The Great Equalizer: How Science Can Foster a Fair and Equitable Political Environment

By Dr. Mark Nechodom; WSPA Vice President, Upstream Strategy

In today’s divided political arena, it seems increasingly difficult to find common ground. Opposing viewpoints from all sides have gotten far too comfortable seeing with tunnel vision and listening to echo chambers that only reinforce specific points of view. In fact, all of us have likely been guilty at times of picking and choosing when to use select information and data to support our own arguments. But while political, economic and social viewpoints will continue to differ, there’s one tool that can actually help to foster consensus, transparency and truth in decision-making processes: science.

Rooting both policies and business strategies in science and data seems like a no brainer, but too often science is ignored in favor of driving agendas forward. While politics at large will likely remain volatile for the foreseeable future, there is a renewed sense of hope that science can play a larger role in bringing order to future policy discussions.

Recently we saw the release of the long-anticipated White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) report on scientific integrity in government. The highest levels of government have spoken frequently on the importance of trusting science and data to inform future policy and regulatory conversations. This applies across the board to the ongoing pandemic, climate change, public health, energy policy and beyond. It is my hope that this positive disposition toward science and scientific integrity will inform our policy work with state and local governments, making policymaking more productive and collaborative.

Aligning on the importance of science will hopefully provide more common ground that our industry and policymakers can rely on for the facts, despite differences of opinion on policies. The President’s Science Advisor and OSTP Director Dr. Eric Lander said it well: “The health, safety, and prosperity of the American people depend on reliable, technically-sound policies and communications from government.”  And we couldn’t agree more.

The role and integrity of science, particularly as used by government to support policy that affects our everyday lives, is something the oil and gas industry has long invested in. Our industry has the brightest minds in energy sharing insights rooted in data and science that need to drive future policy conversations and action. But too often our industry’s expertise and science-based insights are overlooked, particularly with recent environmental policy and increasingly with labor and energy demand conversations.

My WSPA colleagues and I have immediately recognized several areas where an emphasis on better science will support our industry’s efforts to continue to provide safe, reliable and affordable energy. Some of those include the following examples:

  • Rethinking Unfounded Setback Regulations: CalGEM’s rulemaking on recent setback distance regulations has so far failed to use a scientific process that meets high standards for transparency, peer review, public access and accountability. The alarming lack of a science-based formal review greatly diminishes the credibility of any public health claims and, in turn, unnecessarily puts jobs, local tax bases and affordable and reliable energy at risk.
  • Setting the Record Straight on Fracking Bans: The quality of the science and the level of engagement of the scientific community around the hydraulic fracturing statute and rules under California’s SB-4 raised the bar for regulators and industry alike. As a former director of the agency responsible for regulating fracking, I know that we combated many myths that our opponents portrayed as facts. Unfortunately, politics subsequently overtook and ignored much of that science, as well as the science advisory processes that were put in place to provide transparency and accurate information to permitting and compliance. Picking and choosing when to listen to science does not create an even playing field for anyone, and needlessly results in harm to communities and countless workers.
  • Supporting the Industry’s Operational Innovation: Strong, peer-reviewed scientific evaluations of urgently needed technologies used for carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) and in operational improvements for underground injection control (UIC) will reinforce our industry’s contributions to carbon-reducing innovations and safe and sustainable drilling. Proven and peer-reviewed data from energy experts in our industry and beyond should support policymaking in areas where innovation and regulation need to be quickly deployed.


While many recent regulatory decisions have ignored or distorted science, there is still time for science and data to help bring integrity back to policymaking. Hopefully the White House’s OSTP report will help to kickstart the change our industry is looking for in the energy policymaking process.

Our industry has provided the west coast, the nation and the world with the energy to move freely and power societies for over a century. No one is better equipped or more invested than our industry to bring the best science and engineering to inform policy decisions. A seat at the table – and at a table that matters – is more critical than ever as we all work together to build a sustainable energy future that works for everyone.

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