During the last great downturn in the oil and gas industry, I heard several glib comments along the lines of “the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. … And now it’s the end for the oil industry.” At the time, I dismissed it as typical of our age, another short burst of one-line philosophy, just some attention-seeking doomsday prophecy that pops up far too frequently on our phones.
So here we are in 2022, post COVID-19 (I hope), refreshed in thirst for oil, with commodity prices soaring, oil-producing company executives rubbing their hands with glee, and motorists complaining at the pump. All seems back to normal. But not so fast.
The previous whisperings of the environmentalist movement have turned up in volume; change is now being shouted from street corners around the globe. While the oil and gas industry may be basking in the warmth of a new renaissance, there is a major shift toward carbon-free energy generation. Coastlines are being peppered with towering wind turbines, and the countryside is now farming more and more solar panels.
Carbon capture and hydrogen generation are no longer science fiction fantasies and are now attracting interest, innovation, and investment. Does this all mean the glib comment about the “Stone Age” is about to come true? No. Not yet, anyway. At the turn end of the 19th century, coal was the major energy provider, but by the end of the 20th century, despite there being known huge reserves underground, coal mining had significantly declined in Europe and the Americas. Likewise with oil, at the start of the 21st century, oil and gas was the No. 1 energy provider, and the general consensus was that we would run out by mid-century. However, here we are, well into the third millennium, and oil and gas is still abundant, Saudi Arabia still sits on massive reserves as do some of its neighbors, and ExxonMobil appears to find a massive new oil field every time it drills a well off the Guyanese coast.
Today, oil and gas are still important energy providers. They will remain with us throughout this century, but, like the coal industry, they will decline, not because we will run out, but because mankind will learn to harvest cleaner energy more favorable to the wellbeing of us all. In the meantime, I do hope that we are not so quick to rid ourselves of the impressive industrial engineering that is the legacy of a hundred years of oil and gas production.
We find ourselves with a huge quantity of “idle iron” processing plants, refineries, offshore platforms, and a massive network of pipelines—idle, but not useless. Before the bulldozers and gas axes are released, there must be a drive for reuse of much of this infrastructure. It is comforting to see so much innovative thinking appearing in the Journal of Petroleum Technology advocating renewable energy and repurposing of aging oil and gas structures.
It is worth noting that Stonehenge, built in Southern England more than 5,000 years ago, still functions as a remarkably accurate celestial calendar.
I hope that you enjoy this month’s selection of technical papers.
Recommended additional reading at OnePetro: www.onepetro.org.
OTC 31494 - A Literature Review on Site Suitability and Structural Hydrodynamic Viability for Artificial‑Reef Purposes by Anas Khaled Alsheikh, UTP, et al.
OTC 31986 - Alternatives to Conventional Offshore Fixed Wind Installation by Roy Robinson, Excipio Energy, et al.
OTC 31655 - A Technical Limits Weight‑Control Tool for Integrity Management of Aging Offshore Structures by Sok Mooi Ng, Petronas, et al.