If you were to ask someone what the greatest challenge facing the oil industry today is, you’d hear a variety of possible responses: “pollution” “alternative energy” “resource depletion” “geopolitical conflict” and plenty more. However, none of these are true. It might be surprising (or perhaps it’s not), but public perception is the greatest threat faced by the petroleum sector in today’s day and age. After spending the past two summers interning in the industry and recently accepting a full-time position in it, every executive I’ve spoken with has echoed the same sentiment.
Like almost everyone, I actively support the exploration and adoption of cleaner energy resources. At this point in time, society cannot function with traditional hydrocarbons. Gasoline is obviously the most in-demand petroleum product but is closely followed by jet fuel, lubricants, plastics, asphalt, heating oils, chemical feedstocks, and more. The oil and gas industry is the basis for society as we know it. Even with the push for alternative automobile fuel sources, there will be a definite need for oil over the next 100 years. Coal is (thankfully) on its way out, but oil still reigns supreme.
Thankfully, huge efforts are being made to make hydrocarbon production cleaner, safer, and more efficient. Regulations are constantly being updated to prevent environmental hazards. Advanced technologies are being researched and implemented across the globe- one drilling rig now might replace six existing ones due to mobility and automation. Still derived from hydrocarbons, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and compressed natural gas (CNG) are catching on as cleaner and cheaper fuel sources. We can’t fully make the jump to alternative energy sources but we can certainly improve our usage of existing ones.
Despite these massive achievements, the industry has managed to gain a reputation as evil and corrupt” The media loves to jump on every new oil spill, declaration of corruption, and suspicious new technology. Living in a state like Arizona with no direct ties to the oil business, most people’s knowledge of the industry has come from sensationalized media headlines. People hear the word “fracking” and are quick to picture the infamous video of flaming tap water coming out of a bathroom sink, despite it being debunked as fraudulent by universities, government agencies, and any other authorities on the subject. Spillage is unfortunate but it’s inevitable when approximately 100 billion barrels have been produced, refined, and shipped throughout human history. But if someone doesn’t have to mentally follow the route from the reservoir to the drilling rig, from the refinery to the gas station, and finally into his or her automobile, it’s easy to deny responsibility and point fingers when an accident occurs.
This is where the core values of IMT must come into play. Global perception of the oil industry has been skewed by individuals unwilling to make independent observations and think critically. They have allowed their opinions to be devalued by a likely-biased media and even more so: technological innovations that allow them to physically distance themselves from the reality of the energy industry. If you choose to decry the oil industry, so be it. However, you will look like a fool if you can’t make the connections from the “evil” drilling rigs to the products you depend on in your day-to-day life.