Environment Agency to Environmental Monitoring: Matt Askin joins GGS

09Jan / 2018

Environment Agency to Environmental Monitoring: Matt Askin joins GGS

As we move into a fresh new year full of hope and promise, GGS welcomes a new member to our management team. After 11 years working at the Environment Agency, Matt Askin has joined GGS as Onshore Petroleum Manager. We had an in-depth chat with Matt about his career so far, why he chose to join GGS, and his ambitions and the key challenges of his new role.

You were at the Environment Agency a very long time, Matt. Why the change, and why now? 

What can I say; I’m cause-committed! But in all honesty, after an enjoyable and varied 11 years with the Environment Agency, I felt I was ready for a new challenge, and I’m keen to explore another side of the environmental sector.

And what were these varied roles?

Where to start! They included quality management, technical authoring, project management and customer-facing advice and guidance, followed by several years as a landfill technical specialist and then a stint in onshore oil and gas. I like to think, or at least hope, that I’m an environmental jack of all trades!

Sounds about accurate! What’s been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Matt receiving the EU Life+ programme’s ‘Best of the Best’ projects award

Matt receiving the EU Life+ programme’s ‘Best of the Best’ projects award

My involvement in the ACUMEN project would have to be a high point. ACUMEN was an EU funded project which explored new ways to reduce methane emissions from closed and historic landfills, particularly those owned by local authorities and other public bodies.

ACUMEN was above all a team effort, with representatives from several organisations. Receiving an award on their behalf as one of the EU Life+ programme’s ‘Best of the Best’ projects was a particularly proud moment.

Impressive stuff! So, what drew you to working with GGS? 

I’ve always seen GGS as a company which combines technological innovation with a real understanding of the complex environments we monitor. That combination is a real draw for me.

I also respect GGS’ ethical commitment to genuinely understanding the real presence (or absence) of risk on our clients’ sites, and communicating these issues clearly. GGS tell it like it really is, whether it’s good news or bad, which demonstrates a deep professional integrity. This honesty builds trust with regulators and communities alike, and allows our clients to do a job right first time.

And how is it going so far?

Really good! The team here is agile, focused, and busy! The level of collective endeavour really stands out throughout the ranks. It’s also a small and friendly team, which feels almost like a family. I’ve known some of GGS’ employees for years, so it’s been a really smooth transition for me so far.

With such a varied skill set, what drew you towards working in Onshore Oil and Gas?

Wow, big question! Right now, we face lots of big challenges. Our economy, society and environment all face competing pressures. While the transition to low carbon economy is inevitable and well underway, it can’t be delivered overnight without significant disruption to our economy and living standards, which I think most people wouldn’t accept. So, hydrocarbons, and natural gas in particular will be with is for a while yet. Having seen environmental regulation from the inside, I’m much more comfortable developing local energy sources under strong regulations than importing resources from abroad where environmental protections are quite often lower than here in the UK. The ability to play a role in this transition, and in particular to work on monitoring and minimising the impacts of oil and gas developments feels like a really worthwhile thing to do.

What challenges do you foresee in your new role?

Quite often, organisations will naturally consider the cheapest price to offer the best value. When it comes to environmental monitoring, this regularly leads to companies needing to repeat, expand or supplement the work they’ve carried out as part of the ‘cheapest option’. This leads to spending more money overall in the long run. I firmly believe in the value of doing the ‘right thing, first time’.

Experts such as GGS face the ongoing challenge of helping clients understand the importance of choosing the technologies and techniques that deliver the right data first time round. GGS often sees clients after the cheapest option hasn’t delivered what was promised. I’d rather not see customers waste their money on services that don’t deliver for them, and help them make the right choice first time.

GGS marries smart technology with real technical expertise and understanding. Our staff have decades of combined experience, which we use to the fullest. None of our competitors can match that.

And what about in the Onshore Oil and Gas industry itself?

Matt at MSP’s new Bright Building

I see a mix of big picture challenges. There is a lot of public misunderstanding on the subject of onshore oil and gas, and shale gas in particular. The UK has had an onshore and offshore energy industry for decades. Shale gas developments aren’t happening in a vacuum. Like all countries, the UK faces difficult choices about its energy needs. The Oil and Gas industry can probably do more to explain the tough choices we face as a country, but with 80% of UK homes heated by natural gas and North Sea reserves declining, doing nothing simply isn’t an option.

So, we can develop our own resources with strong local environmental protections and legally binding national carbon budgets, or we can choose to get our energy from places where environmental and social protections are less effective, or absent altogether. Explaining the complex interactions between our energy needs and peoples’ everyday lives remains a key challenge for the industry.

Quite understandably, many people are concerned about methane and greenhouse gas emissions from onshore oil and gas. But methane is all around us. It’s emitted from agriculture, caused by natural geological conditions, the landfilling of waste and sewage treatment works too. Managing emissions from ‘point sources’ like an onshore oil well or a landfill is much easier than from many other sources.

I often find that people’s fear of methane (or indeed other environmental emissions) is out of proportion with the real impact. After energy supply, transport is the UK’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. And whereas energy supply has reduced its carbon emissions by almost 50%, emissions from transport are actually on the rise. So, for the industry, government and the environmental professionals in between, we all have to do a better job of communicating the complexity and relative impact of not just oil and gas developments, but all sources of greenhouse gas emissions. And of course, always be on the look out for opportunities to reduce emissions still further.

As individuals and as a society, we manage trade offs every day to in our jobs, homes, family, and finances. This is something we need to do when it comes to our energy supplies too.

Do you think GGS can help improve public understanding of this industry?

Absolutely! I think that GGS can help bridge the divide between the need to reduce carbon emissions, achieve greater energy self-sufficiency while also protecting local environments. I’d like to see GGS doing more to help improve public understanding through it’s core service, continuous environmental monitoring, which is the only genuinely accurate method to characterise ground gas and air quality conditions, and to understand the variable natural regime and the contributions from industry.

We are 100% transparent about the services we provide and the data they generate. When you match good data with the best available technology, you can paint a real picture of a situation. We want to communicate this picture, including its environmental complexities and impact to everyone with an interest in the sector.

What do you want to achieve at GGS?

“I look forward to contributing something really worthwhile.”

I want the company to be seen as the ‘go to’ supplier for the UK Onshore Oil and Gas industry, who combine best available techniques and technology with experienced and dedicated environmental professionals. Our sites are monitored more comprehensively and successfully than those managed by other providers. The services we offer come from regular and detailed consultation with operators and regulators alike, and should be recognised as the standard against which all others are measured. I want GGS to be right at the forefront of developing what ‘best’ looks like for environmental monitoring.

Is there an aspect of your new role that you’re looking forward to the most?

Getting hands on; tackling technically challenging environmental issues which contribute to not only helping GGS grow, but also creating greater public awareness and real understanding of the industries we work in.

Sounds good, Matt. Any final comments?

I’m a scientist at heart, but a lot of the regulatory work I’ve done so far is one step removed. GGS offered me the opportunity to not only get hands on, but also to use cutting edge, industry-leading technology in the process. It’s an exciting chance for me, and GGS, to make a difference using sound science to drive good choices.

I’m really happy and excited to be working among friends and specialists. I look forward to contributing something really worthwhile.

Please email Matt Askin if you have an enquiry regarding our monitoring services for Onshore Petroleum sites.