In this episode, host Daniel Raimi talks with Tisha Schuller, the founding principal at Adamantine Energy and the former president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. Elaborating on her new book, The Gamechanger’s Playbook, Schuller identifies several key “disruptors” that could pose existential threats to oil and gas companies, such as the increasing economic influence of environmental activism and growing calls for businesses to do more around racial justice. For these energy companies to be successful in the future, Schuller recommends that industry leaders engage the more climate-conscious millennial generation and meaningfully commit to decarbonization.
Listen to the Podcast
- Fossil fuel companies need to contend with activism as an economic force: “Environmental activism is now completely influencing mainstream business risk. I encourage companies to stop thinking about [activism] in terms of political identity and start thinking about environmental activism as a hurricane off the coast. When you prepare your facilities for an incoming hurricane, you don’t ask yourself if you believe it’s coming or not. You look at the percentage of risk that it creates.” (8:35)
- Climate literacy is essential for the modern oil and gas industry: “Companies need to immediately share aspirations with the public for a decarbonizing energy future. At this point, I can say with confidence that this is just nonnegotiable … If companies can’t speak about climate fluently and about their role in addressing climate, then [they have no space] to talk and negotiate and think about what those steps mean in the interim. That has to happen at the board and executive level.” (15:10)
- If the oil and gas industry could innovate before, it can do so again: “The most important resource that we as an industry bring to this is 150 years of entrepreneurial spirit … We have reinvented ourselves time and time and time again, and really transformed geopolitics with our success here in the United States. That entrepreneurial spirit is what we want to tap into, to think about: How are we going to invent the next 50 years of the energy future? It’s going to look nothing like the past 50. But that’s okay; that’s what we’ve always done. This is the opportunity for our generation to create the energy future.” (19:34)
Top of the Stack
- The Gamechanger's Playbook by Tisha Schuller
- “After the Pandemic: Hope and Breakthroughs for 2021” by Ted Nordhaus and Alex Trembath at the Breakthrough Institute
- “CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuels May Have Peaked in 2019” by Zeke Hausfather at the Breakthrough Institute
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal by Naomi Klein; naomiklein.org/on-fire/
The Full Transcript
Daniel Raimi: Hello, and welcome to Resources Radio, a weekly podcast from Resources for the Future. I'm your host, Daniel Raimi. Today we talk with Tisha Schuller, principal of Adamantine Energy, and author of the new book, The Gamechanger's Playbook. The book is a provocative and insightful look at how oil and gas companies can play a leading role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Tisha lays out the case for why these companies need to change, how they can approach the climate challenge in a new way, and what practical steps they can take today to lay the groundwork for future success. Stay with us.
All right, Tisha Schuller from Adamantine Energy, welcome to Resources Radio. It's great to have you with us.
Tisha Schuller: It's great to be here. Thanks for having me Daniel.
Daniel Raimi: So Tisha, we're going to talk today about a new book of yours, called The Gamechanger's Playbook. The subtitle of the book is How Oil & Gas Leaders Thrive in an Era of Continuous Disruption. It's a fascinating book. It's really exciting and provocative to me in a variety of ways. I'm really psyched to ask you questions about it, but first, we always ask our guests how they got interested in working on energy and environmental issues in the first place. So what was your path?
Tisha Schuller: I have a very circuitous route, so I'll give you the cliff notes version. When I was at Stanford in the early ’90s, I was an environmental activist and protested the wars for oil. I also studied environmental science and geology, so I thought that that was my path. I moved to Boulder, Colorado. I got a job as an environmental consultant. Then as part of that process of evolving in your career, I found myself working as a consultant for oil and gas companies doing environmental cleanup, doing environmental training. It was very much in the sweet spot of environmentalism, but it was for oil and gas companies. During that period of time I learned a lot about the industry and met a lot of people, but also the fracking wars came to be.
As a geologist, and my husband's a hydrogeologist, I thought, “This is so interesting that fracking is becoming the point of controversy.” There's a lot of things that are worthy of a debate and maybe even conflict, but fracking probably isn't one of them. I thought, “Oh, I'm going to really take this on. I'm going to try to be a translator and help the oil and gas industry.” Through some various twists and turns, that led to me being the CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which is a kooky journey in and of itself, because here I am, an environmentalist from Boulder, running the trade association that represents oil and gas in Colorado. That just happened to be during the five years that the fracking wars were in full steam in Colorado, which I think really led the country in many ways in that conflict.
I found myself on the front lines of that, really trying to both bring out the best in the oil and gas industry, but also help communicate and build bridges about the really important and good works of the industry. That could of course be a whole podcast in itself. We'll just breeze through that. After I left that after five years, I started Adamantine Energy, because I really have a keen interest in helping oil and gas companies, helping the industry at large future-proof against what I see as really changing tides around social expectations of energy. Now I spend all my time working at this interface for companies, but also for think tanks and environmental NGOs that work in the space, on building bridges and crafting the energy future.
Daniel Raimi: It's so fascinating. You've got to be the only person ever to move to Boulder and realize that you were pro-fracking after moving to Boulder.
Tisha Schuller: Yeah. I think that is a unique journey. I will say I don't recommend it for your social life.
Daniel Raimi: Having had a number of conversations about fracking in Boulder and elsewhere along the Front Range, I feel you. One of the really fascinating things about The Gamechanger's Playbook, your new book, is it really starts with a bang. There's an introductory section, where at one point you state unequivocally that the oil and gas industry has to, and I quote, “Lead or die.” Why did you want to use such stark language at the beginning?
Tisha Schuller: The interesting thing is my place in talking to the oil and gas industry really comes from a place of love and a place of wanting the best for this industry. At this moment in time, that means telling people not what they want to hear from me, but what I think is really important the industry leaders hear. When I wrote this in the fall, we were looking ahead to the moment that we find ourselves now in 2021, where the financial system, investors, the political system at a federal level, demographics, are all changing in a way that I believe is directional. A lot of times the industry has thought about its place in society and public opinion as part of the political pendulum. It's going to swing one way and it's going to swing another way, and you just kind of have to wait out the swings you don't like for it to come back.
But I really see these changes as directional in nature, and that the industry's positioning around a pendulum or an idea of a return to some past moment is completely flawed, and in fact will end in our demise. I see the trends underway as completely forming existential threats for the oil and gas industry. In the absence of a different approach, I do think the industry completely loses investor, public, and political support at the levels necessary to continue. The message is stark, because the situation, the disruptors are real. That said, it's paired with the idea that there is a leadership vacuum around energy, and there is a massive societal need for energy leadership to address the energy future, decarbonization, creating prosperity around the world. This creates an unparalleled opportunity for the oil and gas industry to lead. It's really the kind of leadership opportunity that we haven't seen in a generation. So it's a stark warning, paired with an unparalleled opportunity.
Daniel Raimi: So you mentioned disruptors that are kind of driving these changes, and in the book you identify three leading ones. Can you give us a quick tour of those three kinds of leading disruptors and give us a sense of why they matter?
Tisha Schuller: Sure. I love talking about this, with the caveat that if you work in the oil and gas industry, it is alarming to hear the three disruptors that I'm about to talk about. They also are paired with action. But for right now we'll just talk about the disruptors. The first is demographics. Demographics are changing, most notably in the rise of the millennial generation. In raw numbers, millennials now dominate the population, and will through at least 2050. This is a generation that leans left by 30 points. Even where they are conservative, they are suspicious about oil and gas development, and they are concerned about climate. Conservative millennials are also suspicious of the oil and gas industry and concerned about climate. What this means is that this generation that's now reaching their peak of economic, civic, and political relevance is really a public force that we have to reckon with.
Tisha Schuller: Now the oil and gas industry's investors, elected officials, and permitting authorities are all dominated by the millennial generation. That's one change that's not going away. Just to put millennials in perspective, we've been talking about them so long that the oldest millennials turn 40 this year.
Daniel Raimi: That's me. I'm right on the edge. I turn 40 this year.
Tisha Schuller: Well, congratulations.
Daniel Raimi: Thank you.
Tisha Schuller: You are way more important than my generation will ever be. So that's the first one. The second one is that environmental activism, which historically has been thought about as a fringe movement or the left of the left, is now completely influencing mainstream business risk. I encourage companies to stop thinking about this in terms of political identity, and start thinking about environmental activism as a hurricane off the coast. When you prepare your facilities for an incoming hurricane, you don't ask yourself if you believe it's coming or not. You look at the percentage of risk that it creates. Environmental activism now affects how investors are thinking about oil and gas. The availability and the cost of borrowing money, and the expectations that investors are putting on companies, then also affects policies. Aspirational policies now drive real expectation for how companies can get their projects permitted. So that's the second risk.
Tisha Schuller: The third disruptor is racial equity and justice. When we saw the movements of the summer, I think all of us could tell that this is a movement that is now enduring and deep and is going to change the way our companies and our society functions. We see expectations around racial equity and justice translating into oil and gas companies through investor expectation, and also this new lens of environmental justice on all energy, climate, environmental legislation, whether it's at the federal level or state levels. Companies have a real need to look at both their internal diversity equity and inclusion work within their companies, but also the way they're thinking about racial equity and justice in the communities within which they operate.
Daniel Raimi: Great, that is very well said and very persuasively argued, to me at least, in the book. You said a couple moments ago that you think that the oil and gas industry can lead the way into a clean energy future. Clearly, part of that means doing more in clean energy, starting to invest in clean energy technologies, and selling more clean energy products. But one of the challenges that I've heard, speaking with people in the oil and gas industry, is that there's not always a recognition that this might also mean selling less oil and gas. In your view, does the future mean a combination of more clean energy and less oil and gas, or is it something else?
Tisha Schuller: It's a wonderful question. It's really easy for the industry and climate hawks to think about the energy future in this paradigm of a zero sum gain. For any advancement of clean energy, there's a loss for oil and gas. But I really think of this differently. With the engagement of the oil and gas industry, you now have billions of dollars, millions of miles of pipeline and other types of infrastructure around just the US alone, for example—nevermind the world—and then some of the brightest scientific and engineering minds, all working on the climate challenge and the decarbonization opportunities. One just big paradigm shift is thinking about putting the massive R&D resources and existing infrastructure of the oil and gas industry to work for decarbonization. That's a huge opportunity, and just a big paradigm shift. You can imagine the opportunities that creates for employees and for companies to think differently.
Then, on the question of what is an individual company doing differently? Even though we may hit peak oil—peak petroleum product demands in developed economies in the next one to 10 years—there's still quite a long runway of when we're going to need these products and need to be thinking about them in a decarbonizing framework. The way we think of it instead is: What's the toolbox each company is going to have to take whatever business they're doing today, and produce those energy services or similar energy services, but increasingly decarbonizing the ultimate content? Some of that might be through various kinds of blending, some of it might be through offsets, some of it might be from new businesses. I don't think of it as one thing to go away and another has to come in. Instead, this is more about a system that needs to adjust over the course of decades, with urgency, and is shifting in small ways, customized to each company.
So with an international oil and gas major, we're following with interest how they are repositioning as energy companies of the future. They can afford to invest in offshore wind for example. But a small, midstream oil transport company—and midstream meaning a pipeline company—will need to be thinking about things like how do they dramatically reduce their emissions over time? How much will they take responsibility for the oil flowing through their pipelines? Will there be a blending? Will they be concerned about the carbon content? Ultimately, will they be transitioning to transporting zero-carbon fuels like hydrogen? So these are the kind of ways that we're encouraging the companies to think about this as opportunity, and not as loss.
Daniel Raimi: Right. That makes sense. So you've already laid out a couple of potential examples. Can you say a little bit more about some of the practical steps that oil and gas companies will need to start making today to start laying the groundwork for that transition?
Tisha Schuller: It's interesting, because when you say practical, I want to think small, but I do think we have to think practical and visionary at the same time. What's visionary, and what steps will we take today? I'd like to think of it in three big buckets of game changers. The first one is putting the millennials at the center of company strategic planning. This is really revolutionary, because oil and gas companies are traditionally quite hierarchical in nature. Even though millennials are in their 30s and turning 40, you're somewhere in low to mid-level management. This idea of thinking differently about letting the secret weapon within companies and millennials be at the planning table to shift, to just break the paradigms of how we're thinking about the energy future, I think is really important. It's also mission critical that immediately we build bridges to a millennial public, so we are able to think and communicate and engage in a completely different way. Putting millennials at the center of corporate strategy, I think, is really important.
The second, and it's related, is that companies need to immediately share aspirations with the public for a decarbonizing energy future. At this point, I can say with confidence that this is just nonnegotiable. I spent a lot of 2020 arguing about whether this was a good idea or not. I'm more convinced today than ever, that if companies can't speak about climate fluently and about their role in addressing climate, and then go even one step farther to say, “We share the aspirations of the public for a decarbonizing energy future,” then [they have no space] to talk and negotiate and think about what those steps mean in the interim. So sharing aspirations with the public is really important. That has to happen at the board and executive level. Of course, you can imagine I'm advocating that there's millennials being brought into those conversations.
The third shift is that companies need to really think about their civic leadership responsibility. In the United States, for example, we expect oil and gas companies, if there's a natural disaster, to just step up in this massive way and repair power lines and make sure that fuel gets to where it needs to be. Companies do that very naturally. Here we find ourselves in 2021 in an economic crisis, a health crisis, and with climate as an overwhelming shared public priority. This is when companies need to stand up and say, “This is how we're going to lead, in a civic way. We're going to address all these elements as part of the broader community.” We really want to see companies stepping into their leadership role. Of course this fits into that third disruptor of racial equity and justice: how companies are internalizing their diversity, equity, and inclusion work, and translating the civic leadership into addressing racial equity and justice.
Daniel Raimi: That is all super interesting and makes sense. One of the items that you touched on a couple moments ago was the diversity within the oil and gas industry. So we have super majors, we have mid-sized companies, we have small mom and pop operations, and everything in between. When you look at the wide range of views within the industry, today what we see is that some companies are articulating those aspirational goals, shared with society on decarbonization. Others are either saying nothing or perhaps working to thwart certain climate policies. To what extent do you think the smaller players in the industry, or those who are not kind of naturally inclined to move ahead with some of the strategies you're talking about, how amenable do you think they might be to these changes?
Tisha Schuller: It's such an important question, because outside of the industry it's easy to talk about oil and gas as if it's one monolithic industry. In fact, there's thousands of companies, and millions of people just in the United States alone. The way that I am approaching this is that the number one imperative for companies that aren't on this decarbonization train yet, but the first thing that company leadership has to do is take this entire conversation out of politics, and into business risk. That's a really important transformation, because an individual's personal politics is so tied up with identity, and now so interwoven with questions of everything from climate to racial equity and justice. These are just unproductive framings. They lend themselves to this old way of thinking of trying to wait until the pendulum swings back, or there's a past that we're going to return to when people appreciated the important work we do.
Even for small companies, and Adamantine does occasionally get to advise smaller companies in the space, we really want to reframe this as business risk, and thinking about how companies need to prepare for a decarbonizing energy future. Really what we found is even the smallest companies can do this. This is a lot about just reframing how you're thinking about the present and the future, and whether you're in a defensive reactive posture, or a proactive innovation posture. The most important resource that we as an industry bring to this is 150 years of entrepreneurial spirit. Just like you have out west here in Colorado you have this idea that like, "We're Westerners. We innovate. You can drop us anywhere and we'll figure out how to be successful," the oil and gas industry has that with our entrepreneurial spirit. We have reinvented ourselves time and time and time again, and really transformed geopolitics with our success here in the United States. That entrepreneurial spirit is what we want to tap into after we've transcended politics, to think about: How are we going to invent the next 50 years of the energy future?
It's going to look nothing like the past 50. But that's okay; that's what we've always done. This is the opportunity for our generation to create the energy future. That transcends size, and it transcends politics. That's the way I would encourage industry leaders to be thinking about this.
Daniel Raimi: That's so interesting. It reminds me of the comment you made earlier about the hurricane offshore. It doesn't matter whether you believe in the forecasting models or whatever. The reality is that the hurricane is offshore and there's a real risk here that you need to take into account.
Tisha Schuller: The piece that people outside of the industry can participate in is that vilifying the oil and gas industry, and even vilifying fossil fuels, is actually cutting off a huge resource to address climate faster, better, cheaper. That hurricane off the coast could actually apply to anyone in this debate. Let's transcend these political ideas of a villain, and instead create a new paradigm where we're working towards the shared future. I do think the burden is on the oil and gas industry to show up in this conversation differently. But I also implore participants from other parts of the environmental climate conversation to be ready, to allow a seat at the table. As companies show up, they can participate in a meaningful way.
Daniel Raimi: That's really interesting. Let's turn to a slightly different subject now, one that I know both of us care a lot about. We both traveled in the oil and gas producing regions, and we've both met a lot of people who work in the industry. I've certainly gained an understanding for how companies really care about their employees and the places where they operate. What I've been thinking about is: What types of strategies companies can make today so that their workers, and the communities where they operate, can succeed in a very different energy future? What types of actions are you advising companies on how they can position their workforce to succeed in a clean energy future?
Tisha Schuller: It's such an important question, and it's really conducive to this new framing, which is not to fight for a place as a fuel of the past, because you can't simultaneously create and invent the new energy future while you're fighting for your right to do things the way you've always done. Part of this shift is actually really conducive to workforce development. One, bringing in the younger generation that will be leading our oil and gas companies in the next 10 to 30 years, bringing them into these conversations, and then focusing on the decarbonization toolbox. We want to see employees involved in R&D projects that are happening at field scale, so people are getting exposed to those kinds of actions. We want people to be a part of the brainstorming process around what the decarbonization toolbox is, so that they can be following the developments as they go on. Then all the workforce of the future elements, that would have been there anyway for the oil and gas industry—such as digitization and automation—these are things that were coming anyway, and we could see in the industry.
Having the skill set to work remotely on field work, for example, there's just some amazing developments that really impact efficiency, safety, environmental performance. Really bringing the workforce along, particularly our workforce that's going to be in the industry for 10 to 30 years into the early planning stages as we're developing our innovative projects.
Daniel Raimi: On a related note, one of the challenges that oil and gas producing regions might face are related to just community economic development and public service delivery. We've been talking mostly about private actions and private governance and what companies can do, but are there any strategies that you've come across, or that you've seen as best practices, for energy producing communities? Let's say places like west Texas or central California, or the Piceance Basin in western Colorado? Are there strategies that you've seen that those community leaders might be able to take to, again, position themselves to succeed in a clean energy future?
Tisha Schuller: Absolutely. There's a combination of academics, and most of these regions have a science and engineering-based university. Having those academics involved in the innovation research and pilot projects around new products is going to be really important. In places like Weld County, where for the last decade they've been diversifying into energy centers rather than oil and gas centers, these are really important framing conversations. Again, to take this out of defensive, reactive politics, some might say “we're a conservative region and we do oil and gas.” But no, it doesn't matter. They should instead say, “we're an innovative region creating the energy of the future.”
One of the most exciting innovations underway right now is the Avatar Project. So this is happening in Alberta, which much like Texas, is the oil and gas producing region of Canada. They're under the same kind of environmental pressures, except even more acute because they don't have pipeline access to sell their oil into the United States, so their prices are even more depressed. They have this amazing program that brings together community leaders, company leaders, venture capital funds, and the local university, all to work on startups that are focused completely on decarbonizing the oil and gas industry. That's just such an amazing example of the kind of innovation and collaboration that keeps millennials engaged, that attracts diverse interests and perspectives, and that is genuinely leading into the energy future in real time.
Daniel Raimi: That's so interesting. I hadn't heard about that. Are there any equivalent activities taking place in the United States that you're aware of, for any oil and gas-producing US regions?
Tisha Schuller: Not at that level. But I did interview the founders on my podcast, with the express interest in bringing something like that program to the United States. I share your enthusiasm, that that's the kind of thinking and action that is going to be transformative at scale. The really neat thing about what they're doing, is this isn't dabbling on the margins. Oh, you have a million bucks. Now you got to go try to raise your 5 million bucks. Once companies get to that point, they pair up with an existing energy company who has the scale, who has the resources, to take these into the field immediately. It's just so much more scalable when you bring that kind of financial power into the innovation process.
Daniel Raimi: That's so interesting. I'll look forward to learning more about that. Well, Tisha Schuller, from Adamantine Energy, this has been so interesting, and I would really encourage folks to check out your new book, The Gamechanger's Playbook. We're going to close it out now with the same question that we ask all of our guests, which is asking you to recommend something that's on the top of your literal or metaphorical reading stack that you've read or watched or heard lately that you think our listeners might enjoy. I'll start with a book that I paired along with your book. Tisha, I told you about this. As I was reading The Gamechanger's Playbook, I was also reading Naomi Klein's most recent book, which is called On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal. It was very different from your book, Tisha. It sort of approached the question of decarbonization from an entirely different angle.
One of the things I appreciated about it is that it articulates a really compelling argument that a lot of people believe. Whether or not I agree with every detail doesn't matter, but having a good sense of where advocates are coming from, from multiple perspectives, I always find to be useful, even if I don't agree with all of it. So that was my pairing with this book.
Tisha Schuller: I love that because it's so important. Everything I am espousing for the oil and gas industry is to really become skillful in understanding the anti-fossil fuel perspective. How can we engage meaningfully if we don't understand? I love it that you found common ground between our two pieces of work.
Daniel Raimi: Can you, Tisha, now maybe recommend something else for our audience?
Tisha Schuller: Absolutely. If your readers are not familiar with the Breakthrough Institute, I love the pieces that they're putting out right now, really thinking pragmatically and optimistically about addressing climate at scale. “After the Pandemic” is a recent article that was put out by Ted Nordhaus and Alex Trembath, and you can find that on their website. Then anything that Zeke Hausfather writes is so encouraging. So he has “CO₂ Emissions from Fossil Fuels May Have Peaked in 2019,” and I find that really interesting. Then most of my environmental and science reading right now has pivoted to working on my own journey around racial equity and justice. I'm just about to finish How to be an Antiracist. I think that this is work that every leader is responsible for progressing in their own internal world, as well as our external efforts.
Daniel Raimi: Very cool. Great recommendations. We've actually had Zeke on the show to talk about climate, and we had Ted Nordhaus on the show just a few weeks ago.
Tisha Schuller: Awesome.
Daniel Raimi: So we've got Breakthrough covered as well. Well, Tisha Schuller, again, from Adamantine Energy, thank you so much for coming on the show today, telling us about your new book. It's been fascinating.
Tisha Schuller: Oh, thank you so much for having me. And thanks so much for the really important work you do through this podcast, and all your writing and research at RFF.
Daniel Raimi: Thanks, Tisha.
You've been listening to Resources Radio. Learn how to support Resources for the Future at rff.org/support. If you have a minute, we'd really appreciate you leaving us a rating or comment on your podcast platform of choice. Also, feel free to send us your suggestions for future episodes. Resources Radio is a podcast from Resources for the Future. RFF is an independent, non-profit research institution in Washington, DC. Our mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. The views expressed on this podcast are solely those of the podcast guests, and may differ from those of RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals. Resources Radio is produced by Elizabeth Wason, with music by me, Daniel Raimi. Join us next week for another episode.