Cal Hill had never been anywhere. So in 1980, with a freshly minted geology degree and a new job with Alberta’s oil and gas regulator, his plan was to work a few years, pocket some cash, then travel the world.
But things don’t always go according to plan. The federal National Energy Program came into effect and many of his university chums working in industry began losing their jobs—Hill knew he had a good thing going and decided to stay.
The Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER) soon-to-be-retired executive vice president of Strategy and Regulatory says his goal was never to make the big bucks found in industry. What always appealed was challenging work, a sense of comradery, and the idea of fulfilling a higher purpose.
“The thing that’s really kept me here? I liked the work and I liked the people.” Hill says. “And being a born-and-raised Albertan, I thought this was an opportunity to do things that were great for the province. It sounds a bit corny, but that’s why I’ve stayed.”
And over that time he’s lived through numerous changes: the tools we work with, the expectations Albertans have for their energy regulator, and even the way we regulate today.
So after nearly four decades, what advice can Hill give to new grads starting their careers? The same he’s given to his two daughters: seize opportunities to present to groups of people and market your ideas; network and build relationships; and be self-aware by understanding what you’re good at and what you’re not. He also notes that many successful people have a good memory, but on that one, “you probably either have it or you don’t.”
Recently Hill announced his retirement in an email to AER staff; its sense of nostalgia for times gone by and its assessment of where we are today (and where we’re going) resonated with many. He agreed to share it with the readers of Resource.
Back in June 1980 I started as a geologist for the regulator (the first time it was the ERCB) constructing geological maps by plotting data points by hand and drawing contours with pencils on Mylar maps. The more elegant maps were hand colored with pencil crayons. Calculations were done with elaborate charts and graphs in technical books and hand calculators. Computer mapping was not yet mainstream; nor was there internet, personal computers, Facebook, Google, or cell phones. We did have a few ‘computer terminals’, two in a common area where some basic well data could be accessed.
The population of Alberta was 2,094,000 (now 4,097,000). Gasoline was 35 cents a liter. Other than a few Albertans, very few understood the magnitude or potential wealth trapped in the oil sands. For some, these ‘tar pits’ were an oddity designed to trap dinosaurs and convert them into even more oil. No self-respecting geologist would ever suggest that someday oil and gas would be produced from shales, even after one too many beer.
The focus of regulation was on public safety, where sour gas was being developed, and on making sure companies recovered as much oil from oil pools as possible to optimize value back to Albertans. It was a technically complex business but the only stakeholders truly engaged were the regulated industry and the few landowners that had facilities on their lands. The regulator was populated with engineers, geologists, and two lawyers (and no one really knew what they were for).
Fast forward to today and life of the regulator has become far more complicated. Rapid technology change, social media, climate change, distrust of institutions, push to a low-carbon energy future, stiff competition from other energy producing jurisdictions, stakeholders that want more say in the decision making process all make life for the regulator much more challenging. Now the regulator’s decisions regularly get challenged. We have, and need, many new disciplines in the mix; stakeholder engagement experts, biologists, noise specialists, risk experts, land use officers, geomatics technologists to name a few. And our two ‘bored’ lawyers have morphed into 14 that don’t get time for luxuries like sleep.
So lots of change and lots more to come. However, the one thing that has not changed is the passion and dedication staff bring to the job. This is the single most critical ingredient that has and will continue to make the AER a successful and highly respected organization, able to meet the challenges it faces. The AER has, is, and will be, all about its people and their desire to do the right thing for Albertans. This is what makes the organization a great place to work and a globally respected institution.
The next decade will see new and interesting challenges as the globe transitions to a new era of energy development consisting of a mix of fossil fuels and renewable sources. The AER is getting prepared for that future by understanding what that future will likely be, and what the AER should do to prepare for it. The AER is currently assessing its place in this evolving energy future and developing strategies to manage emerging opportunities and risks.
So, what is the point of this meandering narrative? As much as I would like to see how this journey unfolds over the next 37 years, I am packing my pencils, pencil crayons and, slide ruler and retiring from the AER later this spring. It has been a highly rewarding career, full of opportunity, working with great people who I am confident will carry on the tradition of regulatory excellence. Making the decision to retire is not easy with so much interesting work ahead, but I am confident we have a great leadership team in place with competent staff who care about the work they do, so now is a good time.
Cal Hill Executive Vice President, Strategy and Regulatory Division
New Executive Leaders Named
Recently the AER announced the appointment of two new members of the AER’s executive leadership team.
Carol Crowfoot becomes executive vice president, Strategy and Regulatory; she replaces Cal Hill. Mark Taylor is the new executive vice president, Operations, replacing Kirk Baily, who’s moving on to other opportunities.
These changes are effective immediately.
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