Reconciling Safety and Succession Planning

Epistemological Assumptions

Reconciling Safety and Succession Planning

Focus Organization

This paper discusses the philosophical assumptions and epistemological stances of Belfast Petroleum, Inc. As they relate to issues of on-boarding, transitioning, and promoting new engineers to greater levels of responsibility. Belfast Petroleum is based in Calgary, Canada, and was acquired by Merit Energy, Ltd. On July 14, 1999. The core competencies of the Belfast Petroleum are services related to oil and gas exploration, development, and production.

Experts and Decision Makers

I will draws on the field-based paradigm of the petroleum engineering experts and the corporate-responsibility paradigm of decision makers on the Board to characterize and describe the lenses through which they see the world. A major aim of this paper will be to reveal the extent of alignment between the world views of these two groups.

Experts in the field of oil and gas services are petroleum engineers, presumably many of whom have substantial years in the petroleum sector. Belfast Petroleum is a private company, so the names of officers and members of the board of directors are not easily accessed. However, for my purpose here, Barry Stobo serves as an example of an officer of Belfast Petroleum since he held positions at both Merit Energy and Belfast Petroleum. From May 1996 until its acquisition by Merit Energy, Ltd., Stobo was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Belfast Petroleum. Following the acquisition, Stobo was made interim President and Chief Executive Officer of Merit Energy, Ltd., followed by appointment to the positions of Senior Vice president and Chief Operating Officer of Merit from July 1999 through March 2000. During his time at Belfast, production grew from 29 boe/d to more than 1,000 boe/d. Through Stobo held positions as an officer of the company, he could fairly be considered an expert engineer as well since he has over 30 years of experience in the field of gas and oil exploration and development.

Epistemology of Experts

My framework for discussing the world view lenses held by the Board members at Belfast Petroleum and the field experts in the petroleum industry will be hermeneutics — and critical theory, which is essentially a component of hermeneutics. I will particularly focus on those aspects of communication that result in pre-conceived notions or biased ideas about others, an emphasis that is especially appropriate in hermeneutical study. I will tie the framework of hermeneutics to the assumptions that I have identified, and further, I will address the potential of critical theory to help release those assumptions from non-productive and unconscious interpretations.

Underlying Assumptions

The Board operates under some unspoken assumptions that underlie their consideration of the experts as authoritative, and it is these assumptions that will form the basis of my discussion and comparison regarding the Board’s opinions and the field expertise of the petroleum engineers. Some of these assumptions appear legitimate and others seem flawed. Nonetheless, these assumptions have a huge influence on the way the decision makers interact with experts, and consequently, deserve clarification. This paper will examine four key assumptions that are apparently held by the board of Belfast Petroleum; (1) Assumptions about ability; (2) assumptions about viewpoint and identity; (3) Assumptions that affect attributions; and (4) assumptions concerning the ease of transferability of expert knowledge.

Knowledge and Leadership Issue

Disagreement between the Board and expert petroleum engineers in the field about the adequacy of preparation and experience of entry-level engineers to supervise sensitive oilfield operations has impacted operational efficiency and resource utilization at Belfast Petroleum. The issue is primarily one of across-the-board succession planning, as the Board would like to see better integration and on-the-job mentoring of new graduate engineers. The experts, who are active leaders in the field, cannot justify the risks that the Board’s plan would entail.


It is my contention that the situation does not call for an all-or-none position. There is merit to both arguments and I will endeavour to argue in favour of a plan that addresses the very real concerns of petroleum experts in the field and the corporate position held by the board regarding resource utilization and succession planning.


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