MOVING FORWARD

MOVING FORWARD

by Kate Hawthorne Jeracki

DEDICATION TO CIVIL DISCOURSE MOVES NATURAL GAS CONVERSATION FORWARD

“I had just started with the Center, which was also brand-new, in 2011 when Bryan Willson [professor of engineering and now director of the Energy Institute at Colorado State University] proposed a conference that would bring together industry, researchers, government at the local and state level, regulators, utilities, and members of the community, as well as CSU students, to explore the various issues surrounding natural gas development,” recalled Maury Dobbie, assistant director of CNEE. “Oh, and could we pull it together in five weeks?”

Somehow, the core group of Willson, Dobbie, engineering professor Ken Carlson, and Center director former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter did it. The first Symposium took place in October 2011 at the Marriott in Fort Collins and attracted 225 participants. The most recent event, in October 2015, attracted nearly 800 people to the Lory Student Center on campus for two full days of discussion; many more followed the livestream online.

“Our guiding principle then, and now, was that Colorado State University was hosting the event but that organizers would not take sides on any of the issues,” Dobbie said. “Our job is to bring the participants together to have a respectful conversation about what is important.

We don’t want anyone to skirt the issues, but everyone is encouraged to listen to each other.”

That principle was tested the next year when, as the debate over hydraulic fracturing was heating up, the Symposium became the target of a planned protest. Industry representatives asked the Center for additional security around the venue, in case the situation escalated.

Dobbie approached the protestors assembled outside the hall and invited them inside.

“It’s a free event, and everyone is welcome,” she said. “All we asked of them is that, like everyone else in the room, they abide by the rules of civil discourse, ask their questions, meet new people, and not disrupt the conversation.”

To the amazement of many, several of the protestors not only stayed for the entire three days of presentations, but they asked questions respectfully and told Dobbie afterward that they felt not only that their views had been heard, they too were shown respect and they had actually learned something.

“I call that a success,” she said. “This is what CSU can do – raise the issues, provide education, and get people on different sides talking and listening to each other. That’s what we do at the Center for the New Energy Economy every day – bring together people with disparate thoughts to find solutions to some extremely complicated issues and provide leadership on important national policy debates.”

Some of the projects that have grown out of interactions between the disparate groups who have attended the Natural Gas Symposium over the years include the Colorado Water Watch, headed by Carlson, which seeks to develop empirical data related to methane in groundwater; the series of studies sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and performed by CSU researchers to identify sources of methane emissions from the natural gas supply chain; and any number of important professional connections between individuals that are still coalescing into collaborations.

At the most recent Symposium, the Center and CSU’s Energy Institute released a white paper that synthesized some of the discussions that have occurred at the previous four Symposia and put them in regional, national, and international context, as well as expanded on the science, policy, and economics currently influencing the industry. “Trends in Responsible Natural Gas Development” was sponsored by Wells Fargo, and is available for download on the Symposium website at naturalgas.colostate.edu/symposium-2015/agenda-2015/

(Other materials, including the popular and educational Natural Gas 101 panels and speaker sessions are also available at the website.)

While discussions about the next Symposium have begun, Dobbie said exactly what topics will be tackled remains in the hands of the steering committee, itself a diverse group. With the rapid changes in technology and policy and the economics of the natural gas industry, she pointed out that first question the committee asks each year is, “What is relevant?” The committee talks about the tag line “Doing Energy Right” and what that means in the context of that year.

And staying relevant with all stakeholders has helped the Natural Gas Symposium succeed.

“As important as the projects that have come out of the Symposium are the relationships between professionals in different parts of the industry, with environmental groups, community, elected officials, and regulators who might never attend the same meetings, with academics in the social sciences who bring a totally different dimension to the conversation than engineers, and, I’m proud to say, with CSU students who are looking for a way to do something that is important to society,” Dobbie said. “The steering committee continues to be concerned about our environmental legacy, and they realize that if we are going to contribute to something that is much bigger than ourselves, we will have to concentrate on inclusivity, and get all the right people with different perspectives in the room – then we can pull o something great that leaves lasting legacies.”

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