(An open letter to Mr. Alvyn Schopp, Vice President of Accounting and Administration, at Antero Resources, a natural gas exploration company. On July 7, 2013 an Antero natural gas well in Doddridge County exploded, killing two workers and seriously injuring three others. Antero was required to submit a report about the accident to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection before the state would allow the well to restart. The report, delivered on July 31, was deemed inadequate.)
Dear Mr. Schopp,
Please forgive me for intruding as you mourn the deaths of two members of the Antero family as a result of the recent explosion. Allow me also to apologize for the unwarranted harassment to which your company is being subjected by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
The Department’s refusal to let Antero resume operations at the well until you prepare a report explaining the causes of the accident and describing what Antero will do to prevent future explosions is a horrible example of government overreach and unnecessary interference in the free market. Still, you complied with the request by filing a thoroughly researched 300-word document that was nearly one and a half pages long only to have it arbitrarily rejected as “inadequate”!
As a business owner who has also grappled with excessive government regulation, I share the outrage you must feel. So, allow me suggest how you might revise your report to satisfy the bureaucratic nitwits.
Basically, your original report, which I consider to be a model of illumination and conciseness, is perhaps a bit brief. Silly, I know. As businessmen, we understand that anything that can’t be communicated in two pages or less is simply muddled thinking. Personally, I tell employees that if they can’t make it fit on the back of a soup can, they don’t know what they’re trying to say. But government bureautards are impressed by bulk and stupidly expect that pages and pages will be needed for Antero to “demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the cause of the incident”, to “demonstrate Antero’s ability to safely resume operations”, to “outline future preventive measures that will safeguard against future similar incidents”, and to confirm “that any possible pollutants were contained on site”. In this insanity they must be indulged. So, consider these changes.
First, at least mention the fact that workers were killed in the accident. I’m sure the original report omitted that fact only because it’s so painful for you to think about. Hell, the reason our companies carry liability insurance is so we won’t have to think about these things! But, the bleeding hearts at WVDEP expect it. And it’s not like you have to find out and mention the victims’ names. We don’t want to be maudlin.
Second, your demonstration of “a knowledge and understanding” of the accident’s cause could stand a little elaboration. Your report only says there was an accumulation of natural gas and a concentration of hydrocarbons, which were exacerbated by “weather conditions” and, when they came into contact with an “apparent ignition source”, POOF!
Colorful, but thin. Perhaps if you were to explain why the natural gas accumulated, why the hydrocarbons became concentrated, what the weather conditions were, whether they were unusual, and why they exacerbated the problem, you might convince the bureaufascists that you know how to prevent a recurrence.
I know it’s a pain the butt and, as entrepreneurs, we can’t be expected to know everything. After all, that’s where the risk is! It’s what makes business fun! But, bureautfarts can’t understand that. If they did, they wouldn’t be working for the government in the first place.
Oh, and I almost forgot, the phrase “apparent ignition source” -- just a tad vague. I mean, we both know you don’t have any idea what it was and it’s a waste trying to figure it out. But, it sounds weak. You have to do better.
This is where you can learn from your friends in the coal industry. When Murray Energy’s mine collapsed in Colorado and killed five men, Robert Murray claimed it was caused by once-in-a-millennium earthquake! – which was brilliant because the collapse WAS the earthquake! When the Sago mine in West Virginia exploded and killed twelve men, the owner blamed it on a random lightning strike. But, the best was my buddy, Don Blankenship. When his Upper Big Branch mine exploded and killed 29 workers, Donnie blamed it on the federal EPA!
The point is, Alvyn, get creative! You know, now that I think about it, Donnie’s retired and available. Give him a call!
Gosh, we haven’t even gotten to the three other major issues your report is supposed to address. But, if I start on those, I’ll break my soup can rule. Anyway, you get the idea, don’t you?
You have to because, while the bureautwits are idiots, politicians in West Virginia are on your side. Hell, most of them won’t say a bad thing about Blankenship to this day. But, you can’t embarrass them and, frankly Alvyn, that first report was pretty embarrassing.
So, suck it up and hire some moonlighting West Virginia newspaper reporter who works for peanuts (they all do) to fatten this thing up. Believe me, they couldn’t work in West Virginia if they hadn’t seen it done before. So, they know how.
In closing, I just want to say, Alvyn, you can do this!
NOTE: Yesterday, August 7, Alvyn Schopp and Antero sent a new report to the WVDEP in an effort to address the shortcomings in the first report. I haven't yet reviewed it, but will comment when I get the chance to do so.