What is the Role of Geoscience in the Age of Renewables?

AAPG Energy Transition Forum

You see the headlines in energy publications all across the globe: “Central Asia’s green horizons,” “Is the Middle East’s solar marker breakthrough finally happening?”, “Going Green in South East Asia,” “Portugal breaks 100 percent mark but remains isolated” …

The world’s transition from high-carbon to lower-carbon energy technologies, clearly, is afoot, as is the industry paradigm that will accompany it.

So, the challenge is – how will the industry embrace and steer this new reality?

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You see the headlines in energy publications all across the globe: “Central Asia’s green horizons,” “Is the Middle East’s solar marker breakthrough finally happening?”, “Going Green in South East Asia,” “Portugal breaks 100 percent mark but remains isolated” …

The world’s transition from high-carbon to lower-carbon energy technologies, clearly, is afoot, as is the industry paradigm that will accompany it.

So, the challenge is – how will the industry embrace and steer this new reality?

It will, among other adjustments, have to address personnel issues of attracting new and better-trained workers, while making the most of the talent already employed. Industry leaders must articulate the often multifaceted goals of the new exploration as well as prepare for the frequency and severity of catastrophic climatic, political and economic events.

Charting that landscape of the future of the oil and gas industry is the purpose behind the AAPG “Energy Transition Forum – A New Era for Geoscience,” in the Netherlands later this year.

The forum, the roster of which includes professionals from Shell, Statoil, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, University of Plymouth, Schlumberger, K-UTEC IBM, International Geothermal Association and Google, will target not only current decision makers and existing professionals, but also – perhaps most importantly – the young professionals and students in this new era in geoscience.

The past, present and future of the industry will have to get along.

Conversations We Need to Have

Max Brouwers, Shell’s vice president of exploration for Europe, Russia and CIS, who is chairing the committee, believes the answers to the future of energy will come from a conversation on sustainability, digitalization, talent and skills, and collaboration between a broad range of technology, geoscience, renewable and oil and gas industry contributors.

Specifically:

  • The Future of Energy: This is the big issue, because almost everyone agrees that oil and gas, whatever its efficacy, profitability and sustainability, will be around for a while; thus, still in the mix. The question is: will it continue to be pursued and drilled as before or will the industry need to work differently? Clearly, it will require a change in attitude and approach, but how much and how difficult that will be is up for discussion. More collaboration between all parts of the geoscience family will be needed for new revenue streams.
  • Sustainability: Balancing the need for “clean” energy with macroeconomic issues, as well as understanding and reacting to the politics of the day, is a discussion that will also have to be monitored closely. Geoscientists will have to find the sweet spot in the midst of energy, environmental and political concerns.
  • Digitalization: The forum, according to organizers, will focus not just on machine learning, but also applying digitalization to improving the efficiency of data management, interpretation and other aspects of exploration. The hope is to share ambitions for applied digitalization, which improve ongoing businesses and open up vast realms of new knowledge. On this point, Darryl Willis, Google’s vice president of oil, gas and energy, and also an organizer of the forum, was quoted recently as saying, “In our industry, we have an opportunity to use data to win. We only use about 5 percent of the data we have at our disposal – we can do better.”
  • Skills: New technologies and vistas require new skills, so one of the topics the forum will explore is what skills geoscientists will need in the coming years – skills that may include a hybrid of competencies and polymorphic skillsets. It is also very likely that the geoscientists of tomorrow will need to be well-versed in the commercial side of the business and be willing to work beyond upstream and into the extended value chain, being mobile across a broader industry – from digital tech, to seismic operations, to oil and gas, to renewables and back. This will no doubt change the culture and hierarchy of organizations.

The Role of Geoscience?

The industry, as it considers these lower-carbon technologies and new commercial models to meet a century’s needs (meaning, more efficient means and reduced consumption), will be faced with nothing less than the relevance of geoscience itself.

Iain Stewart, a professor at the University of Plymouth, host of the BBC’s “The Power of the Planet,” and another member of the forum’s organizing committee, has been thinking about the new industry makeup for years. He said last year from Scotland about the transition to a low-carbon future, “What does that look like? What does that mean for the oil and gas industry? What does it mean for things like wind turbines and solar farms? What does it mean for nuclear?”

The Forum is encouraging all those in the industry to join this debate, including young professionals, Generation X, industry decision makers and educators.

The new era in geoscience, as this forum will remind us, has already begun.

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Comments (5)

The world is awash in clean, affordable energy - how do we adapt?
So delighted to see the AAPG tackling this discussion with voices of the future at the table. Solar is now the cheapest form of newly installed power. So what does that mean for the energy supply business model? Where will our geoscience skills be useful? One very obvious application is the exploration for and development of minerals used in batteries, especially lithium and graphite. Our members have expertise at subsurface 3D modeling, resource assessment and risk management. We've worked for decades with the rotary drilling process now being employed to exploit lithium brines. And we can bring our oil field technology and HSE management lessons to new mining efforts, so that they can be low impact, provide good employment, and be profitable - hallmarks of the energy business. This new exploration frontier is going to be exciting for all of us!
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8/31/2018 1:13:39 PM
another vote for Scott Tinker
You need a balanced understanding of the way the world currently uses Energy and if there are alternatives to current methods. I would suggest you invite a real expert - Scott Tinker. See for his past movie and he is working on a new one now. http://www.switchenergyproject.com/
8/31/2018 8:28:41 AM
Role of Geoscience in Age of Renewables Forum
A timely but overdue discussion however: I do not see any speakers listed who may hold the technically correct view that anthropogenic CO2 is not a cause of Global Warming, albeit some research suggests it may be a very very minute contributor. Reality is that the earth really needs more CO2 in the atmosphere to promote plant growth and hence FOOD for the expanding populace. While there is nothing wrong with pursuing the renewables science and ultimately it will be required to replace conventional hydrocarbon energy, it has to compete commercially (ie, without massive subsidies) with existing energy sources. Existing scientific research clearly indicates that the earth is heading into a cooling eg ice ages and the population will require all the energy it can produce to survive.
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8/30/2018 8:21:07 PM
The role of geologists in providing for society's energy needs extends well beyond the oil and gas era.
There is also a place for geologists, although not necessarily petroleum geologists, in exploration for geothermal resources. Perhaps more importantly though, many of the components of a renewable power grid require reliable geologic information for proper siting. This includes, but is not limited to, substrates that lend themselves to locating windmills, dams, and energy storage facilities necessary to provide reliable base load electric power. At this point storage facilities are limited to pump storage plants, but any large scale energy storage scheme I can imagine should require geologic information for proper, environmentally safe, siting. If society finally recognizes that the dangers of the old water cooled reactor designs are solved by modern gas cooled reactors there should be jobs for exploration and production of nuclear fuel and plant siting once again.
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7/21/2018 3:03:58 PM
Age of Renewables?
Up to this point in time the only person in leadership of our profession who has addressed this topic in a reasonable manner is Scott Tinker. I don't see his name among those in this forum. Do you suppose that you could invite Scott? Or maybe I should just ignore the whole form thing.
7/21/2018 2:15:29 PM

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