In February 2023, the Society of Petroleum Engineers, together with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and the Society for Exploration Geophysicists, conducted a one-day symposium on the energy transition.
The invitation-only event, hosted by the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C., was designed to inform and engage policymakers and the policy community in the U.S. capital from the perspective of the engineers and geoscientists who currently work to supply 60 percent of the world’s energy.
“The purpose of this event is to share information so that policymakers can make more informed choices,” said Mark Rubin, SPE’s CEO. “The members of our professional societies understand the challenges (of the energy transition), and also understand that they have an important role in addressing these challenges.”
Chaired by Allyson Book of Baker Hughes with co-chair Jim Slutz of the National Petroleum Council, the program’s topics ranged from existing and emerging energy sources, the technologies that exist today and those that may be commercialized in the future. It also touched on the workforce needs and some of the barriers to success.
A fundamental reality is that over the past three decades, global hydrocarbon consumption has dropped from 84 to 80 percent of the total energy mix, but global energy consumption has grown dramatically over the same period. We are adding energy resources, not replacing them.
Against this backdrop, policymakers are setting ambitious goals of achieving “net zero” in the next 30 years. But as one moderator observed, a quick internet search reveals that every energy source – fossil fuels, nuclear, renewables – has its detractors. The solution to our energy challenges is not to “just say no” to everything. We must actually build new capacity to supply increasingly clean energy – put steel in the ground – to meet growing demand or all of these ambitious goals are just talk.
Systems-thinking and scenario planning are critical factors in addressing the topic of energy. Increased electrification may provide significant benefits to humanity, but current discussions typically don’t acknowledge the other resource needs that significant electrification would require. As one panelist observed, we don’t have the mineral resource base for first generation electrification, let alone subsequent expansion and upgrades.
This isn’t pessimism, it’s realism. It’s evidence for why discussions about the evolving energy system need to have all relevant stakeholders at the table. It’s why SPE, AAPG and SEG are cooperating to encourage this dialogue. It is our collective hope that this is just the beginning.
A common theme throughout the program was the importance of Earth resources in the energy future. The engineers and scientists represented by these three professional societies will play a continuing and even growing role in future energy and environmental progress. SPE, AAPG and SEG look forward to collaborating on a continuing dialogue in 2024.
Special thanks to the sponsors who helped underwrite this symposium: AAPG Foundation, Advanced Resources International, Inc., AOC Petroleum Support Services, LLC, ENERGEO Alliance, Geothermal Technologies, INTEK, Inc., and the U.S. Geological Survey.