Elena Melchert, director of upstream R&D for the Office of Oil and Natural Gas of the U.S. Department of Energy, reinforced this perspective when she spoke at a topical luncheon at the Unconventional Resources and Technology Conference that was recently held in Houston in July.
“Oil and gas production from American reservoirs underpins the U.S. economy, energy security and national security,” she said.
That statement is also true for global sustainable development: Oil and natural gas production underpins the global economy, promotes energy security, enriches communities and enables environmental stewardship.
The petroleum industry makes up between 4.6 and 6.5 percent of the global economy. Finding, developing and producing oil and natural gas provides many AAPG members with rewarding and technically challenging careers. Transportation fuels, electricity generation, chemical feedstocks and the countless number of practical items we use every day that are derived from petroleum add significantly to the global economy. Petroleum products make our lives easier in many ways and can provide for continued economic growth and prosperity. Petroleum products can also be part of the solution for those with little or no access to energy.
Energy security is defined by the International Energy Agency as “the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price.” The petroleum industry, in balance with market-driven forces, invests in both long-term and short-term projects to meet the world’s energy needs, continuing to provide and improve energy security. Last year, approximately 80 percent of total energy was sourced from hydrocarbons. Future projections for petroleum’s contribution to the energy mix vary but remain significant in all credible projections, even with significant growth of alternatives. Our industry stands ready to meet future demand.
Another factor rarely discussed is that the petroleum industry has a long history of investing in health, education and cultural programs in the communities where we live and operate. From health programs in developing countries, to support of STEM programs in schools and academic research in universities worldwide, to funding for arts and culture, the petroleum industry invests heavily in social progress.
When the basic needs of individuals, communities and cultures are met, the better our capacity to invest in the environment. The petroleum industry’s annual reports and sustainability reports document our conscientious protection of the environment with respect to subsurface and surface operations. In those same reports and on their websites, there are examples of the generous contributions to ecological and environmental projects that contribute to a sustainable world. As an example, this July ExxonMobil announced it will invest $20 million in Guyana for research, sustainable employment, and conservation of the country’s ecosystems as part of their Guyana-Suriname Basin exploration project.
As petroleum geoscientists, we take seriously our commitment to being stewards of Earth’s natural resources, both below ground and above.
The Role of Petroleum Geoscience in Sustainable Development
Our purpose as geoscientists is to understand the properties of sedimentary basins that may contain petroleum and many other diverse resources. These resources can be long-lived assets, producing energy far into the future, based on our interpretation of the geologic systems and application of technology that enable environmentally responsible development.
This activity has multiple phases, and define three pillars of petroleum’s role in sustainable development:
- Exploration and development: The role of geoscientists in exploration is to understand petroleum systems in global basins. The best interpretation of the stratigraphy, structure, reservoirs and fluids increases the likelihood of successful exploration and appraisal projects. A thorough understanding of subsurface geology helps plan infrastructure in a way that minimizes the surface impact and reduces emissions from operations. On the sustainable development diagram, this is an “economic industry.”
- Enhanced recovery: Geoscientists build geologic models and improve their understanding of reservoir systems to evaluate re-development and enhanced recovery options to maximize recovery of reserves. Geoscience creativity, in concert with technology, helps to define new pays or to evaluate the application of new drilling and production methods that add value to mature oil fields. These projects take advantage of existing infrastructure and maintain established communities for an “optimized industry.”
- Carbon capture, utilization and storage: As part of reservoir management strategies, CCUS helps use carbon productively to increase ultimate petroleum recovery. Operating in the present with a view to the needs of the future is part of being a “viable industry.”
An economic, optimized and viable petroleum industry is what defines sustainable petroleum development. It is how geoscientists in the petroleum industry contribute to the global economy, promote energy security, enrich communities and enable environmental stewardship.
What’s Sustaining You This Month?
What sustains me this month is the rock-based technology and innovation of the petroleum industry that was on display at URTeC. When we combine our best ideas with the technology to implement them we can maximize recovery of reserves and minimize our environmental footprint.
Post your photos of technology, innovation and observations from the office to the field and let us know what sustains you. #AAPGSustainsMe