Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Power of Teamwork

A multiple-choice question has been going through my head:

What were factors in the Steelers' loss to the Packers in the Super Bowl?

A. Me putting my Steeler jersey on backwards by accident (I did)
B. Pittsburgh native Christina Aguilera mangling the national anthem
C. Too many mistakes on both sides of the ball
D. Utter confusion during the last 4th quarter drive
E. All of the above.

The answer doesn't really matter. Perhaps the best answer is the simplest one - the best team that showed up was the one that won.

This may be a ham-handed segué to another story about teamwork in Pennsylvania, but it has implications for Coloradans as well, and it's worth the lead-up.

A story in Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette detailed the activities and effectiveness of groups of landowners who have been negotiating collectively with energy "landmen" seeking leases for drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation. Some key points and quotes:
  • "We have to stick together. It's the strength-in-numbers strategy," the Loretto (Pa.) group's lead organizer, Lee Wyland, told his members at the beginning of the two-hour-long meeting. "If we don't, they will pick us apart one-by-one -- there's no doubt about it."
  • These landowner groups "have become a major force in the industry, educating their members, usually resulting in higher payments and more environmental controls for landowners than they would have gotten as individuals".
  • When interest in the Marcellus Shale started to ramp up a few years ago, many landowners confused by the offers they were receiving reached out to the cooperative extension service at Penn State for information and assistance. Numerous community meetings later, these self-described "farm families" have learned the power of effective organizing and negotiation.
  • The story quotes the director of a royalty managers' trade group about efforts at organizing for the purpose of negotiating leases in other areas of the country:
"There is a cultural difference particular to Pennsylvania and New York," (Jerry Simmons) said. "In the Rocky Mountain west, in particular, everyone is kind of on their own, an individual attitude."
To be sure, there is lots of grassroots community organizing going on in Colorado and elsewhere. Groups such as Battlement Concerned Citizens and the Western Colorado Congress have worked hard to educate and advocate for more intensive study of drilling and fracking. This includes outright opposition to these activities without additional government scrutiny and regulatory oversight.

It's also true that there are significant differences in the circumstances. I don't think there are that many split estate situations in the Eastern U.S., and there's significantly less public lands.

Still, imagine a group of private landowners, let's say in Garfield County, collectively negotiating a drilling lease for all involved lands. Through cooperative pooling of resources and procurement of expertise, they are able to agree to a fair price. Included in the agreement are certain environmental clauses that whoever drills those leases must adhere to, on pain of withdrawal of permission and possible dissolution of the agreement for all drilling locations. A portion of the agreement proceeds would be set aside to assist with the necessary compliance monitoring processes.

How would something like this look politically? Would it dovetail with Governor Hickenlooper's stated desire for responsible energy development? How would such news be received by those on the GOP and/or Tea Party (are they interchangeable?) forefront, who disdain what they see as government running amuck where it should not?

This sounds like win-win to me:
  • Our country needs the energy that sits beneath us, but it must be extracted with respect for the surface and those who live on and/or farm that earth.
  • The energy companies and lease landmen are not going away; they see profits from the energy beneath the ground, and have the resources to expend on leases that will likely yield considerable earnings. They would prefer to pay a fair price to a large organized group, saving them time and expense from having to deal with individual landowners.
  • Given the aforementioned profit potential when faced with an organized, informed group of landowners backed by an effective regulatory structure, respecting the environment becomes just the cost of doing business.
  • The community at large benefits from the infusion of lease proceeds and employment into the engine of the local and regional economy. The organized groups find that their collective political and economic strength allows them to advocate and become a partner for positive change in the communities where they reside.
  • Government intervention is balanced with respect for both private property and human rights, with effective strategies in place to avoid repeating the tragic historical lessons of communism and feudalism, not to mention socialism or the environmental scars of unbridled capitalism.
A Utopian pipe dream? Perhaps. I look at it this way - anything that educates and mobilizes the people to help them achieve a greater quality of life together than separately cannot be a bad thing. Greed and other misunderstandings will always be there - but the message will continue to be firmly reinforced in our collective psyche that we are better off together than we are apart.

Our current political climate and economic systems, reinforced by commercial media, seem designed with the express purpose of dividing us into segments of a society, too addled with individual concerns and mistrust to work together. The promise of the Internet and social media to mobilize for change - particularly in places like Egypt - must be balanced with a strong desire to work together and avoid the paradoxical, destructive, collective narcissism that comes along with the world of the electronic screen.

Teamwork - strength in numbers - collectivism - any label you place on what's happening in Pennsylvania and New York with respect to drilling can translate to the potential for improving the American condition. I think this is one big reason that the competitive nature of humanity, combined with the freedoms that Americans have been blessed with and have a responsibility to uphold, is one of the greatest forces for positive change that history has ever seen.

Have a good week ahead.

No comments: