It’s easy to think of me as an anomaly at ExxonMobil. I mean, I’m a marine biologist. What am I doing at a company full of engineers and geologists? As it turns out, the company—and one person in particular—had a vision for me that wound up changing my career trajectory.
Rodger Melton got it. He was the chief environmental scientist at ExxonMobil when I joined the company in 2010. Whenever we were starting a project in a new location, Rodger had a knack for assessing all of the environmental and socioeconomic risks we needed to think about.
The whole idea is that our projects last 30, 40, 50 years—so we have to make sure we’re not negatively impacting communities and environments where we operate. At the same time we have to ensure that we’re keeping the people working on our projects safe.
I channeled Rodger’s expertise during the two years I recently spent in Doha, Qatar. I was brought in as the environmental research lead for a project with a group of experts working to map the nearshore coastal environment using imagery acquired by a satellite. At almost the same time of satellite acquisition, we had people scuba diving in the Arabian Gulf, collecting data on corals, sponges and algae using traditional survey methods.
With some fancy algorithms and correlations, we zoomed in on the satellite pixels and geo-referenced the data collected by our divers with the satellite data so we could fill in the gaps, or the pixelated parts, of the images where our divers had not surveyed. By combining this information, we could map the environments at a larger scale and eventually, over time, monitor for any environment changes on the ocean floor around our operations.
Our goal is to continue to build upon these techniques and workflows, ultimately lowering the amount of time in the field and risk to people by leveraging new and evolving remote-sensing technologies. And the more efficient we are with our monitoring techniques, the quicker we can be in taking mitigation measures that reduce the environmental footprint of our projects.
Another project I love telling people about is our whale work in Russia. We have operations on an island in close proximity to the feeding area of the endangered western gray whale population. To protect these animals and reduce potential disturbance to their habitats, we established a long-term research program for monitoring, photographing and cataloging them. Having these data allows us to study their population size, feeding, behaviors and habitat over time so that we can implement effective mitigation measures to reduce the potential disturbance produced by the noise or other parts of our operations. We conduct similar projects all over the world to protect a number of species, including seals, turtles, dolphins and porpoises, through our joint industry and academic partnerships.
When I think about these types of projects, it makes me appreciate even more what Rodger did for me. He didn’t merely guide me toward a forward-thinking company and encourage me to get a job there. He showed me that I could do more with marine biology than I expected. In my job now and going forward, I’ll be calling on his guidance while we do what he did best: monitor the entire life cycle of our projects and ensure that we continue to do the right thing, for both the people and the environments that we operate in. I think that will make Rodger proud.