This year’s Energy Mineral Division columns have kept to a common theme: opportunity in change. The plan for the final installment was to talk about climate change. That’s “climate change” in small letters – the science, the facts, the effects and the risk mitigation activities under way around the world – and the opportunities for energy geoscientists to contribute solutions. Not “Climate Change” in capital letters, as it is often written by those who wish to debate, believe, deny or use as a political baton.
Since November’s column, a much more immediate and inclusive change has enveloped the globe with the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. How can we see opportunity through the current cloud of uncertainty and in the face of fear and grief?
Let’s start with the familiar. There’s much to recognize in the data we see around us during the pandemic. Something as simple as understanding the importance of personal protective equipment, or PPE, is second nature to us. No surprise that industry is stepping up around the globe. ExxonMobil is collaborating with the Global Center for Medical Innovation to develop and rapidly manufacture multi-use PPE for clinical settings. The Oil & Gas Industry Initiative in Nigeria is working on a three-pronged approach to keeping their curve flat: first, testing and PPE; second, logistics for patient care; and third, communications. As an industry, we can lead the way in diverting surplus supplies to protect our friends and family on the front lines of health care, and support the repurposing of our unused industrial capability to produce much-needed respiratory equipment for those requiring hospitalization.
I’ve often heard geologists described as pattern recognition junkies, and that feels pretty apt. As this goes to the editor on April 1, a graph of local cases versus time gives us a glimmer of hope in the United States. The U.S. case trend appears to be departing from exponential as preventative measures flood our communities. At the time you read this, we will know if our collective actions have flattened the curve. Data are for U.S. only from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, taken at 3 p.m. US Central Time. CSSE maintains a wonderful ArcGIS map dashboard of global data with local granularity, so you can follow any data subset.
Let’s stay true to our core values of building our decisions on data. We’ve learned the hard lesson that, no matter how many bankers say, “There’s oil everywhere” in a shale play, it’s the reservoir data that define the economically productive areas within the play fairway, not the PUD maps featuring cookie-cutter EURs. As Earth scientists, we know from observing data that global temperatures are rising, oceans are warming and acidifying, coastal zones are becoming inundated, and agricultural zones are shifting, whether or not one “believes” in climate change. The data are the data, and they’ve always been our friend. So, let’s keep focused on the data as this pandemic unfolds, and work with the incredible epidemiologists and health care professionals to do everything we can to mitigate risk to ourselves and our fellow human beings. It’s what we do.
The Big Reset Button
We are all living through something that happens only once or twice in a century: a global time-out – an event that alters not only how we live our daily lives at the moment, but what the future holds. I daresay that no one reading this was an adult during the Great Depression, or even World War II. We’ve all heard our parents and grandparents speak about the profound changes they experienced during these multi-year events. I remember my mother’s face and voice as she related how her mother would send her to the corner store on Friday with a nickel to buy a quart of milk and a box of cereal to feed their family of three for the weekend. Our children and grandchildren will remember these days and learn life lessons from us. Let’s build stories that will impact their lives for the better.
Consider first what is happening during the high case-load phase of the pandemic. Remarkably, we seem to be entering an era of using social media and communication technology for good. Imagine if this pandemic had occurred just two decades ago. How quickly we’ve all adopted social distancing and hand-washing – not because of advice from our physicians, newspaper stories or even television – but from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization postings online, echoed and amplified on social media. Universal availability of facts and good information also allows us to quickly cleanse misleading stories from public space. Perhaps a lesson learned for the energy business is that if we make good information more readily available, unscrupulous promotion will wilt in the sunlight. As we stay glued to Dr. Fauci’s briefings on national radio and TV, we are witnessing the resurgence of science. When the chips are down, the scientists and medical professionals are valued and trusted. This gives me hope for a new energy economy built on the knowledge and best practices of technical professionals.
We all have Schrödinger’s Virus now.
Because we cannot get tested, we can’t know whether we have the virus or not.
We have to act as if we have the virus so that we don’t spread it to others.
We have to act as if we’ve never had the virus because if we didn’t have it, we’re not immune.
Therefore, we both have and don’t have the virus.
Thus, Schrödinger’s Virus.
What a remarkable medical miracle – that our greatest act of togetherness as a society is being done in quarantine and isolation. Each individual is choosing to protect the health of others by taking action.
How can we translate this to a healthier professional society? Our staff are already leading the way by putting the Distinguished Lecture series online for all to benefit. The Latin America and Caribbean Region is developing “Virtual Geoscientists” instead of “Visiting Geoscientists.”
Let’s keep leading by example using today’s world of readily available technology to share our knowledge and stories with fellow members. We can view this as an opportunity to solve the escalating problem we had of too many conferences squeezing into too little space, and using too many personal and organizational resources. AAPG has the capacity to become a nimble and comprehensive virtual venue that complements our return to physical gatherings when possible.
On a very personal level, I struggle every day with feeling a loss of control. When will the pandemic end? How can I make a difference? What can one person do? I miss my family and friends. I like to pick up the phone using a free video option to see my son’s smiling face in Norman, Okla. Or have a virtual cup of coffee with my girlfriends. My closets have never been cleaner, my files more organized. Weeds dare not grow in my garden. And there are other tangible things we can each do to maintain that sense of control and impact our community for good. Donate blood. Finish your 2020 census online early. Fold at home (www.foldingathome.org). Buy from your local businesses and hire work on your car or house if you have financial resources. Share work if you have an abundance of it or job leads with someone who has lost their job. Call your neighbors and coordinate a late afternoon cocktail from the ends of your driveways. Sneeze into your sleeve, wash your hands and stay home as much as possible. Maintain physical social distancing, but practice your virtual handshakes and hugs.
I am hopeful that this collective action of social distancing will bring us together on a human level and help to heal divisions in our global society.
After Schrödinger’s Virus
When we emerge from the first wave of this pandemic, no matter its length or amplitude, we will have shifted what we consider necessary, and bring new experiences and values with us as we resurface. We may never again get on a plane at the drop of a hat and fly somewhere for a one-day business meeting. We may eat out every night at our favorite restaurants, just to ensure they stay afloat and to enjoy the society of strangers. We may travel many hours and miles to see family and friends frequently. We may never binge-watch Netflix again.
As energy professionals, we are concerned about how our business will change. The demand for oil and gas, already slowing due to the energy transition, has plummeted as a result of our collective action to stem the spread of COVID-19. What practices will we bring with us to the new energy economy, and which ones will we leave behind?
Equinor (formerly Statoil), states its purpose is to “turn natural resources into energy for people and progress for society.” This succinct declaration is both specific and inclusive, and energy geoscientists can lead the charge to do it better than ever. Over the past decade, rapid technology developments have brought us affordable, efficient and lower-carbon forms of renewable energy. As we rebuild our energy demand, let’s also look to the most challenging and exciting part of UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 – “for all.” Distributed energy resources supported by sustainable supply chains have the potential to help us reach a “Star Trek” world, where energy flows like water from the tap, and its abundance allows humanity to focus on those practices that bring us together. Let’s be part of designing and building that.
We may find ourselves separated physically for a long time. We can use this self-imposed isolation to study the data, to think of ways we can leave the unnecessary and unacceptable parts of our past behind, and to create and implement grandiose plans for the future. For ourselves, for our businesses, for our communities and for our professional organizations. Unlike during the Great Depression, we don’t have to be isolated from each other’s ideas. WhatsApp me if you disagree.
Let’s all keep doing what we do best – evaluate the data, look for patterns, and offer energy solutions for a changing world. We’re all in Schrödinger’s box together.