Sunday, December 28, 2014

Shale Gas Fracking: Protecting the Interests of Landowners

Teaching Students to Serve Future Clients

This week, I've been designing my class that will be a part of ASL's Introduction to Natural Resources Law course.  We are offering the course as a one-week intensive before regular classes start in January. Through it, we hope to encourage students to earn our Natural Resources Law certificate.  

My day-long class will focus on shale gas production in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays located in mostly Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York.  The class will include an overview, presentations by a couple of guest speakers, and then a simulated negotiation of a mineral lease.  I am expecting it to provide good coverage of the topic and a fairly interesting way to spend an 8-hour day of class. I am trying to frame perspectives from the industry, the environmental protection community, and health officials.  

My slide show is almost done.  I've really enjoyed the required research and my discussions with experts in the field.  I still need to read a 185-page report recently issued by the New York State Department of Health in support of a ban of shale play production in the state.  

All this research is getting me back to my law practice roots.

When I graduated from law school in 1982, I practiced energy law in my first and second jobs. I first joined the energy practice group of the largest law firm in Oklahoma, a firm now called Hall Estill.  I practiced in the natural gas group and focused on intra-state gas production and transmission. The industry, however, was going through a sea change triggered by deregulation of interstate pricing by Congress in 1978.  That regulatory change, in turn, generated a production bubble as interstate natural gas prices rose. That bubble burst several years later.  Thus, I had the unusual opportunity to see a full market cycle unfold. 

I next moved to the energy department of what was then the third largest firm in the world -- Skadden Arps.  I practiced before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), although I also attended many Congressional committee hearings during this transition in the industry. Among other duties, I wrote a weekly update for a client about what was happening in the energy market. I remember the day when oil prices exceeded $60 per barrel. This was a huge event.  Until the late 1970s, oil had never exceeded $30 a barrel.

Of course, now the talk is about dropping oil prices -- with the cost moving below $60 for the first time since mid-2009.   I've included graphs showing these trends in my class slides, but can't share them here because I don't have a license to produce them.

As I write this post, another image popped into my head. During my college years, I worked as a gas station attendant in a rural town in Iowa.  I worked during the Arab oil embargo in 1973 and the later U. S. oil price controls.  I helped implement gas rationing.  I watched my boss wipe tears from his cheeks the day that he had to replace the meters in his gas pumps.  They did not go above 50 cents a gallon.  He was dumbfounded.  They had never needed to go higher for as long as he had owned the station.  In 1972, when I graduated from high school, gas sold for 36 cents a gallon ($1.36 in today's currency). 

Of course, this experience sparked my interest in energy.  I first approached it through the science by taking a number of geology classes while at Wash U.  In law school, I took courses in oil and gas law and regulated industries.  My law journal note covered a public utility issue.  Then, after law school, I practiced energy law for five years.  Later still, I was drawn to ASL because of the region's tie to coal production. 

I've still got a lot to learn in this new energy market, but I am thankful for my background in the field that kept me paying attention even when clients did not rely on my advice.

Finally, I have added to my blog role several blogs relating to shale play production, including one specifically designed to help mineral rights owners negotiate good deals.  That blog's administrator, Ronald B Stamets, will be one of my guest speakers for class. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from the Red Velvet Lawyer

Happy Holidays 
to my 
Friends, Colleagues, and Students

Hope you are enjoying the day with your families.

P.S.  This modern interpretation of the three wise men comes from the photos I took in Dubai earlier this month.  I snapped it in the lobby of the Burj Al Arab, a six-star hotel on the Gulf that overlooks the man-made Palm and World Islands. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Gratitude Journal

Happier for Having Kept It

For over three years, I have kept a gratitude journal at the suggestion of my entrepreneurial business coach, Christine Kane. Several researchers have found profound affect on emotional, psychological, and physical well-being associated with being grateful for all the wonderful things that come into our lives -- big and small. It enhances our social networks, personal relationships, and our careers. It enhances happiness overall.  I've noticed it helps me shift from being self-oriented to other-orientated,  

The Harvard Medical School's Health Publications blog defines gratitude and then suggests ways we can cultivate it.  Note that the author suggests keeping a gratitude journal.
Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can't feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.  
Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis. 
Write a thank-you note. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationship with another person by writing a thank-you letter expressing your enjoyment and appreciation of that person's impact on your life. Send it, or better yet, deliver and read it in person if possible. Make a habit of sending at least one gratitude letter a month. Once in a while, write one to yourself. 
Thank someone mentally. No time to write? It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual. 
Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one thoughts about the gifts you've received each day. 
Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings — reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. Sometimes it helps to pick a number — such as three to five things — that you will identify each week. As you write, be specific and think about the sensations you felt when something good happened to you.
Pray. People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.
Meditate. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. Although people often focus on a word or phrase (such as "peace"), it is also possible to focus on what you're grateful for (the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound, etc.).
I live in a part of the world in which life focuses on the Christine religion and church families.  One person I know always responds "blessed" when I ask her how she is doing.  Each time I get that response, I know she is a person living a life of gratitude.  

My journal has two other components.  I also capture any "gains" I have made for the day.  Today, for instance, I might record that I finished my post-trip laundry, blogged again, cleaned up several rooms in the house, and created a project list I want to conquer over the next three weeks.  I also finished reading a chapter in a book on hydrofracking for a course I am teaching in January. 

Finally, I record any gifts I've given that day. Again, the happiness research shows that gift-giving enhances our sense of well-being.  I try to give a gift a day.  For that practice, the book -- 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life by Cami Walker -- inspired me.     

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Be the Best at Getting Better

Successful Growth Requires that You "Outlearn" Your Peers

I've spent the last few days catching up on blog posts, my favorite shows on Hulu, and the New York Times, all of which I missed while spending a week in Dubai on vacation.

One blog post really stuck with me as I was working on my goals for next year. In a post called, In 2015, Be the Best at Getting Better, author Dharmesh Shah talked about the simple commitment of being the best at getting better.  He explains:
[C]ommitting to a one-time goal like learning to code or dropping 10 pounds can get lost amid the rush, assigned a lower priority, or just become uninteresting after a time. 
A commitment to becoming the best at getting better requires only a fundamental admission that you’re not perfect and a desire to outlearn your peers on a daily basis.
I love that!  I can handle that sort of personal and organizational commitment for 2015.  I can apply it to all my goals -- whether well-being, manifestation, or love.

Brian Balfour, VP of growth at HubSpot, first talked about the concept in terms of growth in his blog posting here.   He writes:
With any company or product you can set all sorts of goals and dreams. But at the end of the day there are thousands of variables that you can’t control. 
Specifically in growth:

1. Customer acquisition channels are always changing.

2. Competitors are always are always entering the market.

3. The needs and desires of your target audience are always evolving.

What you can control is yourself and your team. You control how effective your team is, how well you know your channels and customer, and the rate at which you are improving. Focus on what you can control, being the best at getting better.
He also has good advice on reflecting back on any effort to grow -- whether successful or not.  The process leads to more learning that you can implement in the next experiment. 

He also lists a number of strategies that help employees at HubSpot grow.  The company clearly invests in its people as a competitive strategy.

My law school can commit to the concept of being the best at getting better.  So, can my faculty colleagues.  And, just as importantly, so can our students. 

How can you be the best at getting better? 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Goal Reminding Words for 2015

Live with Heart

Last Year’s Words

A year ago, I shared the three words I wanted to represent my goals for 2014. They were: Robin, Launch, and Wealth. 

So, how did I do? Robin was a bit of a miss. I had wanted it to remind me to work towards greater fitness. But, year-long problems with my orthotic shoes, which compensate for a fused ankle and heel, made regular exercise difficult without access to an indoor swimming pool.

Yes, I launched my web-based mediation training program – Mediation with Heart -- and got terrific feedback from enrolled students. Now, I need to implement my marketing program in connection with it.

Yes, I generated more wealth and cash flow. I also shared more of that wealth with others throughout the year.

Words for 2015

It’s time to select three words for 2015. Surprisingly, this process has not come easily this year. 

Well-being came early to mind – both emotional and physical. I recently completed a book recommended by my massage therapist, Debbie Jackson at Serenity Now, called The HeartMath Solution by Doc Childre and Howard Martin. The authors make a compelling case for enhancing emotional well-being as a way to protect heart health and our happiness. They encourage us to listen to the wisdom of our heart because it “links us to higher intelligence through an intuitive domain where spirit and humanness merge.” 

So how do I want to implement my heart’s wisdom? I’d like to solve my shoe problem, get back into a regular fitness program, continue my meditation and yoga practice, and practice regularly the techniques of Freeze-Frame, Cut-Through, and Heart Lock-In that the authors describe in The HeartMath Solution.  I've noticed that when I practice these techniques, I shift from fear-based focus on my own needs to a loved-based focus on the needs of others, especially my students.

Manifestation also resonates with me this year. After completing the Gold Mastermind coaching program with Christine Kane this past summer, I became more mindful of the need to complete several pending projects and obligations. I tend to abandon projects if I become bored with them. But, my path of growth requires me to recognize when I avoid wrapping up projects and, instead, finish them strongly. 

I want to complete several law review articles (including one on bat deaths at Appalachian wind farms), two more tax returns, and a bunch of sewing projects. I want to organize and further implement my business coaching materials. I’d like to design a new website for my training program.

And yes, love also resonates. This semester, I very consciously decided to teach “the shit” out of my students. How I interact with them is one thing I can control at a time when my little law school struggles with a changing market for law graduates and, thus, the market for law students. But, the students now attending ASL – no matter how small the class is at this time -- want to be there, and I need to provide the best service possible to all of them. 

That service also comes from the heart. I love our students. They work hard to create a better life for themselves and their families. I also want to extend love and support to my very hard-working faculty colleagues, to our supportive and dedicated staff, and to our beleaguered Administrators and members of the Board. I hope they find a safe path for the law school so it continues to serve its mission, the SW Virginia community, our students, and our alumni. 

Some folks, including Christine Kane, suggest picking one word for the year. In that case, “heart” seems to be the word for 2015.