Professor's book discusses energy crisis, gulf oil spill

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The Daily Texan spoke with professor Tadeusz Patzek, chair of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, about the new book he co-authored with Utah State University professor Joseph A. Tainter, “Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma.” In the book, they describe the last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill and current energy problems as results of society’s need for an ever-increasing among of energy, causing many unforeseen risks. The Daily Texan spoke with him about how these risks impacted geosciences at UT.

DT: What does the crisis in energy described in your book mean for the way we train UT students in
the geosciences?

Tadeusz Patzek: We have to be a lot more careful as an industry, and that will start by training engineers how we operate in these harsh environments such as Arctic or ultra-deep Gulf of Mexico. Also, we need standardized procedures with different drilling organizations and to develop and train students how to use equipment that’s more reliable.

DT: What about for faculty and the education systems?
Patzek: As teachers we can contribute training and education in traditional ways, and we do, but you have to remember that not everybody working in the industry has a college degree. Plenty is done by people who come to work with only high school degrees with some on-site training. What has to be done is that education and training has to be extended to everybody who is working off-shore, and creating a better design in our projects that’s not subject to so many agendas.

DT: Would you say that debacles caused by increasing demand are the biggest challenge facing energy companies today?
Patzek: Well, I have to be careful what I say. [Laughs]. In order for us to persist as the American society that you and I live in, we need a vast, vast amount of energy flowing through the system every day. That’s an incredible lot of power to produce, and that’s ultimately the demand that energy companies are trying to meet. Having that much demand for energy to support current lifestyles is going to create problems that are hard to avoid. Furthermore, there are a lot of discrepancies between public opinion and the realities of the energy demands in renewable energy. To the extent that we can power down by using energy smarter, we should do so, but many people think you can get a lot of power from renewable when you
really can’t.

DT: Could I ask you a little bit about the research you did for this book?
Patzek: Well, to be honest I’ve been interested in ecology and sustainability for the past 10 years, and if you look into newspapers, you’ll find everything there. There’s nothing new in that book. The accident just put everything I was saying in starker relief, and I used it as a prop to say many of the things I’ve been writing for the past year.

DT: Is there anything you’d like anyone else to know about the book, for people just picking up the paper?
Patzek: A warning: there are no simple solutions to energy. All solutions start with us and to the extent that we can adjust our behavior somewhat, that’s good. We can blame the energy industry for these problems, but the demand we create is at the center. Before we can judge others we have to look at ourselves.