Environment is a Personal and Professional Passion

by Greg Schrab, Corporate Environment Health and Safety (EHS) Manager for SM Energy on October 10, 2017 - 7:24am

Fall is upon us, but if you’ve been paying close attention to nature like I do, you’ve already begun to notice birds migrating for the season. As a self-proclaimed “bird nerd” watching the incredible diversity of birds in the West has become a passion.

As the Corporate Environment Health and Safety (EHS) Manager for SM Energy, I am committed to protecting the environment where I work and where my family resides. Regarding environmental issues, my role includes everything from avian protection to ZZZZ engine emissions. But preserving the environment isn’t something I do just because it’s my job. It is a personal passion and a big part of why I entered the EHS field. It’s part of why I love living and working in the West.

While working with other professionals from across industry over the years, an informal group of bird watchers has formed. Our little “oil and gas bird group” started organically a couple of years ago. In professional meetings and discussions, we realized we shared an interest in birds as an avocation, but also as part of most of our vocations. Besides myself, there are Robert Hill and Scott Manwaring with Whiting Petroleum, and Robert Veldman/KCOE, among others.  

Those who are old(er), would call us bird watchers, but the modern term is birders. I like bird nerd—more descriptive of the passion, and yes sometimes obsession, involved. Most of our interaction consists of emails within our group of bird nerds that work for or with the oil and gas industry. We all have offices in the Denver area and we travel around the plains and mountain areas in the West.  

We of course exchange information on recent bird sightings—ranging from what we see in the field where we work, at home, and out of our office windows. The last few weeks we have been seeing a Peregrine Falcon in downtown Denver, of all places! The emphasis, as with all bird nerds, is on more unusual sightings, such as First of Years, the first time a particular bird species is seen for the calendar year, and “Lifers,” the first time a particular bird species has been seen EVER. We also discuss any birds seen where or when they are not expected, which happens most frequently during spring and fall migration.

Some of the most unusual downtown Denver sightings within our group include the Peregrine Falcon, also Yellow Warblers, Townsend’s Warblers, and Common Poorwills. In spring 2015, posting of my sightings of a Townsend’s Warbler and a Common Poorwill on a couple of occasions in the small Grant Street Plaza on the Colorado Rare Bird Alert precipitated a flurry of bird nerd activity. The bird nerds look for the odd birds, while “normal” folks walking by look at us bird nerds, so it’s cheap entertainment for all!

Regarding sightings in SM Energy’s oil and gas fields, among my most memorable are a Piping Plover, a Least Tern, and just a couple weeks ago a Baird’s Sparrow in North Dakota, Sage Thrashers and Golden Eagles (above) in Wyoming, a Scott’s Oriole and Burrowing Owls (left) in West Texas, and Green Jays and Altamira Orioles in South TX. 

The numbers and diverse species of birds our bird nerd group sees in and around our operational fields throughout the West are good indicators of a healthy environment. As someone who works in the oil and natural gas industry, protecting birds and numerous other species is a big part of why I value my job.

Photos by Greg Schrab