South Texas organization strives to connect industry with stakeholders through education, communication and advocacy.
Omar Garcia gets asked a lot of questions. How is the Eagle Ford doing? What is the future of the shale with the current market conditions and oil prices?
Community members who are entrenched in the shale located in south Texas want to know the latest about the most active play in the world, which has turned into the area’s biggest economic booster. The South Texas Energy & Economic Roundtable (STEER) strives to provide all the answers.
STEER, which is based in San Antonio, was founded in October 2012 for two main reasons, notes Garcia, who is the organization’s president and CEO.
“No. 1 was to connect the industry with the stakeholders,” Garcia says. “In south Texas, it’s pretty rural and not had a lot of economic development, jobs or growth or any type of new investment in many, many years. Our organization started to help out some of this growth — work on roads, infrastructure, workforce and just general questions. The second thing was to be an education resource. You can imagine everybody had a ton of questions. Everybody wanted a presentation.
Everybody wanted to know what the Eagle Ford was. What does it mean to my community?”
The organization coordinates communication, education and public advocacy surrounding the production of energy resources.
“I think in terms of success for the Eagle Ford, it’s a win-win for everybody,” says Haley Curry, STEER vice president of external affairs. “We’ve set out to be that line of communication between the community and the industry. What we end up doing is a lot of community efforts and talking a lot about community needs.”
A GROUP IS FORMED
STEER was established by 11 of the largest operators in the Eagle Ford region: Anadarko, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, ConocoPhillips, EOG Resources, Lewis Energy Group, Marathon Oil, Murphy Oil, Pioneer Natural Resources, Shell, Statoil, and Talisman Energy.
Since its inception, STEER has grown to 16 operators, four service companies and 10 resource members. It’s not an extremely large group, but it’s a tight-knit core of companies with a strong mission.
“The reason why we’re pretty small is – because it’s not like we don’t have a lot of great operators in our industry – but these companies have top to bottom really put an investment into the areas that they’re working and developing in,” Curry says. “That means they have put in their corporate or organization structure that they needed for community engagement or stewardships of where they’re developing.”
Unlike other similar gas and oil proponent organizations throughout the nation, STEER concentrates its efforts regionally and locally and doesn’t get involved at the state and national levels. “STEER does not lobby,” Garcia says. “We are a grass-roots organization and work with the locals. We’re not there to lobby specific bills in Austin or (Washington) D.C. We are there to work with the communities.”
STEER wants to be fully involved in the 20-plus counties it works with in south Texas.
“Whether it’s just working with a community or really just being there for that city manager or county judge if he has a group of several citizens that has questions or a concern,” Garcia says. “Those are really the small wins that you really don’t hear about: us being down in the field answering and taking care of some of these impacts and questions that people may have.”
WORKING THROUGH EDUCATION
One way STEER is impacting the community is through educational initiatives. Last April, the organization launched a program to get inside the classrooms of local schools. By the end of the 2014-15 school year, STEER had entered eight school districts in south Texas and conveyed its message to over 500 students.
STEER is telling students about the Eagle Ford and how an oilfield operates. If kids see a rig in the field, Curry wants them to know what is going on. “You have to explain the why,” Curry says. “We’re not just in your backyard or in your parent’s ranch drilling holes for the fun of it. There is a definite energy need in our world and they need to know that, so that’s what we’re doing. You are a part of that in south Texas.”
STEER recently designed an education booklet to hand out at schools.
“It’s geared toward middle and high school kids,” Curry says. “It is not curricular-based. There are booklets out there that are curricular-based already, and we did not want to reinvent the wheel. These kids, first of all, we have to get them interested in graduating high school and not to do drugs.”
The booklet helps drive home the fact that there are plenty of employment opportunities available for them in the future. There are different levels of jobs available for students who receive their high school diploma as well as two- or four-year college degrees.
“Back in the ‘80s when we had a downturn with the economy, a lot of parents did not encourage their kids to go into the oil and gas field,” Garcia says. “So what we wanted to do with the book is, ‘Look, this industry is cyclical. It’s going to come back and we’re still drilling down in Texas. There are going to be plenty of opportunities for you.’”
Curry believes industry education is the most important way for STEER to impact the communities in the Eagle Ford.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and I think there’s a lot of interest in knowing more,” Curry says. “I think our industry the last couple years has done a good job of really starting to immerse itself in that.”
STEER wants to extend its educational initiatives outside the Eagle Ford and move south of Corpus Christi and Laredo and make its way into the Rio Grande Valley.
“There’s still lots of work for us to do,” Garcia says. “It’s all been very, very positive.”
Eagle Ford Excellence Awards
Three years ago when STEER was just getting started, it looked for a way to get local companies recognized for their long history of oil and gas exploration in south Texas.
“For us to be able to tell the stories of the companies in south Texas that have been there for many years and to give them recognition, I think was something we wanted to move forward with,” says Omar Garcia, president and CEO. “It’s a great, great opportunity for them to demonstrate all the great things they’re doing in the community, all the extra steps they do for safety and all the environmental precautions they take on a daily basis to protect south Texas.”
STEER came up with the Eagle Ford Excellence Awards. For the third straight year, it will announce the winners during a luncheon at a restaurant on San Antonio’s River Walk on Nov. 17.
STEER doesn’t charge a fee to attend the luncheon. It’s not about making money for STEER; it’s about recognizing those who are helping make an impact in the Eagle Ford. “This is for service companies, suppliers, communities that are making an impact,” Garcia says. “For example, last year we had two school districts win.
It’s for school districts, community colleges. It’s for any company, organization or entity that works in the oil and gas field.”
Exploration and production companies as well as members on STEER’s board of directors aren’t eligible to win awards. Third-party judges decide the winners.
There are four award categories: community and social investment, environmental stewardship, safety performance, and STEER Impact Award.
“After the first year, a lot of organizations wanted to submit specific projects they were working on, and there wasn’t a field for them,” says Garcia about the STEER Impact Award. “We created that basically for school districts, community colleges, chambers, nonprofit organizations. Anybody that has a great project that was related to our industry.”
The response by the community for the Eagle Ford Excellence Awards has been overwhelming the first two years. For the inaugural year, there were over 30 respondents; the following year, there were over 50 entrees. In 2014, there were in excess of 300 people for the awards luncheon. STEER is expecting solid attendance again in November.
Garcia says people look forward to the awards luncheon every year. It always creates a lot of buzz. “They take pride in winning this award.”