Geologist’s film projects vision of nation’s energy switch

In this image from the documentary “Switch,” narrator Scott Tinker, left, is pictured in Qatar, the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas.

WILLISTON, N.D. – Scott Tinker holds a lot of titles as state geologist for Texas and director of an academic oil and gas research program.

But his latest titles, narrator and co-producer for the energy documentary “Switch,” may be having the broadest impact as he seeks to educate the public about energy.

“There’s a lot of silly policies that get made, maybe well-intended but still silly, by politicians, federal and sometimes state level, because the public doesn’t know much about energy,” Tinker said.

Tinker spoke Thursday in Williston during the annual banquet for the Williston Basin chapter of the American Petroleum Institute.

During his speech, Tinker commented on the amount of natural gas flaring occurring in both the Eagle Ford of Texas and the Bakken and challenged operators to solve that issue.

“Natural gas is a pretty important energy form. Let’s figure out something to do with it before you’re told what to do with it and when and how. Because that’s coming,” said Tinker, noting that he spends a lot of time in Washington.

Tinker, who worked in the oil and gas industry for 17 years before joining the University of Texas at Austin in 2000, recently teamed up with filmmaker Harry Lynch to explore what the future of energy holds.

They spent two years filming, visiting 11 countries and interviewing leading energy experts, to present an objective look at the global energy future.

“We know we’ve become objective because we get accused of loving and hating coal, of loving and hating nuclear, of loving and hating wind,” Tinker said.

The documentary is showing at universities around the country and has reached an estimated audience of 3 million people, he said.

In addition to the film, Tinker recently completed filming the Switch Energy Lab, two-minute videos designed for “kids 10 to 100” featuring Tinker doing energy experiments. The videos will be available for free online starting next year. The group also is working to develop energy curriculum for schools.

“I hope that we start to reach lots of different kinds of folks and they become a little more engaged by this thing that we just take for granted,” Tinker said. “We’re just consuming a tremendous amount of energy in everything we do.”

At the conclusion of the film, Tinker presents a forecast of the energy mix to the year 2080. He projects that the percentage of oil in the energy mix will decline, but the amount used will increase because there will be more demand for oil in the world.

Tinker also says the use of coal and hydro will flatten while nuclear and natural gas will grow globally. Renewable energy will grow substantially, but can only grow so far until the intermittency challenge is solved, he says.

“The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow challenge isn’t trivial because we use electricity in real time, so if wind isn’t blowing we need electrons from somewhere else,” Tinker said.

Shale oil and gas, with the Bakken as one of the biggest plays, has provided the U.S. with more energy security and more time to transition to new forms of electricity, Tinker said.

“It has bought the country a couple of decades of time to help make a smooth transition,” Tinker said. “As a country, I hope we do it wisely. It sure is a tremendous energy advantage right now.”

 

Achievement Awards

Also during Thursday’s banquet, the Williston Basin chapter of the American Petroleum Institute presented its second annual achievement awards.

Tervita, an environmental and energy services company, received the Industry Innovation Award. Tervita provides the energy industry with waste management, well servicing and other environmental services. Tervita’s Blue Buttes engineered disposal site south of Keene is the company’s newest facility, providing drilling companies in the Williston Basin a more centralized location for nonhazardous waste disposal.

Energy Outreach Williston, a joint initiative by companies Statoil, Halliburton, Schlumberger, Oasis, Baker Hughes and Nabors, received the Community Service Award. The companies work together on financial donations, volunteer efforts and service on local boards.

Two finalists tied for Outstanding Achievement Award, so event organizers decided to recognize one company and one individual.

Continental Resources, the largest oil producer in the Bakken, received an Outstanding Achievement Award. Continental is considered a leader in the Bakken and recently developed and constructed a freshwater delivery system and produced water collection system that consists of more than 70 miles of pipeline northeast of Williston.

Monte Besler, a Williston engineer known as FRACN8R, received Outstanding Achievement Award for individual. Besler, with 31 years of experience, specializes in hydraulic fracturing and is known for sharing his knowledge with others in the Williston Basin.

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