing through violent means.

“These are just a couple examples from an industry where deceit, intimidation and murder are business as usual,” commented Turner.

Turner had pushed for a resolution to cancel the event during an open forum of an Undergraduate Student Government (USG) assembly in March. Other representatives had expressed concerns about the issues that could arise as a result of cancelling the event. One concern that arose was preventing chemical engineering students who were interested in a career in the gas and oil industry from learning more about it. Another concern was that cancelling the event could dissuade other employers from hosting events at CWRU.

Despite these issues, Turner still pushed for the cancellation of the event. He stressed in an e-mail that ethical standing should be preserved at CWRU, especially if the university wants to maintain a strong reputation as a serious scholarly institution.

“When we associate with an industry that has a well documented history of funding misinformation campaigns, we bring discredit on ourselves,” remarked Turner. “How can we roll out the red carpet for the people who fund science denial and expect the research professors and students are doing here not to be tinged?”

Due to the opposition as well as how close the date of the Oil and Gas Energy Forum was to the timing his proposal in the USG General Assembly, the forum was still held. However, even inside the Linsalata Alumni Center, the discussion of the public image of the oil and gas industry continued. When asked about one of the biggest challenges faced in the oil and gas industry, panelist Damiris stated that working in the field was a public relations challenge.

Damiris hoped to dispel images of oil and gas industry engineers as “polluters or people who don’t care about the environment or people who don’t care about safety.” According to Damiris, without an effort to change the way oil and refinery industries are portrayed, mistrust will continue to pervade the public eye when it comes to viewing oil and energy industries.

“We’ve spent billions of dollars in the industry cleaning up our processes,” said Damiris. “We just need to get the word out. If you don’t get out there and define yourself, others will get out there and define you for you. Frankly, that is the situation our industry is in.”

Though the forum still took place, Turner still protested outside the Alumni Center as the panel was taking place.  In addition, he is still pushing for a resolution that will discourage similar events to the Oil and Gas Energy Industry Forum from taking place in the future.

On a similar note, the Student Sustainability Council (SSC) is submitting a letter to the Alumni Association.

“We are hoping to create a dialogue with the Alumni Association, to give them time to respond to why they felt this event was important on campus, just sort of bringing this issue we had with it to light so that we can get more people involved in the conversation,” said SSC President Heather Eby.

Eby said that SSC had a lot of concerns with the forum because “there were no other prospective presented.” As an chemical engineering major, Eby was required to attend the forum, and she found that “there was no one from any opposing industries under the energy field, so people couldn’t really get an idea of the entire energy landscape.”

Besides submitting the letter, SSC also hopes to collaborate with the Alumni Association in the future to bring in representatives from clean energy industry.

“Quite simply, there are some employers that should be warded off,” commented Turner. “CWRU likes to talk about ethics …. But if we are doing that while simultaneously furnishing workers for the sort of industry I described, all our talk of ethics is nothing but a hollow mockery.”
Additional reporting by Celia Wan, News Editor.