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Shifting focus

Mark Steeves highlights the changing focus of the extractive industries – and the Geological Society Business Forum – in our times

Words by Mark Steeves
30 May 2024
Grohnde Nuclear Power Plant in Germany

The (now decommissioned) Grohnde Nuclear Power Plant in Germany

Since its inception in 2011, the Geological Society Business Forum (GSBF), which aims to raise the profile of the geosciences and Geological Society in the business world, has been almost exclusively focused on the oil and gas industry and city audiences. However, given the complex energy challenges we now face, the GSBF has evolved to focus on energy more generally, and to connect with a wider audience that includes regulators, policymakers and the public more broadly. The GSBF now has a particular interest in energy production and the realities of the energy transition (including the critical minerals and mining required for this). This shift in focus was highlighted during two panel-discussion events on nuclear power and geothermal energy, held in September 2023.

Nuclear power

During the first event, The Case for Nuclear Power in the Energy Transition, Wade Allison (Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of Oxford) spoke passionately about the case for nuclear energy, while Mike Crawforth (Business Development Manager, Rolls-Royce) discussed small modular reactors, reminding us that Rolls-Royce has powered the UK’s nuclear submarines since 1966 – the technology is well understood. Kirsty Gogan (Terra Praxis), an authority on social and political challenges, and Eluned Watson (Pinsent Masons), an expert on the regulatory environment, led a panel discussion, with wide audience participation. Gogan, with experience in 10 Downing Street during both the Blair-Brown and Cameron-Clegg prime ministerial years, touched on the poor record of successive governments in delivering nuclear power, with negative public perceptions partly to blame. One striking observation, which arose from a shipping conference that Gogan and Crawforth had earlier attended, was that the cruise-going public may change its mind when cruise ships become nuclear powered (which appears to be quite possible).

Geothermal energy

The second meeting, Geothermal Energy in the Energy Transition, opened by Mark Ireland (Newcastle University and incoming Chair of the Geological Society Energy Group), included a presentation from Ryan Law (Geothermal Engineering Ltd) on geothermal energy projects in Cornwall, and the wider potential in the UK, and an impassioned presentation from Rani Koya (Anteus Geothermal Ltd) that drew particular attention to the applicability of oil and gas industry strengths, including service industry capabilities, to the geothermal sector. Christian Bauer (Watson Farley & Williams) described the increasingly active geothermal industry in Germany, set against an urgent energy security challenge. 

Outlook

A significant take-away message was the potential employment opportunities offered by the energy transition for those engaged in the oil and gas industry. This is particularly true for the geothermal industry – Anteus Geothermal is largely staffed by ex-hydrocarbon professionals. However, while the discussions around our energy future were inspiring, on the other side of the ledger is the impression that the time frames to economic viability and the parochial nature of many geothermal projects will not move the dial away from fossil fuels at the rate we might like. 

Author

Mark Steeves

Director Samphire & Associates Ltd, Co-Founder and Committee Member of the Geological Society Business Forum, Chairman VSA Capital Group, and Chairman EnergyPathways

For more information on the Geological Society Business Forum, visit www.geolsoc.org.uk

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