Guest “who needs PhD’s?” by David Middleton
Mrs. Middleton sent me this little gem…
Who Needs Geoscientists?
Mike Simmons, Andy Davies, Andy W. Hill and Mike Stephenson
The evolving role of geoscience through the energy transition.
This article appeared in Vol. 17, No. 3 – 2020
Who Needs Geoscientists?
At the time of writing, the world is enduring the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the global economy is struggling. Nonetheless, we should look ahead to a brighter future and consider the role of geoscience once society returns to something resembling normality.
The start of the 21st century has seen unprecedented cultural and behavioural change as the energy transition accelerates. Geoscientists, who are fully committed to overcoming some of the societal and environmental challenges this raises, will see, in turn, a diversification of career opportunities as society and industry evolves. In addition to their domain expertise, geoscientists are typically skilled in problem solving, deductive thinking, data integration, and holistic approaches to assessing risk and uncertainty, as well as data visualisation in 3D and 4D. Consequently, they are well placed to help solve the energy and resource challenges of the future.
Prior to the pandemic dominating the news, environmental issues were being extensively reported, seldom placing geology-related extractive industries in a positive light. Consequently, there has been a dramatic decline in uptake of undergraduate geoscience courses. Many British universities are declaring a climate emergency, and encouraging geoscience departments to disassociate from relationships with extractive industries – particularly oil and gas.
My first thought was: What the Hell is GeoExpro doing publishing drivel like this? My second thought was, maybe it’s just a clumsy introduction. Being that GeoExpro is one of my favorite geoscience/oil & gas publications, I read on. On the whole, the article isn’t too bad… But there were some passages that simply defied credulity… Particularly the notion of an “energy transition”.
Who needs energy?
Everyone who isn’t fond of freezing in the dark.
Access to affordable energy is essential for economic growth and social development…
There is a clear link between energy consumption and life expectancy: compare, for example, the position of the UK to India in Figure 1. Globally, one billion people do not have access to electricity and three billion do not have clean fuels for cooking. This delivers a negative imbalance in both health and economic opportunity, especially for the female population in developing countries.GeoExpro
What energy transition?
Suppose they gave an energy transition and no one came? (Apologies to Charlotte E. Keyes)…
The fundamental question is: how will the rising demand for energy be sourced while minimising, and preferably reducing, related impacts to climate change? Renewable energy sources will form an increasing proportion of the energy mix, especially as the price of their supply falls. The EIA forecasts that by 2050 renewables will be the single most important source of energy globally – but in pre-pandemic supply predictions almost all energy sources see rises in supply (Figure 2) so by 2050 global energy will be supplied in almost equal proportions of oil, gas, nuclear and renewables, with only coal reducingGeoExpro
Did they feature this graph from the Energy Information Adminstration (EIA) to demonstrate the “energy transition”?
Because it sure doesn’t look like a transition, particularly on a stacked chart. If the EIA’s outlook is correct, we will be consuming a lot more renewable energy in 2050 than we are now… But we will also be consuming a lot more fossil fuels. Renwables, including hydroelectric, are part of “other.”
While renewables (other) will comprise a larger percentage of our energy consumption in the EIA outlook…
The sum total of “other” in 2050 won’t even cover the growth in total energy use between now and 2050 (if the EIA’s outlook is correct)…
|2020 to 2050||Quad Btu|
|Other in 2050||252.2|
There won’t be an “energy transition” because there has never been an “energy transition.” We simply use more of “all of the above” and pile new energy sources on top of older energy sources. We consume more biomass for energy today, than we did before we started burning coal.
What the frack?
Evolving Hydrocarbon Industry
Geoscientists working in the energy resource industries, especially oil and gas, face a challenge to be as responsible as possible in obtaining these resources. Across the industry, moves are underway to reduce the production carbon footprint and the methane intensity of operations, such as dedicated wind farms instead of sending electrical power from shore to run platforms.
Oil and gas exploration strategies are shifting from quantity to quality, with companies aiming to locate resources with the lowest carbon footprint and with minimum impurities (e.g. no H2S or low CO2 cuts) and selectively develop only the best.
No! At least not in these tenuously United States. We no more avoid H2S or and/or CO2 impurities now than we did in the 1940’s. If the economics of a project support the price discount and cost of handling the impurities, it will get drilled by someone. Sometimes, “impurities” can even add value to a project.
The deepwater Jurassic Norphlet play is one of the hottest plays in the Gulf of Mexico because it holds the potential for fracking YUGE discoveries… not due to the “quality” of the oil. Most shale oil production is light sweet crude, because that’s what’s in the rocks. The shale oil boom wasn’t the result of “exploration strategies are shifting from quantity to quality.” With about 2/3 of US refining capacity geared toward heavier, sour oil, we’d be better off with less quality and more quantity in our domestic production. The biggest oil field in the Gulf of Mexico, Mars-Ursa, actually rates its own grade of crude oil. It’s rather heavy (29° API gravity) and sour (2% sulfur).
Most of the heavy oil required by US refiners is imported.
“Apart from that Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”
Apologies to Tom Lehrer.
Apart from a glaring misunderstanding of the oil & gas industry, the article was quite good. It discussed many other areas in which geoscience expertise is important in our world. The authors were highly educated (three PhD’s) geoscientists. Two (1, 2) were R&D people with Halliburton Landmark. Landmark is one of the industry’s primary platforms for the interpretation of 3d seismic data. One was a shallow hazards expert and the other was with the British Geological Survey. Reading the article reminded me of something from early in my a career (around 1982). Enserch Exploration sent me to a seismic stratigraphy course in Houston taught by the late Robert Sheriff. Dr. Sheriff was a brilliant geophysicist. I learned a lot from the class and still refer to the textbook and course notes. When I got back to Dallas, our Chief Geophysicist (Leonard) asked how the course was. I said it was very interesting, but a lot of what was covered didn’t seem very practical. Leonard replied, “Yeah. Sheriff is really smart, but I don’t think he’s ever found any oil.”
On the whole, I would recommend the article to anyone with an interest in geoscience. While it wasn’t always practical, at least it didn’t go here… Nor will I.