Every 2 years, a large contingent of health, safety, and environment (HSE) and sustainability practitioners in the oil and gas industry get together to do what SPE enables best—sharing knowledge and collaborating. Despite the economic downturn draining some talent from the industry, the 2018 SPE International Conference on Health, Safety, Security, the Environment, and Social Responsibility reminded many that the continuing good work and the decades of developing a knowledge community are reasons for celebration. Each gathering is colored by context and location. The 2016 global conference was held in Stavanger and attracted more than 700 participants and contributors. This year was the Middle East’s turn to play host to the conference. In Abu Dhabi, more than 900 industry practitioners dropped their competitive gloves and donned their collaborative garb for 4 intense days. From dawn to dusk every day, a flurry of technical sessions, panel sessions, e-posters, meetings, and exhibitor booths—not to mention all of the social moments for professional friends to catch up with one another—filled Jumeirah at Etihad Towers.
Several veterans noted that this year’s HSE conference was the best yet, and I found myself agreeing without quite knowing what exactly had made this conference stand out. Certainly, the venue facilitated interaction in an energizing manner—and that did matter—but I suspect a maturity stage gate was reached. Safety, the big brother of this family of disciplines, was the focus of 15 sessions; however, close behind were environment, health, social responsibility, and sustainability, which were the focus of a further 18 sessions that presented more than 130 technical papers. Demand ran high, sessions were full, and the audience was engaged. While there was much to congratulate, there was no time to rest on one’s laurels. The best practices presented were not a theoretical wish list; they were to be seen in action, through tangible examples of what was working well and what was working less well.
Professional pride was very evident and rightly so. It was not an arrogant pride but rather one that is humble and says this industry is worthy of my time, my talent, my ideas, my energy, and my sacrifices—yes, sacrifices. In this industry, the work/life balance is widely acknowledged to be desirable but is equally widely known to be a unicorn. Isn’t it interesting that an industry that motivates so many good people to pour their heart and soul into its ongoing existence is also an industry that so many other good people fear and loathe? Will we ever turn that dynamic into a constructive tension at scale? Many companies and individuals manage to challenge that dynamic in innovative ways that truly advance progress, but we have not yet reached scale on any of the disciplines except safety.