Faces of EHS, Sustainability

Faces of EHS: Morgan Hager on ESG and Making a Difference

Morgan Hager is an expert in creating, implementing, optimizing, and managing impactful environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies for the downstream, midstream, and upstream segments of the oil and gas industry’s value chain. With more than 15 years of experience in international exploration, development, and refining of hydrocarbons around the world, Morgan has deep experience building governance programs and improving operational efficacy to meet the requirements of complex, transnational, regulatory frameworks.

Her specialty is integrating sustainable best practices for multi-layered oil and gas assets throughout the United States and overseas. Throughout her career, Morgan has worked closely with landowners, regulators, shareholders, and a wide range of national oil and gas companies to accomplish practical methods of implementing health, safety, environmental (HSE), and regulatory compliance.

Morgan currently serves as Vice President of Chesapeake Energy’s Health, Safety, Environmental and Regulatory department, where she leads with an integrated approach to operation, governance, and risk management. She also serves as a liaison and spokesperson for ESG issues with regulators, shareholders, the industry, and the media.

For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Morgan to discuss sustainability and the importance of incorporating and embracing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) values in the EHS industry.

Q: How did you get your start in the field?

I am an environmental engineer who joined the oil and gas industry after graduate school. The company I was working for saw a generational gap in their engineering leadership, so they hired four engineers to broadly train across the downstream market at their refineries, terminals and ethanol plants. I had the opportunity to work in nearly every aspect of the technical side of the business, including reliability, planning, operations, turnarounds, and HSE. After traveling for a couple of years, both nationally and internationally, I was promoted into an HSE role at their corporate office.

In my new role, I enjoyed solving problems and discovering quick, effective and cost-efficient solutions. After spending some time in the corporate office, I was given the opportunity to expand my knowledge into the upstream side of the business. I began by working in their Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Onshore Exploration and Production assets, and eventually I became involved with their international assets. The pace of the upstream business was very appealing to me, as every day brought new problems to solve and continuous opportunity for improvement. In that role, I touched many aspects of health, safety, environment, and regulatory affairs, and that is where I discovered ESG. Corporate responsibility had slowly been infiltrating the oil and gas industry, and it was very exciting to see ecological needs coalescing with economic needs in everyday business. This was something I had been very passionate about, and it was very gratifying to see it finally coming to the forefront.

Q: Who has been your biggest influence in the industry?

There are many people that I am grateful for in my career, as no one accomplishes big dreams alone. I have had countless peers, leaders, vendors, friends and family members help me navigate my career, and it’s the collective impact of all these individuals that has made a profound difference in my life, in my career, and in every single day. In my current role, Nick Dell’Osso, Chesapeake’s CEO, has been instrumental in championing ESG leadership within the industry and the key role that HSER and sustainability professionals like myself play in answering the global need for affordable, reliable, lower carbon energy. 

Q: What’s your favorite and least favorite part about working in the industry? Would you change anything?

The dynamic nature of the energy industry is invigorating and keeps me on my toes. The quick pace requires constant innovation, and as an engineer, this is a key driver to keeping me engaged and excited. Integrating new technologies—from artificial intelligence that predict spills and safety incidents to finding alternative solutions for converting waste into a product (i.e., waste gas for cryptomining) to our everyday practices of producing affordable, reliable, and lower carbon energy—are such fun ways to spend the workday. My least favorite part about working in the industry is the unmitigated risks inherent to people and the planet. My industry peers, coworkers, company, team and I work diligently to identify and mitigate those risks in order to send everyone home from work just as they arrived.

Q: Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends? What drove the increased focus on ESG?

At Chesapeake, we have long been focused on safety and environmental stewardship, and these are values that drive our board and executive oversight. The increased prioritization of ESG should serve as a reminder that corporate responsibility reporting must be aligned with national and international standards, and it should underscore the notion that the values of the industry are the same as the values of HSE: focus on protecting people, communities, the environment, and ideals and principles.

ESG provides a concrete framework for transparency when it comes to progress and areas that need additional focus and improvement, which is something that has historically been lacking in the industry. It has been recognized by investors as an opportunity for value creation, and there is a strong correlation between ESG performance and company performance. There are several theories for why this correlation exists, including the idea that adhering to ESG guidelines protects a company’s future interests by protecting their resources and ensuring better environmental practices, a lack thereof which could negatively impact their performance otherwise. As such, a high performing company stands to benefit from their ESG-guided choices over the long term. 

Q: How will safety culture look in the future?

Truly sustainable development must have safety as its foundation, because without keeping people and communities safe, there can be no long-term success. OSHA has long served as the governing agency that develops the regulations and recommendations needed to ensure that all workers return home safely, but sustainability is a promising movement that provides the potential to exceed OSHA’s traditional role and become a genuinely transformative force industry-wide.

Since occupational health and safety sits squarely at the heart of each area within economic sustainability, whether it is the direct effect on workers or on the development and/or usage of the product, it is easy to see how providing a healthy and safe workplace improves overall performance and how a thriving safety culture can help keep a high-performing organization’s ESG efforts grounded.

Additionally, considering the potential impact and broad reach that a safety crisis can have on an organization, the role that occupational health and safety have in a successful ESG program cannot be overstated or underappreciated, underlining how important the “S” portion of a holistic ESG strategy should be.

Q: How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization? With the increasing focus on ESG as a function of corporate culture, what steps should companies take to ensure that safety remains front and center?

To keep safety at the heart of sustainability, and thereby link sound safety processes with sustainability, we must first acknowledge a few pitfalls that could incumber success: 

  1. Safety should never be in a silo.
  2. Safety must be well linked with operational performance.
  3. Safety should always reach beyond tactical issues of OSHA recordkeeping, incident reporting, personal protective equipment, etc., and be integrated into long-term strategic initiatives.

To effectively foster a culture of sustainability, everyone within an organization must understand that what is important gets measured, and what is measured gets done safely and effectively. Without integrating consistent and reliable metrics of health and safety into concrete strategies for sustainability, any discussion about workplace safety is moot. There must be an intentional and deliberate balance of maintaining both leading and lagging key indicators. This will not only keep an organization’s occupational health and safety progress trending in a positive direction, but it will also keep sustainability at the core of the organization’s efforts and best practices. 

Q: What are you most proud of?

The best part of being an HSE professional is the impact you make on the world around you. It will never be documented in the history books or even attributed to a single person, but it is such a satisfying feeling to know that because of what I do at work, emissions have been reduced in communities I love, birds and other wildlife have been protected and people have been kept safe. It makes me proud to know that I am leaving the world a better place and in a better state, even if in the smallest of ways, for my daughter, family, friends, and global citizens.

Q: Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

My advice for people entering the profession would be to embrace the reality that you are coming into a field that truly makes a difference. ESG is a great example of how HSE values are globally recognized as critical to the sustainable success of any business. This is incredibly exciting to see from an HSE perspective, as these values are inextricably intertwined in everything we do. Even more exciting is the reality that HSE professionals are uniquely positioned to take hold of opportunities that organizational ESG embodiment brings to the table, since safety and environmental professionals have a bright future as key stakeholders in any organization’s ESG strategy.

We can anticipate our profession’s skills to be increasingly sought after across all industries, and I do think the relationship between HSE and ESG is quite dynamic, meaning that safety and environmental professionals should look into all aspects of ESG and spend time building acumen around any areas of interest. There is already a natural nexus that exists between ESG and improving a company’s performance, and I think there is an exciting future where HSE professionals can broaden their skills to enhance the way that they participate in the ESG trends of the investment community, focusing on items like community engagement, diversity, environmental stewardship, safe work practices and any associated innovation, which will all greatly help an organization gain ESG traction. 

I would also tell the world beyond our profession that we have been listening and are continuing to ramp up our efforts. I would tell other ESG and HSE professionals that the time is now, that it’s past time for companies to embrace strong ESG and HSE cultures and that we need to be the ones driving our strategic roadmaps to net zero, moving from ambition to delivery. It is time to walk the sustainability talk that our profession embodies.