Considering What’s Next

May is upon us. In the northern hemisphere we’re in the middle of spring, a time of awakening and new beginnings. Here in Oklahoma, the sun is shining, the grass is green and the roses are in bloom.

But there’s another side to spring in Oklahoma: tornado season. And for many of us, the present situation looks more like foreboding thunderheads, hail, fierce winds and sheets of rain.

COVID-19 continues to spread illness and uncertainty. Far too many of us have either been directly affected by this virus or know someone who has. None of us has escaped the impact of a staggering collapse in oil prices.

Graduation has been canceled. This month looks more sinister than sunny. And all of us – newly minted graduates, mid-career and seasoned veterans alike – are asking, “What’s next?”

Fueling the World

As I was considering this question two weekends ago, I received an email from Scott Tinker. Tinker, as most of you know, is the state geologist of Texas and the director of the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, as well as a past president of AAPG and the Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies, among other groups. But at heart, he’s an educator, with a passion for energy.

Image Caption

Still from Scott Tinker and Harry Lynch’s “Switch On,” their follow-up to “Switch”

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May is upon us. In the northern hemisphere we’re in the middle of spring, a time of awakening and new beginnings. Here in Oklahoma, the sun is shining, the grass is green and the roses are in bloom.

But there’s another side to spring in Oklahoma: tornado season. And for many of us, the present situation looks more like foreboding thunderheads, hail, fierce winds and sheets of rain.

COVID-19 continues to spread illness and uncertainty. Far too many of us have either been directly affected by this virus or know someone who has. None of us has escaped the impact of a staggering collapse in oil prices.

Graduation has been canceled. This month looks more sinister than sunny. And all of us – newly minted graduates, mid-career and seasoned veterans alike – are asking, “What’s next?”

Fueling the World

As I was considering this question two weekends ago, I received an email from Scott Tinker. Tinker, as most of you know, is the state geologist of Texas and the director of the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, as well as a past president of AAPG and the Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies, among other groups. But at heart, he’s an educator, with a passion for energy.

Many of us have seen “Switch,” his first film collaboration with director Harry Lynch, in which he takes the viewer on a global tour of energy resources. That film has been seen by more than 15 million people in 50 countries.

“Switch On,” his second collaboration with Lynch, is just out and is worth your time.

Where the first film focused on big themes: global energy, large-scale projects, the trade-offs of various energy sources, and how we power the world – this latest release inverts the lens. And by doing so, Tinker reveals an even larger challenge: how to bring energy to the developing world, to the billions of people who do not have access it?

In the film, Tinker takes us on a journey to Kenya, Vietnam, Nepal, Ethiopia and Colombia. And at each stop, we learn how the real and persistent problems of energy poverty are being tackled in these places.

Did you know that, globally, more than 1 billion people do not have access to electricity? More than 2.5 billion rely on wood or biomass for cooking, without access to clean cooking fuels, and the persistent smoke inhalation from these cookfires costs upward of 3 million lives annually.

I’ve written repeatedly about how what we do as AAPG members – as energy geoscientists – fuels the world. That sounds quite important, and it is.

But what “Switch On” reminds us is that, as important as “fueling the world” sounds, there are still far too many of our fellow human beings who do not have access to the affordable, safe and reliable energy they need to improve their lot.

We take our access to energy for granted. And we use this energy to generate economic growth and wealth. Wealth creation grows economies, improves lives, begets investments in education, better health outcomes, and the awareness and resources needed to actively boost environmental quality. It all starts with energy.

Watching “Switch On” was a reminder to me that we’re engaged in important work as AAPG members. And while disruption and displacement are facing many of us in the oil and natural gas industry, as geologists, we’re students of the Earth and energy professionals. What role can we carve out for ourselves in this quest to combat energy poverty?

I’d encourage you to watch “Switch On” as well. You can find the film by visiting SwitchOn.org and we will be creating several opportunities for AAPG members to see the film this month, including through an AAPG virtual screening room. Watch your email and AAPG social media channels for details.

Addressing Energy Poverty

None of us sees clearly what the future holds for our planet as the pandemic spreads, nor for our industry as we work through the disruptions we’ve experienced in the past two months.

But as Tinker observed as a panelist at the International Petroleum Technology Conference in Dhahran in January, economic poverty and energy poverty are inextricably linked and affect about one-third of the world’s population. Certainly, there is a role for us in addressing this issue. Surely there are skills that geologists can bring to this challenge – whether it’s finding and developing energy resources or using our ability and skills to integrate varied and frequently conflicting information to solve problems.

I’m not sure what “what’s next?” looks like for you. But watching “Switch On” may spur some ideas to consider. It reminded me why I chose and continue to be involved in this industry: energy poverty is a big global problem, and I want to work to address problems like that.

As Tinker would put it, “Be proud of the industry you’re in! When people ask what you do, say ‘I work in the energy industry, and the work I do lifts people out of poverty. What do you do?’”

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