August 2019, Vol. 246, No. 8


Author Tisha Schuller, Ex-Gas & Oil Group CEO, Discusses Environmentalism

By Joe Hollier, Editor

The former president and CEO of the Colorado Gas & Oil Association (COGA) sits down with P&GJ’s Editor Joe Hollier and shares her experiences heading the Association and the details of her new book, “Accidentally Adamant.” Today, she splits her time between writing, consulting and doing public speaking. Her experience spans environmental consulting, company advocacy, policy, politics, and academia. As principal and founder of Adamantine Energy, Schuller works to transform energy policy and politics around the world. “I think Tisha has arguably the best background to give detailed advice on how to get to a place of compromise,” said Governor of Colorado John W. Hickenlooper. 

P&GJ: Tisha, what made you decide to write a book following your time at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA)?

Schuller: My first draft of “Accidentally Adamant” was a how-to guide for people who prioritize environmentalism to think about energy. So much of our energy-environment conversation has gotten lost in issues that often don’t reflect actual environmental impacts. 

I wanted to explain that to my fellow Democrats to both build bridges and foster a pragmatic environmentalism. A trusted advisor said that information would be much more palatable in the form of my story, which is crazy! So, I added true events that included a fire, a flood, and at least one bear. The sugar to accompany the educational medicine.


P&GJ: Your family endured two natural disasters, how were you able to manage your professional and personal life during that time and were there any lessons learned?

Schuller: In all honesty, my husband and I managed them with a kind of mountain-stoicism that earned us a lot of respect but took a deep toll on each of us personally, particularly during the flood. My kids had just been airlifted out of our canyon, my husband was still doing rescues as a volunteer fire fighter, I had the two-days of clothes I’d left for a business trip with, and yet I spent 14 hours straight doing hostile media interviews. 

I didn’t ask the COGA staff for help, or even to accompany me for moral support. I found the strength to do this because I felt responsible for representing 40,000 oil and gas workers in Colorado, and the reporting of oil and gas releases during the flooding were completely unfounded. But I probably should have taken a nap at some point and asked for my team to tag along. I imagined I was protecting them.

I was changed, as we all are in those kinds of disasters. Every time I leave my husband, Brian, or my boys, Carter and Alec, I consider it may be the last time I see them. So, I hold them close, but hopefully not too tightly. I give thanks for my home every day, and yet I try to be less attached to it. And now I ask for help, because I often need it. And I’ve learned that people are honored to help, so it’s not imposing a burden but practicing a healthy humility.


P&GJ: You mention changing someone’s mind or perspective if you were armed with scientific facts. Why didn’t that always work and why do you think there was still a resistance despite being presented with facts?

Schuller:  It turns out that I don’t like it when someone tries to change my mind. It puts me into bantering mode (best case scenario) or, more often, argumentative mode. That’s what my organization was doing to the public we wanted to influence. I do believe that North America’s oil and gas industry largely has facts on its side for all the energy-environmental debates that matter. 

Yet for a person, an audience, or a community – if they don’t trust you – it doesn’t matter what you say. I now believe our top priority is to understand our stakeholders’ points of view. Then we can seek shared aspirations and common values. We engage in building trust and rapport. Then there is room for education and facts.


P&GJ: What accomplishments are you most proud of during your time at COGA, and is there anything you would have done differently?

Schuller:  I’m most proud that for more than five years, Colorado’s oil and gas industry regularly engaged and collaborated with both political parties and environmental organizations to create five national-precedent-setting rules. We could then engage with our communities to say, we are the most regulated state in the nation, and we should be, because you deserve that.

For my first two years at COGA, I had a zero-tolerance policy for losing political, legislative or regulatory fights that could effectively ban oil and gas development – for both myself and for the staff. We ran ourselves ragged, and ultimately into the ground. I now handle adversity differently: looking at a spectrum of risk and maximizing the efforts to mitigate that risk. No one can create a risk-free environment, no matter how hard and long you work. I also now recognize, and respect, my own limits.


P&GJ: Do you think there is an unwillingness to compromise between industry and environmentalists?

Schuller:  I don’t think there is. Most people who work in the oil and gas industry consider themselves environmentalists – or at least used to until the word became so politically charged. Every day within companies, landmen and wildlife biologists collaborate, debate, and tussle healthily to balance energy development tradeoffs and mitigate impacts.

The phenomenon that seems to pit industry against environment is, I believe, the politicization of energy-environmental issues. People’s feelings about oil and gas drilling, for example, are more dominated by their political affiliation than anything else. Same for environment.

I want us to both reclaim our environmentalism, as industry supporters, and engage politically in a way that Democrats can credibly support oil and gas development.


P&GJ: What are you doing currently and what are your plans going forward? 

Schuller: Right now, I’m focused on my email series “Both of These Things Are True,” which concentrates on analyzing oil and gas opposition and charting a path forward for oil and gas companies. 

Our firm, Adamantine Energy, is focused on de-escalating conflicts around energy and future-proofing oil and gas companies. Essentially, I’m taking the work forward, but I’m no longer burdened with speaking for an industry. Turns out, there’s still a lot of work that we can get done. P&GJ

Schuller splits her time between writing, consulting, and public speaking. Her experience spans environmental consulting, company advocacy, policy, politics, and academia. As principal and founder of Adamantine Energy, Schuller works to transform energy policy and politics around the world. Tisha serves as Strategic Advisor to Stanford University’s Natural Gas Initiative and is a non-resident Fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. In 2017, she chaired the Stanford NGI Symposium to reduce energy poverty in the developing world using natural gas. Previously, she served as president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association and as principal and vice president with Tetra Tech, an environmental consulting and engineering firm. She has a B.S. from Stanford University and serves on the National Petroleum Council, an advisory board to the Secretary of Energy under both the Obama and Trump administrations.  

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