Tell the Story Simply
I have come to realize over the past year that much of what we do as geoscientists is evaluate disparate data types and reconstruct a vision of the subsurface based on how we interpret what is recorded in the rock record. What we may spend less time doing is thinking about how to communicate and demonstrate the concepts that have fomented in our mind. I have also learned that speaking in public to a small or large audience is a vital skill. It can also be an exhilarating or frightening experience. I recall my first technical talk at AAPG in 1989. I had practiced the presentation for days and could not seem shorten it to the required 18 minutes. As I stepped up to the podium the session chair Frank Sonnenberg, could tell I was nervous. As he put on the lapel microphone he gently reassured me that I would be fine. When I stood to face the audience to present my talk, the original 30 people in the room had grown to 300. I also realized that two gentlemen sitting in the front row had studied and probably forgotten more about the subject matter of my talk than I had learned. The presentation only took me 15 minutes and yes, it’s safe to say, I talked a little fast.
That event was a great learning experience for me. At the time it didn’t feel like it, but I remind myself of that day quite often before giving talks and it has given me perspective on learning from experience. As I looked back at the Editor’s Letter from June of 2017, the feeling of most people in the industry seemed like doom and gloom. Oil prices that were floating between $40-50was the “new normal” we seemed to have found ourselves in. Today WTI is near $70 and there is concern that the continued drilling in the unconventional plays of North America won’t meet the demand. Time will tell. There are predictions that the U.S. will produce close to 12 million barrels of oil a day by 2019. That is nearly 20% greater than any time in the history of the industry. Truly amazing.
In the coming years, our industry is poised to potentially have its greatest contribution to the world economy. After listening to several talks at the AAPG Super Basins Presentations in March and May, I was amazed at the untapped potential across the world. Peak Oil is no longer a pending reality. Technology, efficiency and innovation have replaced this idea with Peak Demand. Continued efficiency, innovation, and change in energy demand will lead to a world where electricity is the fuel of the next century.
Scott Tinker’s presentation and recent work describes the progress of civilization and the elimination of poverty will be perhaps one of the greatest contributions the oil and gas industry has and will continue to provide for the next 100 years. It is easy to draw a direct correlation between countries that have abundant energy and those that do not. The common denominator is affluence where energy is abundant and poverty where it is scarce. The challenge we have as an industry is to tell this story simply. To communicate to the public the quality of life, freedom, mobility, and creation of wealth for multiple generations in the past and for the future.
There are many voices in the world that believe our industry is fueling the continued problem of climate change. What is lost in many of these discussions is the contribution of our industry to begin the switch to a new energy economy. The United States has reduced its carbon emissions by ~20% since 2005. This is more than any other developed country. The cause of this is efficiency and moving toward natural gas as fuel that have been developed from unconventional reservoirs and yes, fracking!
I believe that our industry must be involved in the solution to this important topic. The demand for energy has and will only continue to increase for the foreseeable future. Developing countries need energy to create wealth and a higher standard of living for their population. But the voices of “keep it in the ground” don’t seem to recognize the need for a comprehensive solution to world energy demands, the correlation between energy and poverty, and how a transition from a hydrocarbon economy to a renewable energy economy has significant environmental challenges as well.
The creation and utilization of all energy has a cost. Developing clean energy requires mining of lithium, steel, copper and rare earth metals to manufacture wind turbines, necessary infrastructure to deliver this energy on a massive scale. In addition, batteries, metal from turbines and solar panels eventually must be disposed in landfills which requires discarding of materials that are not biodegradable. My point is not to say these technologies are not solutions, but to highlight the issue that all energy has a cost and an environmental footprint that should be part of this discussion.
I prefer the idea of the “radical middle” as proposed by Scott Tinker at the Bureau of Economic Geology. There is very little dialogue regarding the cost and benefit of energy. The voices that seem to be the loudest are those that have no connection with our industry and what the data show us. Data matters and it is important for our industry and geoscientists as individuals to direct the conversation to the radical (data driven) middle. We should point out that methane has only one carbon molecule and a resource base and nearly a 300-year of supply. Energy is vital to the development of all countries and a transition to a balanced and pragmatic solution is a viable course of action we should all embrace. If you wish to learn more about this I would direct you to Switchon.org to learn more about how we as an industry can direct the discussion in a productive way.
So in the coming days and months remember that as geoscientists our contribution, impact and perspective are vital to this discussion. We need to remind the public that the data matter. We must direct the dialogue toward the data and strive to tell this story simply.