After the past year as president of the Division of Environmental Geosciences, my three big takeaways are that the world needs energy, all forms of energy are in transition, and geoscientists are needed to explore for and develop energy – now and in the future.
In every future energy scenario, oil and gas will be needed for decades at various levels to contribute to the global energy mix. One might consider the petroleum industry to be the backbone, providing the skills, data and technology to fuel the energy in transition.
An All-Purpose Set of Tools
Many geoscientists, like myself, come out of university with an academic background, but nothing geared toward one specific field or industry. I left with an understanding of the surface, subsurface and Earth systems. These basic sets of knowledge are applicable to developing all forms of energy.
In the petroleum world, the skills and technology we use to understand structure, stratigraphy, reservoirs, fluids, geochemistry and other concepts at many scales and levels contribute to the exploration, development and production of hydrocarbons.
These geoscience skills are applicable to the development of all types of energy and resources, not just petroleum. Geophysical techniques are used to monitor surface vibrations of industrial wind farms and the geomechanical stability of aging hydroelectric dams. A form of flexible hydropower is emerging that requires an understanding of subsurface hydrologic systems for storage and discharge. Subsurface knowledge of reservoirs and seal integrity has direct application to carbon capture projects.
The subject of plate tectonics – the understanding of past and present areas of major heat sources – are essential to the identification of flash steam and dry steam geothermal resources. Deep subsurface brines are being investigated for the extraction of critical minerals needed for batteries and electrification. Both of these forms of energy tap into essential transferable skills of high pressure/high temperature drilling and geomechanics.
The petroleum industry has also provided essential data needed to develop energy resources in the world today. The millions of subsurface wells that have been drilled, wireline logged, sampled and analyzed provide an extraordinary resource dataset. Up-and-coming geoscientists are finding that an understanding of artificial intelligence and machine learning is vital to managing all that data.
The petroleum industry has developed safety standards and technology to protect workers and the environment, and is adopting more sustainable development practices to address societal concerns for the exploration and development of Earth resources. As surface, subsurface and ocean mining for Earth resources increases, there will be a need for safety and environmental practices to be addressed, including mining, mine tailings, the impact on water resources and energy developments near communities.
Geoscientists play a major role – now and in the future – in developing our global energy resources in a sustainable manner, as well as in solving the issues of energy poverty and security, and decarbonization.
Please be on the lookout for the upcoming “Geosciences Sustainability Atlas” in which you will find examples of the role of geoscientists in the development of affordable, reliable, sustainable energy and all of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
I would like to thank the AAPG DEG 2021-22 officers, Advisory Board and support staff for a successful term, and I’m looking forward to working as your past president moving forward.