• Grid Brief
  • Posts
  • Guest Op-Ed: Oil and Gas Execs for Nuclear

Guest Op-Ed: Oil and Gas Execs for Nuclear

Guest Op-Ed: Oil and Gas Execs for Nuclear

Many of the world’s leaders and institutions have become detached from the reality of energy physics. They aim for immediate and total decarbonization of our energy systems using renewable energy alone. This is simply not feasible.

According to the International Energy Administration, in order to attain “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2040 using renewables, we would need to increase production of rare earth elements by 700%, nickel by 1900%, graphite by 2500%, cobalt by 3000% and lithium by 4200%. In order to provide the requisite amount of copper for wind and solar installations, electric vehicles, electronics, transmission lines and other energy transition related technologies for the so-called energy transition, in the next 27 years, humankind would have to produce twice as much copper as the entire world has produced during the past 11,000 years!  Even in the most optimistic predictions, this scale of mineral extraction is delusional. The all renewable energy narrative will not move the world towards better energy and environmental solutions. Meredith Angwin famously said about energy policy “the politicians are making choices and the engineers are not.”  

Whatever you think about oil and gas professionals, they are generally smart, innovative and highly knowledgeable about energy. Everyone that I know in the oil and gas industry appreciates the extraordinary value of an energy-dense fuel like nuclear for its capacity to provide safe, reliable, affordable, abundant, resilient and virtually carbon-free power. Most oil and gas professionals intuitively understand that we desperately need much more nuclear energy.

Recently, I attended the University of Colorado Medical School Commencement ceremony and Dean John Reilly, MD commented, Most of our elected officials have good intentions, but they don’t know a lot about health care and what the result of that is, are policies that are well intended but have unforeseen consequences. It is our responsibility to engage in dialogue with those people, educate them, advocate so that we create policies that make sense… 

What Dr. Reilly said about healthcare could be said about energy. Even though public leaders and policy makers are, by and large, honest and well-intentioned, most of them have little knowledge about complex and consequential energy systems. It is difficult for policy makers to craft sound energy policy without a comprehensive understanding of energy. Thus, in the words of Dr. Reilly, this essay is my effort to “engage in dialogue with people, educate them, and advocate” for energy policies that make sense.

Like what you’re reading? Click the button below to get Grid Brief in your inbox!

Energy is the lifeblood of all modern society. Yet most people don’t know how critical energy is to our everyday life and so most people don’t appreciate how harsh and onerous life would be without plentiful and affordable energy. Safe, reliable, abundant, and affordable energy is figuratively and literally the feedstock enabling virtually every industry. A healthy society depends on healthy industry and commerce.  In turn, healthy industry and commerce depend on reliable and affordable energy.  

Energy consumption strongly correlates to the level of prosperity and comfort a society enjoys.While countries that use copious amounts of energy are not guaranteed to be prosperous, countries with meager amounts of energy are universally poor. Energy is vital to lifting entire populations of people out of poverty.  Accordingly, we have a moral imperative to develop and use more energy, not less.

 Almost 40% of the world’s population lives in energy poverty and almost one billion people have no access to reliable electricity. For those of us who live in wealthy, energy abundant societies, it is naïve and unreasonable to expect those who don’t know where their next meal is coming from to worry about their carbon footprint. That’s not to say no one should care about the environment, but that the sooner we enable poor nations to cultivate energy abundance, the sooner that we can expect them to exhibit concern for environmental issues.

The convergence of energy and environment is the defining issue of our time.  Our grandchildren will judge us on our ability to dramatically increase the amount of energy used for the benefit of humankind while simultaneously protecting the earth. There is no “silver bullet” which will miraculously solve the world’s enormous and ever-growing energy needs.  

Heralded renewable power generation technologies undoubtedly have appropriate applications; however, renewable energy alone cannot power society at an industrial scale. Crude oil and natural gas will undoubtedly continue to play a keystone energy role for several decades. However, we often seem to overlook the vital importance of nuclear energy. If we want to simultaneously preserve our existing standard of living, reduce carbon emissions and lift billions of people out of poverty, we will need to employ much more nuclear energy worldwide. I say this as an energy professional with more than 45 years of experience in oil and gas exploration and development.  

The millions of oil and gas professionals around the world who have spent their careers developing and producing crude oil and natural gas can readily distinguish superior forms of energy and are frustrated by energy policies which are based primarily on dreams and ideology and not based on science and real-world practicality. I do not personally know all 4 million oil and gas professionals in the United States; nevertheless, everyone that I do know in the industry supports nuclear energy. In fact, a  few weeks ago, while making a presentation at an oil and gas conference with approximately 200 attendees, I asked the audience to raise their hand if they opposed nuclear energy. Unsurprisingly, not one person raised their hand to express opposition to nuclear energy.

Although oil and gas executives do not directly benefit from supporting or endorsing nuclear energy, my experience has confirmed that that most oil and gas executives support the expanded role of nuclear energy because of nuclear energy’s obvious benefits and practicalities. Having oil and gas executives openly support nuclear energy sends a powerful message to political leaders, policy makers and the general public about the need for more thoughtful energy policies. Accordingly, Oil & Gas Executives for Nuclear has drafted a Declaration of Oil and Gas Executives in Support of Nuclear Energy.  We hope that this gesture of support will signal the need for more thoughtful and pragmatic energy policy and serve as a catalyst for more nuclear energy.  So far, over one hundred current and retired oil and gas executives have signed the Declaration of Oil & Gas Executives in Support of Nuclear Energy.

We all understand that an energy transition is underway. In fact, an energy transition has always been underway (dung to firewood to windmills to coal to petroleum, etc.) and for that matter, an energy transition will always be underway in the future (wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear fission, fusion, etc.)  The question is not whether or not we will have an energy transition, the questions are: What will the energy transition look like? Will the energy transition be sustainable? Will the energy transition be affordable? How fast will the energy transition occur? And Will the energy transition be just? 

Energy transitions in the past have always occurred organically, as one energy source is gradually replaced by a better energy source. However, for the first time in history, we are attempting a global energy transition based primarily on ideology and political policy. So, we need to be sure that the policy is thoughtful otherwise we risk transitioning to something worse and not better. Even an energy transition must be sustainable. And a just transition is only possible with a much greater use of nuclear energy.

Doug Sandridge has been involved in oil and gas development for over 40 years and understands the importance of energy for human flourishing. Doug has learned to appreciate the extraordinary value of an energy-dense fuel like nuclear for its capacity to provide safe, reliable, affordable, abundant, resilient and virtually carbon-free power. Although Doug is still actively involved in oil and gas development, he has become an active advocate for nuclear energy.