Talking Energy, Region, and Careers at the Rock: Another Best Day Ever

The summary below follows Nick Deiuliis’ March 2, 2023, presentation to Slippery Rock University students and faculty.

Life in the digital age leaves much to be desired, but occasionally offers serendipitous moments. An unexpected opportunity pops up and turns out to be engaging.

I received a message on LinkedIn from an undergraduate student in petroleum engineering at Slippery Rock University who recently took on the role of chapter president for the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE).

He introduced himself and asked if I would be willing to come speak to the SPE chapter.

That’s impressive initiative that deserved an affirmative answer.

Shared Appalachian Connections

And with so much shared history, how could I resist such a request?

Slippery Rock University traces its western Pennsylvania roots back to 1889, which is a few decades after the founding of the company I work for, CNX Resources, in Appalachia. Both share a history and are long time regional leaders of western Pennsylvania and Appalachia.

The request was a chance to spend time with engineering, physics, chemistry, and safety management students. Disciplines I’ve had the pleasure of toiling in, working with, and proudly associating with for decades. My kind of crowd.

There are zero degrees of separation between company and university. The employee ranks of CNX are filled with Slippery Rock alums. From a vice president (who pressed me to remind the audience of his gridiron glory) to an intern who recently became a full-time engineer (who clearly had a more popular following by students and faculty than our vice president).

I never want to turn down a chance to hear from and fire up the next generation of Appalachia, the domestic energy sector, and the manufacturing industry. Making sure every student knew the massive career opportunity set waiting for them. Letting them know they indeed have what it takes to succeed in their craft. And listening to gage where their heads are in an increasingly chaotic world.

I always welcome opportunities to unabashedly promote Appalachia, western Pennsylvania, domestic energy, CNX Resources, and Slippery Rock University. An economic and social ecosystem where it’s all for one and one for all.

The visit also served an opportunity to recruit. Not just for CNX Resources, but on behalf of all the fabulous partners we work with in the energy industry and within Appalachia. I hoped to return from Slippery Rock with a roster of connections and a stack of resumes. Mission accomplished.

CNX embraces its Appalachia First vision for the region, and it doesn’t get more Appalachia First than this.

Let’s Talk…

Slippery Rock offers a strong array of STEM-centric majors: physical sciences, engineering, and safety management to name a few. Students and faculty convened in the Vincent Science Center auditorium and we got right into it.

The Vincent Science Center is home to the Physics and Engineering Department at Slippery Rock University.

We covered the potential of the Appalachian basin, recognizing it is the second-largest natural gas field on the planet when you combine the Marcellus and Utica shale horizons. Natural gas is not a bridge fuel, but instead a catalyst fuel for the future.

We discussed the need for resilient businesses to secure competitive moats within their industry and market.

To illustrate, I explained how CNX Resources enjoys three moats of resilient, competitive advantage: stacked pay acreage of Marcellus and Utica shales, vertically integrated assets of upstream production wells and midstream pipelines, and an avenue of new growth offered by the development and commercialization of new technologies to provide future energy solutions.

We dove deep into culture and values of organizations.

By example, CNX embodies the three core values of responsibility, ownership, and excellence. We might invest time defining them with words for a website or brochure, but in the end the values will be understood and evident by seeing them come alive in the decision making throughout the organization. From the newest employee to the CEO; from the smallest to the largest decisions.

Values and culture are crucial filters when making decisions in the real world. If you see the culture/value ‘talk’ not aligning with the ‘walk,’ there is a problem. When encountering such a conflict, always look to the ‘walk’ for the true culture/values.

We also addressed timely topics one hears about everywhere these days, but topics that are typically not subjected to sufficiently rigorous thought. I referenced such topics as a select grouping of popular ‘urban legends’ in energy and business.

At the front of the group was ESG investing; how it is labeled as a cure-all remedy and the inevitable future of investing. But reality has exposed a stratified layer of good, bad, and ugly applications of ESG.

Of course, climate change was included in the agenda. The certainty of rising atmospheric CO2 levels from human activity. But the far from certain and hopelessly inaccurate climate models when it comes to predicting the impact of CO2 on past, present, and future climate.

Is there a bigger urban legend these days than the myth of zero carbon/emission-free wind and solar?

We walked through the complex, murky, and often ugly supply chain of producing an intermittent kWh of electricity in Pennsylvania from wind or solar. And what happens to stakeholders along that supply chain: from child workers in Africa, to slave laborers in Xinjiang, to ruined ecosystems in the developing world, to stressed and unreliable grids in America and Europe, to the regressively taxed middle-class ratepayers.

Climate policies that protect, subsidize, and mandate wind and solar are stacking up a resume of failure across global grids. Power grids in the EU, UK, California, Texas, and here in Pennsylvania (PJM nearly broke during this past Christmas Eve cold snap) have all stressed or broke at the worst possible times due to the consequences of a mandated energy transition that was not well thought out.

Wind and solar, along with EVs, comprise quite the sustainability horror story. Worse yet, their life cycle carbon footprints are far from zero, and likely grossly exceed the life cycle carbon footprints of domestic energy sources such as power generation fueled by regional natural gas. It’s simply a matter of performing a basic carbon mass balance across supply chains.

The geopolitical implications of energy policy were not left out of the conversation.

Climate policies that mandate wind and solar are de facto projections of geopolitical power for China, the primary American adversary today, who enjoys dominant control of the supply chains for wind, solar, and EVs. Conversely, allowing domestic energy to ‘do its thing’ in the competitive free market serves as a projection of American power as effective as military might.

The expert class shouts endlessly about a Code Red for humanity as it relates to climate change. But the real Code Red for humanity pertains not to climate change, but instead to climate change policies.

Wanting to believe wind, solar, and EVs are zero carbon and sustainable is blind ideology bordering on religion. Daring to know the harsh reality is true to the scientific method and is faithful to rational thought.

Thymos: Propellant of Futures and Careers

Toward the end, things turned a bit philosophical. The Greeks introduced the concept of thymos, an individual’s drive to be recognized and to achieve.

Different people exude different levels of thymos. Same with teams, companies, and groups. Students need to assess where they sit on the thymos meter, and then seek out a culture and team that matches their personal level.

There is no right or wrong level of thymos. But a mismatch between the individual’s and organization’s thymos level will result in a bad fit. Recognize the importance of inner thymos, assess how it lines up with that of the team, and career choices become clearer.

A great proxy for high levels of thymos is a preference for in-person work over remote work. That’s true for individuals as well as companies. With the availability of remote work in a post-pandemic world, young professionals have a useful gage for matching thymos levels. If one is high-thymos, they may struggle on a team that embraces a remote work environment.

The conversation wrapped on the topics of advocacy and duty. It used to be that a professional could keep one’s head down and ignore the discourse of debate. Not so today. STEM professionals share a duty, morally and ethically, to advocate with fact and science. And to do so civilly.

That’s why I answered the call for Slippery Rock. And why I plan on coming back.

Talking Energy, Region, and Careers at the Rock: Another Best Day Ever