ATCE: SPE President Highlights the Critical Role of Petroleum Engineering in Energy Transition
Kamel Ben-Naceur sees petroleum engineering as essential to the energy transition not only because of the continued role that oil and gas will play in the energy mix moving forward but also because the skills of the profession are foundational and transferable.
The incoming SPE President Kamel Ben-Naceur is optimistic, not only for the Society but also for the future of the industry that its membership serves.
In addressing the President’s Luncheon and Annual Meeting of Members at the close of the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) in Dubai last week, Ben-Naceur noted that “petroleum engineering has always been an unusual mix of topics and that mix will continue to change to meet current and future energy needs.
“This is what SPE is about—adapting to the way the energy world is going, while playing to its strengths in the petroleum industry we are serving today,” he told the audience after outgoing president for 2021 Tom Blasingame passed the gavel to his successor at the luncheon.
As energy demand rises over the next 20 to 30 years, oil and gas will still account for some 50% of the energy mix, only a slight drop from its 56% contribution today, Ben-Naceur noted, while adding that “even in the case of extreme decarbonization—if we talk about net-zero emissions and so on—we will still need technologies that are very close to what we do today.
“Certainly the oil and gas industry as highlighted by Tom [in his earlier remarks] is going to be part of the solution going forward. The world just simply needs energy, and we can provide it,” Ben-Naceur said.
Technologies associated with the energy transition such as carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen power are nothing new to petroleum engineers, he said. And subsurface skills and knowledge used to produce oil and gas will be in demand; geothermal energy is just one example, he explained.
“We have been championing these and other technologies that are critical for the future,” Ben-Naceur said. “Our society and our curriculum, whether subsurface disciplines or surface disciplines, project management and risk management, and HSE as well will be in demand.
“The challenge will be in adapting our understanding of these traditional disciplines to new realities as they interact with new technologies.
“Energy in the future will be different: CSS (carbon storage and sequestration), renewables, energy efficiency is key, hydrogen whether it is green or blue, power cogeneration, electricity and grid management, CSR (corporate social responsibility) and ESG (environmental, social, governance), artificial intelligence—all of these skills have to be mastered, and in SPE we have a strong position in this,” Ben Naceur said.
As for the pandemic, he added, “I think this has been quite an important event in our lives, in our society, so we need to see how we can emerge stronger from this pandemic. And SPE has done a fantastic job in adapting.
“There is some guarded optimism that finally the worst is behind us, but we are not out of the woods yet because we still do not have vaccination in many places of the world and there are new variants.”
Still, after a 30% downturn in 2020 in activity from upstream to downstream, there is of late a noticeable 10 to 12% uptick that “certainly will be very welcome news for our members … and hopefully there will be a recovery in terms of jobs and activity.”
SPE’s development of virtual and hybrid events has been a success, he said, but must be followed by the development of “a sustainable business model so that financially we remain strong,” he said.
Commenting on the possible merger between SPE and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) now under discussion, Ben-Naceur said developing a better business model for events is what kicked off the discussion.
“We have as a society been collaborating with the AAPG now for several decades,” he said. “These points of cooperation have included major world gatherings such as the Offshore Technology Conference, the International Petroleum Technology Conference, as well as other events.
“Under the leadership of Tom [Blasingame] and Rick Fritz of the AAPG, a discussion started as to what we could do together in this new energy environment. And this is where, among other options, came the idea of merging together,” Ben-Naceur said.
“The idea is to create a new society, but still I like the words that our colleagues from the Nigerian section used [in a video about their activities]:‘Our DNA is SPE’. This is what the new society should reflect.”
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