Chevron's Don Paul on the future of oil
As Big Oil celebrates a huge victory in California, Chevron's chief technologist talks to Business 2.0 about the end of oil, new energy sources, and the $4 billion tax voters shot down.
By Saheli S.R. Datta
Are we running out of oil?
And if so, can technology really solve the problem? What I call unconventional fuels are going to be an integral part of meeting our energy demands over the next 20 or 30 years. That includes everything from the tar sands of Athabasca in Canada to biofuels to hydrogen. All of these involve significant advancements in the underlying science and technology. So the unconventional fuel business in many ways is all about technology.
But I would say first that exploration and production today is every bit as technologically intensive as alternative fuels. I remember in the late 1970s seeing my first truly 3-D image on a screen. It took a Cray supercomputer to display it. I said, "That's going to change the way we're going to do things." And, in fact, that's the case. It changed how we discover new oil fields. Nobody thinks about it today, of course.
But what's really striking is the advancement in the technology of molecular transformation. Remember back in the Middle Ages, you had kings who employed alchemists to turn lead into gold? That's a useful metaphor for what you can do today, with molecular science becoming so advanced. You hear about things every day on the biological side - genetic engineering, wondrous pharmaceutical development. In the energy business, we're in range of the same thing: the ability to take any kind of feedstock and synthesize the fuels you want.
That kind of alchemy is still ahead of us, but I don't see any impediments to getting there. So when people ask me whether we're going to run out of oil, I say, "Well, frankly, the real question you should ask is whether we're ever going to run out of fuel, and the answer is no." I find that pretty exciting.