December 2023
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The Houston Echo Chamber

The oil and gas industry orthodoxy repeats the same arguments; these have become what Dr. Nathan Meehan calls the Houston Echo Chamber. This is a set of commonly held beliefs and opinions among oil and gas professionals that are often based on outdated information or wishful thinking.
Dr. D. Nathan Meehan, PH. D, P.E. / CMG Petroleum Consulting

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have realized that climate change, energy transition, carbon capture, greenhouse gases, and related items are the energy topics of the decade. From panel discussions at every conference to questionably sourced articles on LinkedIn, everyone has an opinion.  

The oil and gas industry orthodoxy repeats the same arguments; these have become what I call the Houston Echo Chamber. This is a set of commonly held beliefs and opinions among oil and gas professionals that are often based on outdated information or wishful thinking. I will illustrate these beliefs in the following paragraph. They are not all wrong; they all have some truth. However, many oil and gas professionals use these thoughts and opinions to avoid dealing with hard truths. 

**ECHO CHAMBER ON** We believe in technology and our ability to improve efficiency; these will help us overcome any negative impacts of climate change. Energy poverty is a real problem, and access to electricity from fossil fuels raises the quality of living for poor people throughout the world (asserted by people who may do little, if anything, to help such people). Everything runs on oil, and it has led us into the greatest era of prosperity in human history. Models are all wrong, so models of CO2 and climate are wrong. Renewables are too expensive. Electric cars aren’t reliable, and they burst into flames.  

We’ve never transitioned away from any energy source (hmm, who is using whale oil?) Only oil and gas people have the expertise to implement carbon capture and storage. What about the other pollution aspects of renewables and all those wind turbines bursting into flames and landfills full of wind turbine blades I saw on Facebook. What about all those children mining the metals we need for renewables and must import. We solved sulfur dioxide emissions and water pollution; we can solve this.  

Fig. 1. Annual growth in average sea level. Chart: U.S. NOAA.

The U.S. and Europe are doing everything, and countries like India and China are where the emissions problems reside. Lesser Developed Countries generate increasing amounts of emissions and aren’t going to slow down. No sea level rise that I can see, so it must all be a sham, Fig. 1. Weather hasn’t really gotten worse, or it is part of a long-term trend or just El Nino. It’s all a big money scam to make Al Gore and his buddies rich. Movie stars are flying on their private jets to climate change conferences, to tell us to use less oil. 

CO2 is good for plants (true at some level but said by people who do not appear to understand nitrogen’s role and leave out the impact on nutritional deficiencies—when farmers want more crops, they add nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium--- atmospheric CO2 is not the primary factor limiting plant growth). Look at all the fraud in the voluntary carbon trading market and past European failures in that world. We just can’t afford it. 

**ECHO CHAMBER OFF** Once upon a time, I was skeptical about the negative impacts of anthropogenic greenhouse emissions on the climate and human life. This was until I spent a lot of time with actual climate scientists. There are some legitimate arguments about how fast and how much these impacts will be, but not whether they will happen. By analogy, different reservoir simulation models of a waterflood may have different water breakthrough times and varying water cuts over time, but they all predict ever-increasing water cuts eventually.  

The worst impacts of climate change are still many years into the future and will impact poorer and low-lying countries earlier and more severely. Even in the United States today, we are seeing impacts of high temperatures (especially high summer nighttime temperatures) in urban areas with a lot of concrete and few trees. The difference in temperatures is already significant, compared to wooded suburban areas.  

Of course, we will continue to use oil and gas for decades to come. However, we are going to have to radically reduce total GHGs, increase low-carbon electrification, improve efficiencies and reduce atmospheric carbon. My research at Texas &AM focuses on ways to lower emissions and store captured CO2 in the subsurface. Historically, enhanced oil recovery using CO2 has proven to increase recoveries significantly. We used to operate these CO2 floods in a way to try and recover most of the injected volumes, so we would not have to buy more.  

Fig. 2. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an important part of lowering the carbon intensity of the industry’s operations. Image: Chevron.

Keeping CO2 in reservoirs. Today, we are looking at ways to leave as much CO2 in the reservoirs as we can!  Saline aquifers and depleted oil and gas fields are other potential subsurface formations that could store large quantities of CO2, Fig. 2. Saline aquifers are present in many areas without oil and gas fields and many of them are porous and laterally continuous. Unfortunately, we often have less information for the characterization of these formations, since we try to avoid areas that don’t have hydrocarbons.   

They are full of water, meaning that we will need to inject at high pressures but below the frac gradient.  The potential for nontrivial seismicity in such formations exists, given the massive amounts of dense phase CO2 that we will need to inject. Softer formations, such as those on the Gulf Coast, may prove advantageous in this regard. There are also potential losses of injectant outside the formation through heterogeneities or faults. Saline aquifers are the most promising formations for large-scale CO2 storage but are also the most challenging to develop and operate. Most newly proposed projects use saline aquifers. 

Depleted oil and gas fields at depth can be described in a broadly generalized manner as being good or bad. Good reservoirs are laterally continuous, porous and permeable. My personal favorite. Most such oil fields will have either a water drive or be waterflooded, and so they will also have relatively high initial pressures. They will be well-characterized but now have many other potential leak paths through the many wellbores used to develop the field. Poor reservoirs may well be pressure-depleted but are tight and discontinuous. In addition to the wellbore leakage problem, we are likely to avoid such fields. Of course, there are as many variations as there are oil fields.  

Regardless, even if we do everything else to decrease GHG emissions, we will need about one hundred times more CO2 storage as we are doing today, to achieve climate targets. Many technology barriers exist, but they are small, compared to other challenges. We will need many new pipelines to transport CO2, and these projects face increasing opposition, not just from the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) but from the BANANAs (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody). We have many things we can do to lower emissions, and ultimately these are likely to be regulatory requirements. Let’s work together to make oil and gas part of the solution by dramatically lowering our impact.  

About the Authors
Dr. D. Nathan Meehan, PH. D, P.E.
CMG Petroleum Consulting
Dr. D. Nathan Meehan, PH. D, P.E. is a Professor in the Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University, conducting research in carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS); blue hydrogen; quantifying and decreasing emissions from oil and gas operations, and monitoring and reporting; verification of GHG emissions; and enhanced recovery in unconventional wells, using CO2. He is a senior technology advisor for Ignis H2, a geothermal energy start-up. He was formerly President of CMG Petroleum Consulting, an energy advisory firm founded in 2001; President of Gaffney, Cline & Associates; and a senior executive at Baker Hughes. Dr. Meehan also served as the 2016 President of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Previously, he was Vice President of Engineering for Occidental Oil & Gas and General Manager, Exploration & Production Services, for Union Pacific Resources. He is a Member of the National Academy of Engineering. Dr. Meehan holds a BSc degree in physics from the Georgia Institute of Technology, an MSc degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Oklahoma, and a Ph.D. in petroleum engineering from Stanford University. With more than 45 years of industry experience, he has served on boards of directors of various firms. Among recognition he has received, Dr. Meehan is a multiple winner of SPE awards and has been named an SPE Honorary Member, the society’s highest honor. He is a recipient of the World Oil Lifetime Achievement Award and Petroleum Economist’s Legacy Award. He also has been named 2023 Distinguished Alumni of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Earth and Energy. Dr. Meehan also serves, or has served, on several university advisory boards. He is a widely published author and a licensed professional engineer in four states.
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