Comments from an Environmentalist Oil Industry Geologist

A very interesting interview with someone who works as an exploration geophysicist for the oil and gas industry who considers himself to be an environmentalist—or rather, a “realistic environmentalist”—recently appeared on the Adventure Journal blog. The interviewee, who asked to remain anonymous, responded this way when asked if other environmentalists give him a hard time about his choice of career:

My response to people actually came from a good friend of mine. It’s usually a variation of “Wouldn’t you rather have someone who gives a shit about the environment working for an oil company than someone who didn’t?” It usually makes the conversation much more civil.

Whenever anyone takes umbrage with my profession, I tend to ask them how much they know about global energy supply. People with strong opinions are often very unaware about the scale of the world’s dependence on carbon-based fuels (oil, gas, coal). I support sustainable energy subsidies and research because I know that even if we saw a massive shift in energy policy we would not be able to wean ourselves off of carbon-based fuel in our lifetimes, in any realistic scenario. The sooner we start, the better, but once you start digging into the numbers and size of how much energy we use it gets a lot scarier, that’s ignoring the fact that most people don’t want to do the hard science involved to find or improve an alternative energy. It’s a much bigger discussion, but here is some food for thought:

There is a large movement now for local farming and “knowing your farmer.” Well, let’s flip that a little. Do you know your energy supply? When you flip on a light that is coming from a power line, what powers your local supply? Is it coal, natural gas, or nuclear? Take that a bit further: where did that coal, natural gas, or uranium come from? How much of that fuel does your one local power plant go through in a day? Also, where does your gasoline come from? Which refinery? Where was the crude oil produced? How many barrels of oil does that refinery go through in a year? I will guarantee that almost no one knows the answer to those questions. I had a hell of a time tracking down mine, and I am a lot more informed than most people. That exercise should give you an idea of the scale of energy demand in your community that you can relate to. Then go read the International Energy Agency report on global use and buckle up. It’s a real eye-opener. Especially when you consider the rise of developing countries and their expected future energy demands (i.e. China and India).

At this point most people get bored and leave me alone. I sometimes think that my job makes me a human lightning rod for people’s opinions. A face to an industry that is usually not that visible, which sort of sucks.*

He rides his bike to work every day. The interviewer asked about the bike, and about his habit of riding to work, which elicited this great response:

I bought an old fixed gear KHS from a bike courier. Where I live is pretty flat, and I ride a lot in traffic that contains a lot of large trucks, fixed gear gives me a lot of speed control, which I like. I love riding into work – it gives you a lot of perspective.

Like seeing all of those lifted pick-ups with truck nuts on them. If you don’t know what they are I suggest you do an internet search for them. It’s god’s gift to hyperbole.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was one day when I was riding behind an old VW with an Earth First bumper sticker on it. No catalytic converter, burning shit-tons of oil, and leaking antifreeze. Earth First indeed, sir.*

A fascinating interview and well worth your time to read it all. MDN doesn’t agree with everything our environmentalist geophysicist says, but hey, what two people agree 100 percent on anything? He’s bright, he’s honest and if more environmentalists adopted his perspective they would be taken more seriously.

A hat tip and big “thank you” to MDN reader Corey McCudden for alerting MDN to the interview/article.

*Adventure Journal (Apr 11, 2012) – A Conversation With an Environmentalist Oil Industry Worker

  • Anonymous

    I like the term “realistic environmentalist” Most of my work is with the hydrocarbon industries, oil and gas and coal and I consider myself a “realistic environmentalist” His comments that “most people don’t want to do the work” is accurate. If people spent half as much time educating themselves on the issue as they spend protesting we would all be better off. I once saw a protestor protesting a nickel mine then bragged that she drove a Prius.
    While alternatives are great and I support wind, solar, hydro and cellulosic ethanol, the combined effect on hydrocarbons is miniscule and will not change our dependence (or the world’s) on hydrocarbons in our lifetime.

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