Column: The Evolving Role of the Geoscientist for a Sustainable Future

Geoscientist Emer Caslin had watched the topics of sustainability and the climate crisis creep in to her work life over the years. Recently, driven by a life-long passion, she took a step back from her career to focus on sustainability, particularly in the oil and gas industry. In this column, which was first presented by Schlumberger, she shares what she learned.

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Credit: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images.

For as far back as I can remember, I have been passionate about social and environmental sustainability and the possibilities to advance this agenda within our sector. Three small children, an offshore husband, and a full-time job didn’t lend me much time on the side, so I took the decision 18 months ago to step back from my 16-year career as a reservoir geoscientist to upskill in this area. I investigated what the industry is doing and what’s happening outside to get a more holistic picture to inform how we can accelerate our efforts to address today’s urgent sustainability challenges and how I might pivot to devote my skills and experience in this new direction.

I immersed myself in all things related to energy, climate action, and sustainability more broadly, growing my network both within and outside the petroleum sector, attending live and virtual conferences, and becoming an active volunteer with the industry’s professional societies—curating panel sessions and conference programming. This gave me the opportunity to broaden and deepen not just my technical but also my social and political knowledge on these topics, gaining perspectives from across the energy debate spectrum—climate scientists, politicians, and activists from both outside and within the industry.

Sustainable Geoscience

Prepandemic, I attended three geoscience conferences in just one quarter in my home country of Ireland. It was a sign of the times that each of them had the climate crisis core to their programming—highlighting the urgency and showcasing the actions geoscientists in various sectors are taking to address and mitigate the effects of climate change. In parallel, I became aware of the concern around the sharp decline of students enrolling for geoscience courses in universities across the globe. Justifiably or not, there is a clear narrative that the oil and gas industry is responsible for the negative perception of the discipline. Substantial efforts are being made to reboot the subject to demonstrate the important role geoscientists play in society to ensure the security of its future. Unfortunately, from what I observed, petroleum geoscience tends to be left out of the discourse.

This prompted me to coauthor a paper with board members of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, mapping the discipline of geophysics to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are 17 goals established by the United Nations Development Programme in 2015 aimed at addressing the most urgent social, economic, and environmental challenges our world faces. The UN SDGs represent the world’s shared framework on sustainability; they are the blueprint and the best guideline available to advance sustainable development and achieve the goals by 2030.

This Geophysical Sustainability Atlas investigates how broadly geophysics can be applied to address all 17 of the UN SDGs, from Disaster Risk Response from climate and geohazards, water resource management, near surface techniques in the construction of sustainable and resilient cities, the provision of all energy forms and decarbonization techniques through to more communicative roles in social governance, climate action, advocacy, and policy influence. The goals are interconnected, so augmented collaboration between geoscientists going forward is key to their success. The hope is that the atlas will inspire current geoscientists and communicate to prospective students and, indeed, society at large the contribution our unique discipline makes and the potential it has to advance sustainable development in multiple sectors.

Read the full column here.