Many groups rely on hierarchies to maintain a robust power dynamic between their members. Businesses with a powerful CEO at the top leading hundreds or thousands of bureaucratic employees and divisions below them are hierarchical organizations. One can conceptualize these structures as a big triangle with fewer and fewer individuals at higher levels.

In contrast, neighborhoods have horizontal orientations rather than the vertical organization of hierarchical groups. In the ideal scenario, everyone is equal, but political and economic realities makes it otherwise. Therefore, building a neighborhood within and outside of an organization depends on both reciprocity and trust within a social network. Reciprocity within the social network is the willingness to exchange things or privileges with others for mutual benefit. Trust is the belief that someone is going to reciprocate the favors extended to them.1Riyanto, Y. E., & Jonathan, Y. X. (2014). Directed Trust and Reciprocity in a Real-Life Social Network: An Experimental Investigation. Retrieved 10/28/2020 from

These relationship foundations are often based on a social contract between individuals and organizations that states that when concerns are raised, they are heard and that when promises are made, they are carried out. Reciprocity of communication and respect between all members and stakeholders becomes a sign of trustworthiness.2Riyanto, Y. E., & Jonathan, Y. X. (2014). Directed Trust and Reciprocity in a Real-Life Social Network: An Experimental Investigation. Retrieved 10/28/2020 from

For example, say an operator is working on land held by a hunting and fishing club. The club members have agreed to allow production on the property; the operator has promised to respect the environmentally sensitive nature of the club. When the operator fulfills promises to minimize pipeline right-of-ways, and other impacts to the club property, club members and others in the social network view this as a sign of trustworthiness. As reciprocity continues, trust is built between the various stakeholder organizations and individuals within the social network.

Trust is especially important when it comes to a group of organizations working as a team during a crisis situation. Reciprocity and trust built over time become the foundation for a high quality and rapid response to an emergency situation. Organizations that have built a neighborhood within and outside of their group stand out in their capabilities to handle a crisis. Below one of our experts discusses her agency’s response to a natural disaster affecting oil and gas operations in her state.


Real Time Response: Colorado’s 1,000 Year Flood – Margaret Ash – Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission

Margaret Ash: The story of the Colorado 2013 flood, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it started. This tropical weather system came in, and it started raining really hard on September the 9th. For the next few days, we set daily, weekly, monthly records of rainfall. The flood itself was mostly concentrated in what is northeastern Colorado. The first areas that were hit were the foothills and the mountains to the west.

Unidentified Speaker: An hour ago that road was there, and passable.

Margaret Ash: Roads were underwater. Bridges were damaged. People were isolated. No power, no electricity. It was pretty devastating. But then of course the water moves downhill, so it moved on to the Great Plains, which is mostly where the oil and gas operations are. Primarily it went through an area called the Wattenberg Field, which is just a really prolific field. It’s been producing oil and gas for years, but it’s also in this agricultural area, environmentally sensitive areas.

I mean, oil and gas wells pump generally 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and if you can’t access it and there’s a problem, then that could just, instead of going into a tank and a pipeline, you could just have this ongoing release. So, there was a fear of a long-term major environmental issue.

I work for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. We are a state agency that has a dual mission to promote the responsible and balanced development of oil and gas while also protecting public health, safety, welfare and the environment.

We started seeing and hearing from our field inspectors of oil and gas sites that were nearly underwater and oil and gas sites that were maybe not underwater but they were surrounded by water so you couldn’t access them. We were all concerned that there might be ongoing uncontrolled releases of oil and gas caused by the flood damage.

We’re not an emergency response organization. We have people that do field inspections. But in this particular flood, the Oil and Gas Commission had to become an emergency response organization.

News Anchor: Meanwhile, inspection and assessment teams are working all over the flooded areas examining wells and storage, and when you see the power of the water you understand why there could be so much damage.

Margaret Ash: The federal government, EPA, local governments, the state Office of Emergency Management wanted our information and our help in assessing damages to make those decisions on where to put the major resources. We just over essentially a weekend built a unified incident command system, set up teams of inspectors. We had to build a whole bunch of communication tools. There was information coming so fast and we needed to get it out so fast that we built a flood response portion of the website.

Our database people, we have some really good database people, they built just overnight, within hours, tools for the oil and gas industry to report. Very quickly we realized that we have some really top-quality operators in the state. Oil and gas companies with helicopters in the air almost immediately assessing damage.

A lot of damage was avoided because oil and gas operators shut in their wells before we said anything. That basically means just turning a valve or shutting a valve. They have these big command control rooms, so they were able to just basically electronically just tell their systems to shut in. They were very, very proactive.

We communicated with the operator through almost every means available. Some of it was your standard telephone calls, just calling it in. We had a map up on the wall where we were just pinpointing stuff. We built all of these tools just on the fly and we could track it in our database. It was real-time data, but meshed old school with new school, modern geospatial satellites with just physically being on the site saying, “This is okay.”

Overall, industry ended up shutting in over 3,000 wells. We ended up having 50 what we call reportable spills and 1,150 barrels of produced water and about 1,300 barrels of crude oil or condensate. The biggest spill that we had was 323 barrels. Between the industry and the Oil and Gas Commission, we moved to get all that stuff remediated within about a year.

Nobody ever slowed down for weeks. We were doing basically on-time, real-time, on the ground information, looking at damages and then being able to get that information out to so many different stakeholders. People were legitimately concerned. If you can relieve those anxieties, you’re doing public service. It’s going to be okay, that we had that data and that information to really stand up to it.

You’re in oil and gas, and most of us expect that you’re going to work long hours during a crisis. It really was when you could really say you were doing something for public service. We go to work, we work hard every day, we’re pretty efficient, pretty effective, but this was truly public service. We did a benefit for the state and the citizens of the state of Colorado.

Images: “Ladder to ?” by Anthony licensed under CC BY SA 2.0