About the Interviewee
Roland is the current Vice President of Finance for the Society of Petroleum Engineers International (SPEi) Board of Directors. From 2011-2014, he also served as the Health, Safety, Security, Environment & Social Responsibility (HSSE-SR) Technical Director on the SPEi Board. He retired from ExxonMobil in August 2014 with 34 years of service, where he held the position of Safety, Security, Health and Environment (SSH&E) Manager for ExxonMobil’s Upstream Research, Gas & Power Marketing, and Upstream Ventures business units. He began his career with Exxon Company, U.S.A. as a Project Engineer at the Bayway Refinery in New Jersey in 1981. Since that time, he has held various technical, supervisory and managerial assignments for Exxon, and then ExxonMobil, in the Upstream production, development, and research organizations. Prior to ExxonMobil, Roland also worked for five years in the naval nuclear industry. Roland received his BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1975, followed by an MBA in Finance from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1984. Roland also completed the Certified Financial Planner program at Rice University in 2015.
He remains active on various SPE initiatives in the areas of sustainable development and safety. He also serves as the chair of the HSE Now editorial advisory board, and represents SPE on the Advisory Committee for the Ocean Energy Safety Institute (OESI). Regarding upcoming events, Roland is co-chairing a proposed Near Miss summit with the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Engineering, and he is also on the program committee for SPE’s HSSE Mexico Symposium planned for March 2016.
About the Interview
Roland Moreau: An interview conducted by Amy Esdorn for the Society of Petroleum Engineers, September 29, 2015.
Interview SPEOH000129 at the Society of Petroleum Engineers History Archive.
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INTERVIEWEE: Roland Moreau
INTERVIEWER: Amy Esdorn
DATE: September 29, 2015
PLACE: Houston, Texas
My name is Amy Esdorn, and I’m here at the Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. Today is September 29, 2015 and I’m speaking with Roland Moreau. Roland, thank you for participating in this interview.
My pleasure, glad to be here.
Well, let’s begin. My first question for you is: how did you get involved in the industry?
I retired actually last year, 2014, from Exxon Mobil, but I really -- once I left college, I actually had been in the energy sector ever since. My first job out of college was working in the nuclear industry, where we manufactured the simple nuclear reactor cores for the navy submarines. And then about five years after that, I interviewed with Exxon—at that time, it was Exxon USA—for a job at their Bayway Refinery in New Jersey, and the rest is history. After that, I stayed with Exxon in various types of assignments for 34 years before retiring last year. One of the things that is probably unusual maybe for somebody working for a major oil company is all of my home locations have always been in the US. So I went from New Jersey from 30 minutes outside Manhattan to West Texas, which was a little bit of a culture shock, but it was a phenomenal living standard when we got out to West Texas. I mean the people were really friendly, and it was just a lot of fun. And then we ended up moving from West Texas to Houston and, again, love Houston. This is home. [00:02:00] So, it’s Exxon that actually got me to different locations, but it was in that time with Exxon that while this was always a home location for me in Texas is I did have the opportunity—and I’m going to say privilege—to really visit all of our operating locations around the world. And it’s just been phenomenal from that perspective. And SPE, I find, gives you that same feeling of having that international aspect.
So what did you get your degree in?
I got a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. And after I started working for Exxon in New Jersey, I went to Fairleigh Dickinson University and got a master’s in business administration focusing on international finance. And that was a good learning experience as well, so.
That’s interesting. And was that just because you decided to go into that because of what you were doing at Exxon?
No. It’s personal interest. Even going into my current role right now in the SPE board as VP of Finance, it’s just one of those things that has been a long-term interest. But guidance I’ve given to young engineers throughout my career that have joined the company is to consider going for an MBA because it teaches you other aspects of the business that you might not normally get an opportunity to be exposed to. And it really works out well because I’m a firm believer that those little tidbits of knowledge that you gather in those types of courses help you to make better business decisions so that depending which company you’re in, if you get a degree like an MBA, it may not immediately transfer into a job promotion or salary treatment or whatever. My contention is it allows you to make better decisions, which then lead to career improvements that go along with that.
And so, when you transferred to Exxon, what were you doing at first?
I started off as a project engineer. [00:04:00] So, two thirds of my career, which we’ll get in to here a little bit, had been in the HSE arena, but that really wasn’t a predominant field when I started in the industry. It’s one of those areas that from a regulatory perspective really evolved over time. I originally started off as a project engineer working projects around the refinery, got involved in an office building renovation construction project, which gave me a wonderful feel for those trades as well as gave me my first taste of project management, and then moved from that into a financial analyst role, working budgets for the refinery and doing reconciliations, which again, got me into understanding how does this actually work behind the scenes for a refinery. And that was good. And then at that time, Exxon USA was just embarking on the LaBarge project in Wyoming, and that was my first when I put my big toe into the HSE arena for the first time. It was trying to obtain permits, regulatory permits for the LaBarge project. Minus a couple little forays outside of HSE after that, most of my career after that was in the HSE realm.
And so let’s talk about that a little bit. What were some of the challenges that you faced since this was a new and bourgeoning sort of discipline or aspect of the industry? What were some of the challenges that you faced?
Well, right around the time that I first got into the regulatory arena, number one, the US regulatory environment looked nothing like it does today. And one of the major regulations that had just come out was RCRA, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, to manage hazardous waste. So when it’s that new, then it’s literally you don’t have consulting firms out there. [00:06:00] You really just had to get in and just really try to understand what it was and how it impacted the business. And over time, the regulations started mounting, I guess, for lack of a better term. But you really had to learn it from scratch many times. And this is before the industry was really hiring an environmental professional or safety professional. And I think it’s fair to say and it’s true for Exxon at the time and it’s fair to say for other companies, but the safety culture was already being addressed. It was already fairly well embedded.
So the challenge that came up is how do you take what you’ve learned in building a safety culture to building an environmental culture. And the things that have changed over time since then is usually what we did to protect the environment were driven by what the regulations asked, and over time and as communities got more educated in this area as well and more aware, then the regulations started coming out to support what the environmental expectations were, so the situation actually flipped. So again, it’s being able to work with regulators, being able to work with the communities and help them understand what we do to make sure that you don’t have regulation for the sake of regulation and that you don’t do environmental protection just to get bonus points on something that you’re really trying to do, something that benefits. And the challenge for all companies at that point was how do you take all of these things and work them into your business strategies and business plans so that it’s all integrated. So it’s not just something else you do as part of your business, but it’s actually just part of your whole process. And the company I work for as well as the rest of industry has really progressed incredibly well in that arena.
And if you look at that in today’s world, then you say okay, so you went from regulation to environmental expectations. Now we’re starting to delve into social risk management because we’re working with communities. They have expectations. [00:08:00] We get in to sustainability, which is still a relatively new I’m going to say buzz term within the industry, and this is something that to SPE’s credit is we were able to develop a definition for sustainable development that at least provides guidance on what member companies should be doing in this arena and then leaving the details to them, obviously, because that’s not our business within SPE. But it’s a reflection of where we are with society.
And so, were there any specific regulations that came about that were particularly challenging to implement or to integrate into your business plan?
First, I’ll reference the waste piece. And of course, there are differences between the upstream and the downstream when it comes to waste management, but it’s really understanding that -- and this is when -- you get questions of how to all of a sudden what do we with tank bottoms in the upstream side. But you get all questions referring to all the ways -- what do I do with fluorescent light bulbs. I mean, it was that early in the process. Things that happened after that though is a lot more awareness around the Clean Water Act, which was there. But it was, again, obviously the upstream end of the business utilizes a lot of water and we have a lot of water we need to manage afterwards. And so it’s the regulations, interpreting how does that apply to our business. And a certain component of that is also working with regulators and helping them understand what our business needs are in that respect. A little bit later then you get in to the process safety management rules under OSHA that it started having a smaller universe of people that applied to, but then you look at it in today’s environment, and the whole concept of process safety management has gone far beyond what the original I want to say PSM regulations will entail because they were so focused on certain types of plants. [00:10:00]
Now, process safety is a topic of discussion across the industry as well as within SPE, and here at ATCE I’ve seen special sessions on it and whatever because people are wondering how do you do a better job at addressing risk and managing those risks and how does that lead to better decision making. That all led into management systems. I was fortunate to work with a company that really developed a lot of the early ones with OIMS for Exxon Mobil at that time, and it was Operations Integrity Management Systems. But that becomes now a core part of everybody’s business is coming up with the management systems for how do you manage HSE risk in your business. And it’s a structure disciplined approach to trying to do that. You see a lot of changes coming up in the air arena that are very challenging, and it’s not just emissions out of flare stacks but you hear a lot of things, even with hydraulic fracturing, is the methane emissions that go into that, it’s all tied to climate change discussions and people are trying to interpret a lot of items that some are better than others in making those interpretations. But it’s really how does that impact our business and what decisions can we make.
Bottom line is we’re still -- the upstream is aimed at trying to meet the energy needs of the world and how do we do that in a safe and environmentally responsible manner but also in a manner that’s cost effective, because we also have shareholders that we have to satisfy. [00:12:00] So it’s a lot of those types of things, and now it’s also like the HSE realm, like so much of the rest of industry is moving into a data management cycle, where there’s so much data out there and what can we learn from the data we have, and do we need -- so, take a look at the metrics we’ve had, and it’s looking at do we have the right metrics, do we have too many metrics, and how do we help the metrics learning -- basically learning from the past so that we can be better in the future. So there’s been a lot of evolution in this area, which has been a challenge, but it’s also incredibly rewarding when you’re part of that.
And so in the beginning, when you were just starting out, you mentioned that there were no really environmental professionals at the time who were consulting, and so you were really jumping off at the ground level. What was that like, and how did you sort of cope with all of that information in trying to meet standards and regulations?
It’s education. And I referenced the education of communities, but there’s a lot of internal education. It’s really just trying to help people. It’s one of the things that if you have 100 people in your company it’s not very good use of time to have all those 100 people read a set of regulations, so you need to get some expertise. But it’s recognizing also you need expertise in the area of reading the regulations to understand what they say, but then once you understand that, it’s also recognizing that there’s an ownership issue in that it’s not going to be an HSE group that will own an emissions number or an emissions performance. It’s how do you translate that such that operational folks take ownership for it. But that also means they have to understand it. So you don’t want to necessarily just comply for the sake of complying. It helps if they can understand why it’s there, why it’s important, and that’s really where an HSE group can come in is help them understand that part.
[00:14:00] So, sort of along those lines, you talk about education and what have you. But what is some of the best advice that you’ve been given for working in the industry?
Well, especially in the HSE realm, one of the first reactions and unfortunately maybe all too common is to complain. It’s very easy to do that, but it’s really helping to try to understand if there’s a regulation that comes out or an expectation that comes out from the community, there’s generally a reason. And it may have historical significance to it or maybe something that the data set that they’re basing their regulations on may not be totally complete, or they may be doing extrapolations. It may be driven by bad performance by the industry. It could be a number of things, and it’s really trying to understand what those are so that we can -- it better enables you to more effectively get your forward plans.
So part of it is my advice is while it’s frustrating to see some of these things come out, that’s okay, just get it out of your system. But then be open to understanding, because you can take a look at those types of risks, those types of challenges and turn them into opportunities. And in this industry, which as you’ve heard our SPE president say it’s a competitive industry, that is one of the competitive aspects of it is how do you take some of these challenges in a company that can successfully turn those into opportunities will probably get a slight edge on the competitiveness at that point, because it can get viewed more positively by their external stakeholders.
Well, thank you. And so we’re ready for our last question, which is: how has being an SPE member affected your career?
[00:16:00] When I started in refining in the downstream sector, SPE is not a player. So actually, I didn’t join SPE until I became part of the upstream to work on this LaBarge project that I referenced. And the great part about that is it’s the networking aspects. It’s just been phenomenal, because in the HSE realm, especially, we enjoy the fact that not too much of what we do gets caught under this cloak of intellectual property, where you can’t share something because it’s a competitive nature. So we are able to share a lot of our practices. What it comes down to is how people implement them, and that’s the competitive part on that. But the networking aspects have been phenomenal for me because I’ve met people that I’m still friends with today that I’ve met with other companies that you’re able to test your knowledge on things with them. And SPE has been a great facilitator. And recognizing the HSE discipline with SPE is relatively new. It’s only been around for almost 15 years now. Watching the growth of that has even more proven what SPE can do in this realm and that it’s still an underserved discipline. There are still many, many people out there that work in the HSE discipline that are not SPE members because they still don’t quite know about us, and we need to get out there and do a little bit more promoting and help people understand the benefits of that. What it really comes down to is getting all these global experts together, and SPE can provide this unique form for them - -I mean, just ask questions. [00:18:00] Somebody in West Africa can ask a question that maybe someone in Canada will have the expertise on, and from an SPE perspective, we should feel good because we’ve actually connected them. So that’s really where it’s been a plus for me is I’ve been a member for over 25 years and I’ve never regretted it. It’s just a phenomenal organization.
Well, thank you so much for speaking with me today, and this was a great interview. Thank you.
All right. Well, thanks very much.