The oil and gas industry is recovering along with the health situation and the world’s economy following one of the largest downturns in its 160-year history caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What comes ahead brings its own challenges. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group 1 contribution to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, published in August, highlighted the “widespread and rapid acceleration of climate change,” with the 1.5°C threshold reached as early as the end of this decade. The dramatic weather events around the globe this summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) with historical temperature records on the North American Pacific Coast and in the central and eastern Mediterranean regions, and huge fires impacting those regions and others such as Siberia, were a reminder that the transformation is occurring now.

In this context, the energy mix that the world uses today needs to evolve to a more rational use through energy efficiency and with a lower carbon content, starting from the use of coal. The oil and gas industry has been pioneering the development of technologies such as carbon capture and underground storage and blue hydrogen. International oil companies and national oil companies rank amongst the largest technology investors in renewables and energy storage. Renewables also have a strong potential in applications such as steam injection. Collaboration among the industry and with other peripheral sectors will be an essential ingredient to accelerate the transformation of the energy sector.

I personally started in the oil and gas industry more than 4 decades ago in research and development (R&D) with a large oilfield service company, where I led a team of scientists investigating hydraulic fracturing. One of the projects was related to acid fracturing, which required the injection of a viscous non-Newtonian pad to fracture the formation and keep the fracture open, followed by acid which had a much lower viscosity. The two-fluid displacement inside the fracture led to an instability called viscous fingering. In order to understand the phenomenon, we put together a very diverse team, comprising a mathematician, an astrophysicist, a physicochemist, and a geologist. The team was unable to initially work well together and collaborate. The breakthrough came when a high-level scientist from Boston University, a specialist in critical phenomena, was added as a catalyst to the team. Within a few months, the team managed to develop and validate a model for viscous fingering using diffusion-limited aggregation and fractal theory, and its work was published in Nature and the American Physical Society’s Physical Reviews Journals.

The team then developed a new set of models for wormholes created by the injection of acid through matrix acidizing and fracture acidizing which were used to create the required chemistry to ensure effectiveness of the treatments. I remain convinced that if we had not included the diversity of the skills and used a catalyst for collaboration, we would not have cracked the research code so rapidly.

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.