Last updated December 9, 2019 at 4:08 pm
A range of scientists from marine biologists to environmental scientists work in oil and gas. Here’s why.
Why This Matters: By working from the inside, they can make a meaningful contribution to the industry.
This article is sponsored by Bright-r.
The field of environmental science and the oil and gas industry might seem like two very different worlds with competing interests.
And yet in recent years, we have seen many of the world’s largest oil and gas companies invest heavily in improving environmental practices, investigating renewables technology, and in reducing their emissions footprint.
This shift means there are many avenues for scientists to work alongside, and even work within the oil and gas industry, working to solve the problems from the inside.
The issues around the oil and gas industry can impact on various communities, from local residents, to Indigenous landowners, to the scientific community themselves.
Scientists have the unique ability to determine the viability of a project, as well as developing new technologies and implementing efficiencies into projects. This could have potentially big impacts, from reducing carbon footprints to ensuring the protection of native wildlife, to reducing the potential of oil spills, to determine the next mining or drilling site, and more.
Environmentalist Kris Waddington, the Chief Operating Officer at Buru Energy, oversees some of the environmental science research projects, including native Australian animals.
“The oil and gas industry often operates in ‘frontier’ areas where less is known about the local environment. As such, they are often at the forefront of data collection and scientific investigations in these areas,” says Kris.
In one example, environmentalists were able to carry out a large project studying bilbies across the West Kimberley region of Western Australia. This project was also able to maximise Aboriginal employment and participation in oil and gas projects in the region over the last five years. This knowledge helped to balance environmental, social, cultural and technical outcomes.
As an environmentalist, Kris believes being involved in this process is important.
“Whether we like it or not, land use decisions are made based on a number of factors of which the environment is but one.
“Being engaged in the decision-making process early on is hugely important for getting good environmental outcomes.”
“Environmental factors will continue to determine the outcomes of the resources industry in the future,” says Kris.
In his role, Kris has a strong environmental conscience and won’t do something if it’s not environmentally sound, even handing back some past permits.
“These roles [for environmentalists] are going to be just as important, if not more important – having people in there to make sound decisions.”
The marine biologist – being green is part of the solution
For Tegan Box, a marine biologist at Woodside Energy, the opportunity to work on a variety of projects, including work with turtles, environmental monitoring work for corals and water quality, has been one of the benefits of working in the oil industry.
When she started her career, she didn’t really ever expect to be in the resources sector.
“Like most marine biologists I had this idea that I’d be working for dolphins and turtles out in the field.”
Using her skills, she manages environmental consultants brought onto projects. She helps them understand what their environmental commitments are, and get the workforce engaged about the environment. She’s passionate about “getting them to understand why issues are relevant to them.”
She’s encouraging others within the organisation to become really good advocates for the environment.
“I think it’s really exciting times for us in the industry, there’s so much research coming out. Positions on things like climate change and the drive in organisations, including our own, around reducing emissions. Even just the research around animals and migratory pathways.”
“You feel empowered to run with things. You are part of the solution,” says Tegan. “The two go together quite well.”
The CSIRO scientist
The oil and gas industry is increasingly collaborating with independent organisations such as the CSIRO.
GISERA – which is the CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance – is an example of how working with industry has evolved.
Even though some of the funding comes from gas industry companies, their aim is both to provide and protect research independence. Often the projects undertaken reflect the interests and concerns of the community that could be impacted, mostly in regards to social and environmental impacts. The research outputs from GISERA is also made publicly available for transparency.
Cindy Ong is a CSIRO Principal Research Scientist conducting greenhouse gas research using proximal and remote sensing technology.
Her current project in the Northern Territory is documenting baseline methane emissions prior to the development of shale gas in the Beetaloo sub-basin. It involves collecting data from methane detectors fitted in vehicles, collecting continuous measurement across three survey expeditions covering a total distance of around 15,000 kms.
This kind of groundwork provides a comprehensive understanding of the current state and allows future changes in emissions to be measured. This level of monitoring would not normally be captured and that’s why Cindy believes it’s important for scientists to work alongside the oil and gas industry as well as the regulators and other stakeholders to help advance scientific understanding in areas such the Beetaloo sub-basin.
“Industry, government and communities all share keen interest in making sure any development occurs in a sustainable manner,” says Cindy. “That’s why it’s so important to have high quality, independent scientific research results as a basis for developing policy and making decisions.”
“It is rewarding to work alongside the industry, regulators and other stakeholders to develop practical solutions be it a piece of technology or algorithm or method that will actually be used operationally into the future.”