Handling the pace of change technologies have wrought on the energy sector is a major challenge for the industry, but one of the industry’s leading technology and engineering experts has an unexpected solution: Stop worrying about the wrong things.
Dr. Nansen Saleri oversaw one of the greatest engineering and operational feats of the last century as head of Reservoir Management at Saudi Aramco, where he built on decades of experience to bring the company’s extraction standards to more than twice the industry norm and set the stage for an energy present that is far more stable than it might have been without those advances. Having garnered the industry’s attention and respect for his work in Saudi Arabia, Saleri helped found and became CEO of Houston-based Quantum Reservoir Impact, a fast-growing consultancy helping oil companies access more of their subsurface resources with new technologies.
In a recent interview with Breaking Energy, Saleri emphasized how little is known about the impact of current technology developments.
“First understand the magnitude of the resource, then look for solutions to access it,” he prescribes.
At the forefront of helping industry leaders grapple with the scale of new resources like shale gas, Saleri has an unusual take on the problems facing the US energy sector which he says should, by tradition, be leading the world.
“The US doesn’t have an energy problem, it has an energy management problem,” Saleri says. “The landscape is on the verge of changing favorably for the US and for the world in energy.”
The changes reflect new technologies and they are reshaping exploitation of unconventional resources like shale plays, Saleri says.
Saleri acknowledged the uncertainties about estimates released by firms extolling massive US natural gas and oil plays, but says that the final amount produced is less important from today’s perspective given the scale of the resource.
“There is no question that the US and North America [are] blessed with huge unconventional gas and oil resources, the only issues are price, competency and risk management,” Saleri says. Even concerns around fracking technology are not necessarily as important as other issues, he says, pointing out those concerns make the false assumption that technology in the future will remain unchanged.
“The fracking debate is short-sighted,” Saleri says.
The future of shale will involve technologies beyond fracking. The focus should be on safety and efficiency.
The energy industry’s transition “won’t happen overnight,” Saleri points out, but warns that it might happen more slowly or expensively if US policy does not change to become “coherent, intelligent and focused.”
Energy independence for the US will build off of free-market practices and innovation facilitated by industry and government-supported research rather than direct energy subsidies from the government, Saleri says, echoing comments by industry players who accuse recent administrations of picking winners and losers in commercializing new energy technology.
“Technology is outpacing the limitations of bureaucracies,” says Saleri, allowing “flawed thinking coupled with political romanticism” to keep the US energy sector from fulfilling its potential for energy independence.
The costs of a flawed US energy policy are huge and reach far beyond the immediate headline price of oil or other energy commodities, Saleri says. The current US energy deficit is a huge burden on the US economy, most drastically because of resulting balance-of-trade impacts on the US dollar.
“Bottlenecks in energy are often human made,” Saleri says, but that also means they have human solutions.