This must become the mantra of the E&P industry,
according to Carl Smith, assistant secretary for the Office of Fossil
Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, who was the keynote speaker
at the All-Convention Luncheon at this year's GCAGS Annual Meeting
in Austin, Texas.
"If I could do one thing," said the former independent
oil and gas company operator, "I would turn back the clock 50 years
and start a comprehensive energy plan for America.
"When I was young, I was exposed to basic energy
education — such as geological concepts and where petroleum comes
from — all through school in Oklahoma City," Smith noted. "But
we've gotten completely away from that and have gone about 30 years
without teaching a generation-and-a-half of people what's involved
in everything you do everyday to bring hydrocarbons from some idea
in a geologist's mind to the burner tip, gas tank or light switch.
"Talk with your friends about what you do," Smith
suggested, "and you'll be amazed at how little they know or appreciate
how difficult this business is, much less the challenges we face
in this country in all forms of energy."
The current mix of ignorance, anti-oil bias and ennui
about energy issues on the part of the public in general appears
to have been spawned sometime during the 1970s, Smith noted.
He questioned what the public's attitude might be
if the United States depended on foreign sources for 60 percent
of its food, air or water as it does for petroleum.
"We just sort of whistle along past the graveyard
when it comes to energy," Smith lamented. "People seem to think
it comes out of the air and the companies put filling stations right
over the tanks with no overhead and 100 percent profit.
"Then we get a lot of legislation like the Windfall
Profits Tax of the late '70s," he continued. "This is so counter-productive,
making energy education so critical."
The serious, but temporary, pickup in oil and gas
drilling a couple of years ago helped to spotlight the dearth of
geoscientists brought on by the mass exodus of people from the industry
during the devastating downturn of the mid- to late-'80s and the
lack of new-hires.
Today's students choose to pursue other careers because
they perceive E&P to be a low- or no-tech business that is dead/dying
and, therefore, has no future.
"I walked into an SPE technology conference recently,"
Smith said, "and it was like walking into NASA. Other than the space
industry, this is the most hi-tech industry we have.
"If all the young people in this country could see
this," he noted, "it would dispel the old notion the industry is
dead, and show them there's a definite future here."
The numbers in the Fossil Energy office indicate
by 2010, the United States will need 30 TCF of gas production annually,
with current production pegged at 19 TCF and Canadian gas accounting
for the excess required to meet current needs of 22 TCF.
To accommodate the predicted future demand and help
offset dependence on foreign sources, Smith said it's critical to
convince the American people that new areas can be drilled safely
and economically to provide affordable, dependable energy without
damage to the environment because of the advanced technology.
Repeating what has been said for decades, Smith said,
"this hasn't gotten out to the public. And this is an immense problem.
When they say it's unsafe to drill ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge) with today's technology, it makes a guy like me who grew
up around this business in Oklahoma scratch his head."
When new domestic hydrocarbon supplies are tapped
with the drillbit, infrastructure needs loom as another major, expensive
challenge. Noting that new natural gas reserves are being developed
in the Powder River and San Juan basin areas, Smith emphasized it
will be costly in terms of pipelines and facilities to move this
production to market. He described the existing pipeline infrastructure
in the Rockies as "a bunch of dirt roads compared to Oklahoma, Texas
and Louisiana, which look like an L.A. freeway system."
As domestic energy needs continue to expand, it also
becomes necessary to address the fact that no refineries have been
built in the United States in 25 years.
Opening up areas like ANWR, laying new onshore pipelines
and building refineries may not currently sit well with the public
at large, but a serious educational effort on the part of industry
participants might go far to alter the negative perception of the
"It's important to this country to put out an educational
message based on science, not myth. There's so much information
in textbooks that would curl your hair when energy is even mentioned
"No one else knows as much about the industry as
you do," Smith continued, "and these issues are only going to be
addressed by you. So when the Lions and Rotary need a speaker, do
"Be as active as you can be," he encouraged, "and
urge your colleagues to step up to the plate."