Welcome to 2021! I am so glad to see 2020 in my rearview mirror, but there are just as many challenges in front of us with the new year. As you know from my previous columns, AAPG while experiencing significant financial challenges, is also at a turning point as we prepare for the future. To that end, the AAPG Executive Committee set up a short-term strategy with tactics in July 2020 at the start of the fiscal year. We are following that strategy and moving to essential services for 2021. That means focus on science: the Bulletin, EXPLORER and the website. In addition, AAPG will only keep sponsored programs like the Imperial Barrel Award and Foundation-supported programs like Grants-in-Aid.
To help us understand long-term strategy AAPG enlisted the help of the Corporate Advisory Board as well as a special ad hoc committee charged with reviewing options for strategic visions and tactical solutions. The primary question for CAB members was,“What is the future of oil and gas and how does it relate to sustainable development?” The answer was clear: the world needs oil and gas well into the future but it must be incorporated and enhanced with sustainable development and alternative energy.
With regard to the mix of petroleum and alternative energy, I do not like the phrase “energy transition.” I prefer “energy integration.” Oil and gas will play an important role well into the future. Most energy experts project fossil fuels will still provide 60-80 percent of our energy needs over the next 20-30 years.
Regarding sustainable development, the first question you have to ask is, “What is sustainable development?” The best answer I have heard is: “business practices that improve impacts on the environment and society in ways that make affordable, clean energy sustainable well into the future.”
AAPG’s Changing Culture
With all of the corporate 2050 zero-emission goals, it is very clear that companies are changing their cultures to emphasize sustainable development of petroleum resources and other forms of energy. For companies, this is a critical step for social license, continued investment and to attract quality talent.
So, in a similar manner, AAPG is in the process of changing its culture – looking forward to the future while not forgetting the past that has been so successful. One thing that is important to know is that AAPG responded to alternative energy and environmental issues years ago by forming the Energy Minerals Division and the Division of Environmental Geoscience. EMD focuses on alternative energy and DEG focuses on environmental needs especially related to petroleum geoscience. In addition, the AAPG Sustainability Committee is very active with numerous programs. As a result, we are expanding our science in areas of carbon capture, utilization and storage, hydrothermal, rare-earth minerals, and other areas of expanded opportunity for petroleum geologists. AAPG professionals can play a major role in reducing emissions.
Sustainability Is Our Purpose
In thinking about AAPG strategic planning, please consider the purposes of AAPG as outlined in the Constitution and Bylaws.
The first is:
● Advance the science of geology, especially as it relates to petroleum, natural gas, other subsurface fluids, and mineral resources
“Advance the science” means keeping up with the technology developed by members and companies, and to me it also includes consideration of the strategies of our member companies.
The second purpose is:
● To promote the technology of exploring for, finding, and producing these materials in an economically and environmentally sound manner
This is a very clear statement on “sustainability” already in our constitution. Some of the best opportunities will come as we integrate petroleum and sustainable concepts. Exploration and development will be about portfolio enhancement. In other words, geologists will be trained to develop energy portfolios that can be developed at lower cost, smaller footprints, lower emissions and less waste.
Currently, geologists are involved in handling produced water and methods to reduce flaring. Geologists are currently involved in supply chain issues regarding emissions. Already, companies are cross-training their geoscientists to work on sustainable issues, such as using depleted fields for geothermal energy and extraction of elements from brines. I know geologists who are actively exploring for helium. Of course, with the zero emissions goals, power plants and other industries will strip more CO2, so there will be increasing opportunities for geologists to work on enhanced oil recovery applications.
AAPG will continue to develop the science of our rich heritage in petroleum. Sustainable development will play an ever-increasing role and the world needs all forms of energy to meet the needs of a growing population. Energy usage to run the Cloud alone is growing exponentially. In addition, geoscientists will provide the expertise to understand the economic and social impact of emissions.
One of my favorite business maxims is, “When you try to develop strategy, you must also know your culture, because culture always trumps strategy.” What this really means is that you have to match people with the right strategy or the strategy will not work. AAPG professionals are some of the most creative, innovative and versatile scientists in the world. We are part of the solution. AAPG will provide leadership into this new future.