‘The energy future linked to climate change is quite possibly the most pressing and challenging dilemma of our time,’ says Aera’s next CEO
On Oct. 1, Aera’s chief operating officer and CEO-designee Erik Bartsch will step into Aera’s top leadership position. The move also propels this executive into one of the nation’s most challenging energy environments. A geologist by training, Bartsch has more than 20 years of experience in the oil and gas industry, particularly in industrial safety and operational improvements. Here, he discusses the challenges ahead and what gives him purpose.
How do you describe yourself?
In the simplest sense, I’d describe myself as a father, a husband, a scientist and a Californian. People who know me describe me as approachable and motivated by making a difference.
A few years ago, I went to a leadership course that challenged me to think about what you would say to your younger self if you were at the end of your life. That exercise stuck with me and helped me create a North Star around how I can make a difference. For me, the vision includes elements of family, faith, community and work. It’s given me clarity on how I want to use the talents I’ve been given to deliver the energy that powers our lives – and more recently, to use the vantage point I have to make a difference in California’s energy future. The experience taught me a lot about thinking through what I can contribute and led me to become much more intentional about where I spend time and effort.
What do you hope to accomplish in your first year at Aera?
First, we are rightly focused on maintaining responsible operations in today’s challenging environment to safely deliver energy for California.
COVID-19, regulatory uncertainty and the oil-price shock have changed the level of activity. In some cases, they also have fundamentally altered how work is carried out. It’s impressive how Aera employees and our contract partners have responded. They have demonstrated amazing resilience in safely producing oil while reimagining both what essential work looks like for those reporting to the field while maintaining physical distance and for those working remotely.
The challenge is to maintain our connection in the more separated working lives required by today’s reality. This is key to Aera’s continued success. It will require us to challenge some norms and demonstrate flexibility to help people who are dealing with change coming from many directions.
Second, I hear about how people are thinking about the future and Aera’s role in it, particularly as it relates to California’s bold energy ambitions. It will take talent and execution capability to deliver on these goals, and we have both at Aera. I’m interested in working with all stakeholders, including those who may not agree with us, to create an exciting future for all Californians.
What are Aera’s biggest challenges?
“Shutting down oil and gas supplies today, as some suggest, risks even greater instability to people and more burden to the most vulnerable in society.”
The low-price environment is challenging all of us to think about how we can best manage our business. In many ways, Aera thrives in moments like this due to our focus on disciplined execution. One area where we will continue to invest is in personal safety and asset integrity. At times like this, leaders cannot over communicate on this point. What I expect to see, and have seen, is that Aera operates to the highest standards of environmental stewardship, operating processes and personal safety. We know our safety is our neighbors’ safety in areas where we operate, and regulations play a role here.
Aera supports a strong process to demonstrate that our operations comply with regulations to keep our workers, their families and our communities safe. So, the uncertainty in the regulatory environment we have seen lately is a growing concern.
In some cases, the permitting process for a well takes 10 times as long as the time it takes to drill and connect to the system that delivers the oil Californians need – all of which adds significant cost and uncertainty. We advocate for regulatory certainty, timely review and stability, which are key to any business operating in California and which allow us to continue to provide the jobs and taxes that Californians depend on.
What opportunities do you see for Aera and California’s oil and gas industry?
The energy future linked to climate change is quite possibly the most pressing and challenging dilemma of our time – for our generation and those of our children. The fact is that humanity has enjoyed tremendous dividends from our current energy system and the world we’ve created. As a society, we all have a role to play in reducing the carbon footprint in this great state. And that includes the oil industry.
The dilemma is around how and at what pace. We clearly need to move. Yet we cannot make the shift overnight. Shutting down oil and gas supplies today, as some suggest, risks even greater instability to people and more burden to the most vulnerable in society. Policymakers face a difficult task in shifting the traditional energy model, and business will play an important role in that effort.
At Aera, we deliver affordable, transportable energy for many things that our communities need – fuel for cars, trucks and airplanes, of course – but also things we may think less about, such as the building blocks for medicines, fertilizer and mattresses.
The next decade will be an exciting time in California, as the state’s bold climate goals gain momentum. I am committed to ensuring Aera is a meaningful part of the solution. Christina Sistrunk, our outgoing CEO, shares this passion. So, it is not surprising that Aera is doing a lot of work on how we can build on our strengths in this space already.
While our pathway is still coming into focus, I am confident Aera will play an important role in supplying cleaner, affordable, reliable energy that Californians increasingly expect and our world needs.