Some people balk at the idea that oil and gas has a role to play in a sustainable future, but the reality on the ground suggests otherwise.
“Supplying energy for the world is a monumental task. There continue to be improvements in renewable energy sources; however, reasonable forecasts of growth in renewables suggest fossil fuels will remain the primary source of the world’s energy for decades to come,” Nathan Meehan, president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, wrote in an article published by SPE in March 2016.
Even with the increasing adoption of renewable energy resources, Meehan notes that fossil fuels still play an important role in meeting today’s energy needs and using them prudently is the best way to make sure that our generation does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The drive toward renewables is evident in the US where last year nearly half of utility-scale capacity additions on the power grid came from renewable sources like solar and wind, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
But even with the recent gains, renewables only account for a minority of total US power production and their intermittent nature creates the need for energy storage or backup generation that can be brought online quickly – like natural gas fired power plants – to stabilize the grid. The bulk of heavy lifting in the US power generation sector is still done by natural gas (34%), coal (30%) and nuclear (20%), according to EIA data.
This data suggests that fossil fuels will still be needed for decades to come in the power generation sector, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. A myriad of other industries count on energy and products derived from oil and natural gas.
Considering this, SPE takes seriously the need to extract these resources sustainably.
Though many people may not realize it, there are many things that petroleum engineers can do to help ensure that oil and gas is part of a sustainable energy solution. Meehan says these areas include:
- Minimizing methane emissions
- Reducing or eliminating flaring
- Supporting energy efficiency and conservation
- Ensuring wellbore integrity
- Reducing the surface footprint of wells
- Eliminating spills
- Optimizing field development and management
SPE offers its members opportunities to train, share knowledge and advance practices to further these goals.
SPE’s efforts supplement work being done by a number of producers, several of which voluntarily release sustainability reports that highlight their unique measures – like Statoil, Shell, and Hess. To learn more about what petroleum engineers can do, visit SPE’s website or read Meehan’s full article on the subject here.