It's Time to 'Step Up to the Plate'

Geologists Need to Start Talking

Education. Education. Education.

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.

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Education. Education. Education.

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 business.

"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 at all.

"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 it.

"Be as active as you can be," he encouraged, "and urge your colleagues to step up to the plate."

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