(In flight: The first draft of this column was written on the airline’s paper napkins while flying over the North Atlantic.)
I recently returned from two glorious weeks in the Dolomite Mountains (three-day field trip), followed by the AAPG ICE meeting in Milano, then 1.5 days in The Hague, where I had the singular pleasure of interviewing Ken Glennie and Koenraad “Koen” Weber (the 2005 and 2012 AAPG Sidney Powers’ Medalists, respectively) for the 100th Anniversary Geo-Legends program. The learnings from this trip and previous AAPG travel are simply overwhelming; but time on the airplane means time to think, time to extract and collate meaning from all these events. In the last few months, I have had the extraordinary opportunity to visit 12 countries and interact with many geologists and students. A few musings regarding the future ...
As an undergraduate, I had a distinguished history professor whose specialty was economic history; I can distinctly remember him stating that one can only truly understand economics once one has lived through a few economic cycles, preferably in different countries. My recent travels have underscored this observation; specifically, the integral role that petroleum and other extraction industries play in the countries’ economies.
Two countries on my itinerary illustrate this point. First is Colombia, which I first visited in 1994, and at least once a year since 2006. The rapid evolution in Colombia’s petroleum industry and its impact on the country’s economy is most impressive. Second is Australia, where I taught in 2001, 2004, and 2011. This last visit impressed me with how much stronger Australia’s economy is, and how this country managed to avoid the brunt of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis in large part due to the relative strength and growth of the Asia-Pacific economies and their demand for resources. For both Colombia and Australia, the extractive industries play a key role for their present and future economies.
Several articles recently published in the mainstream media are beginning to recognize how the global resource base is being altered with unconventional and conventional discoveries and their many economic, political, and diplomatic implications. North American industry has a long way to go in its efforts to share our learnings on unconventional resources and their impact with the world. AAPG will play an important role in this education process.
Globally, I am curious to see how different countries will pursue the development of conventional and unconventional plays. Clearly, the geologic conditions necessary for economic development of unconventional resources are not the same or do not exist in all sedimentary basins.
Some countries are not likely to develop their unconventional resources for decades due to ongoing large investments required for the development of their conventional resource base, such as Brazil. Yet other countries clearly are approaching their unconventional resources with greater immediacy, e.g. Colombia and Argentina.
In addition, there have been substantial offshore discoveries in many sedimentary basins globally that lack the long-term infrastructure for development, e.g. Mozambique, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Morocco, Israel, and French Guiana. How long will it take for these discoveries to be developed? What will be the impact on their countries? How will these discoveries change global politics and diplomacy? As the unconventional resource plays are developed, what will be their impact on global prices and markets?
After arriving in Sydney in August, I read a national newspaper on the flight to Adelaide. The articles and editorials regarding the pros and cons of drilling and hydraulic fracturing were remarkably similar to those published in the United States and Canada – only the names of individuals needed to be changed. This shows that all countries are debating the many challenges of energy policy, the proper mix in terms of energy choices, and appropriate environmental policies. CO2 sequestration – the myths and the facts – is also an important part of the discussion.
Where are we headed? Those places (states, provinces, and some countries) that already have an industry development infrastructure appear to have less ongoing confrontation. The battlegrounds appear to be in those states/provinces/countries that have not had a significant petroleum base before the unconventional resource opportunities came along. To ensure future success, we must educate regulators that unconventional resources have different development needs than conventional resources.
The global debate regarding hydraulic fracturing and CO2 sequestration is rapidly moving beyond fact-based discussion and entering the stage of non-science-based, non-reasoned policy. I am reminded of Mark Twain’s observation: “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” AAPG needs to assemble a good response with strong scientific background with the facts from the locations in the United States and Canada where the hydraulic fracturing has happened. We are moving quickly to assemble such information.
Having now visited several countries, I better understand that one of the fundamental challenges for AAPG’s future success is the fact that companies, in general, simply are not engaged with university geoscience departments. This is a key impediment to the retention of student members, and to the very future of our industry. A future column will discuss this situation.
Finally, I was once again reminded of the significant impact that individuals can make to the broad cross section of society. The Dolomites field trip, which I was so fortunate to attend, was co-led by AAPG member Piero Gianolla, professor at the University of Ferrara. Piero has spent a substantial portion of his career studying the spectacular geology exposed in the Triassic strata of the Dolomite Mountains in northeastern Italy. From 2005 to 2009, Piero spent significant time working with the local administrations to establish the Dolomite Mountains as UNESCO World Heritage Site for their geological and landscape values.
Future generations will benefit from this extraordinary contribution. Piero’s story will appear in an issue of the AAPG EXPLORER in early 2012.
Grazie Piero per il tuo entusiasmo e per un incredibile lavoro. BRAVO!!!
The jet engines hum ... and the beat goes on ...
Paul Weimer, AAPG President (2011-12), is a geology professor at
the University of Colorado, Boulder.