Earn Your Energy Merit Badge

  • Requirements
  • Where Would We Be Without Oil and Natural Gas
  • Energy Conservation and Efficiency
  • The Future of Energy
  • Careers in Energy
  • Resources


The Future of Energy

Requirements 6 & 7 ask you to examine the many different energy resources that help fuel our nation’s energy needs.  The following information and links provide information on both renewable and nonrenewable energy resources and the latest technological advancements being made to produce more useable energy while minimizing our environmental footprint.

While working on these requirements, it might be helpful to learn more about the operations of the oil and natural gas industry.  Check out the following in Classroom Energy!:

To help meet projected U.S. energy demand growth, the oil and gas companies invested $98 billion from 2000 through 2005 on emerging energy technologies in the North American market
Innovative technologies extend current energy sources while creating new ways to enhance energy supplies and environmental performance.

Imagine the challenges of finding energy 10,000 feet below the sea, then drilling down through two miles of rock and for another mile horizontally and then piping the oil or natural gas to shore.

Just twenty years ago, people would have laughed if you told them this concept would be possible. But it is, in fact, a reality.

Today, after a 10-year investment of nearly $90 billion in engineering, infrastructure, equipment and people, technology is enabling the oil and natural gas industry to produce more energy from more remote places – some previously unreachable – with significantly less impact on the environment.

Technological innovation in most industries is a complex and slow process, typically taking years of research, testing, and regulatory reviews to get from concept to performance. But in the energy industry, the results can be spectacular when the stakeholders – representing industry, government, manufacturing, economic and environmental interests, and communities – encourage the pursuit and application of innovations that can be deployed domestically to better ensure the nation’s energy security.

The people in the oil and natural gas industry are working smarter to innovate and implement new technologies. Technology investment and development initiatives are taking place across all sectors of the industry:

  •  Exploration and Production
  •  Refining
  •  Transportation
  •  Alternative Energy Sources

Exploration and Production Innovations.

Industry advancements in exploration are accelerating how energy sources are identified and how the industry’s record of extracting oil and natural gas safely and cleanly is maintained and improved.

  •  3-D seismic technology and global satellite positioning enable geologists and engineers to pinpoint potential energy sources and “see” underground before drilling begins, dramatically improving the exploration success rate while greatly reducing surface disturbance and environmental impact
  •  Advanced directional drilling technology allows access to an underground target the size of a closet thousands of feet deep and more than five miles from the drilling rig, making it possible to drill more wells from a single location
  •  Improved drilling muds ease the friction and reduce the waste associated with drilling
  •  Slimhole drilling permits re-entering existing wells to tap new reserves in mature fields reducing environmental impacts and expanding recovery from known reservoirs

Refining Innovations.

With the significant increases in energy demand in recent years, U.S. refineries have been running at nearly full capacity. Many refineries are using technological advances to get more out of each barrel of oil processed. To learn more about refining, See “Adventures in Energy".

  •  Refinery automation is integrating process and energy system controls to boost operating efficiency and product yields
  •  New refinery emissions monitoring technology uses infrared lasers with advanced imaging systems to minimize releases
  •  Solvent-extraction systems reduce waste using one-third the energy it takes to refine lubricating oil from crude oil
  •  New process, equipment and catalyst technology advances are being used to meet new regulations requiring very low sulfur levels in gasoline and diesel fuel
  •  Efficiency improvements at refineries are converting crude oil residue into low-sulfur diesel and jet engine fuel and squeezing extra gallons from every barrel
  •  Low-sulfur gasoline produced by refineries generates up to 97 percent less emissions in one of today’s new cars than in a 1970s vehicle
  •  Co-generation is helping refineries capture waste heat and use it to produce electricity, which can minimize the need to purchase power and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Transportation Innovations.

As with refineries, the pipelines and tankers that transport our energy products use advanced technology to meet increased demand safely and effectively. See “Transportation” in The Story of Oil and Natural Gas.

  •  Aircraft equipped with infrared photography can locate pipeline problems before leaks can occur
  •  Electronic navigation used by tankers with side scan and multi-beam sonar technologies map shipping lanes and other waterways to enhance safety
  •  Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS) is being implemented in major U.S. ports to help vessels use the Internet to monitor oceanographic and meteorological data to move energy supplies safely and efficiently

Alternative Energy Innovations.

The promise of renewable and alternative energy innovations make them very appealing.

Solar, wind, geothermal, and fuel cell technologies are among the numerous energy solutions that have garnered considerable interest in recent years. The oil and natural gas industry believes that each one has an important role to play in America’s energy supply.

Solar, wind and geothermal technologies are producing electricity for homes and businesses. And it’s believed that hydrogen to power fuel cell vehicles, which are the subject of significant research, could become a viable energy source in the future when technology overcomes the scientific and engineering obstacles that limit their commercialization today.

Likewise, many unconventional sources of oil and natural gas, such as methane hydrates, hold tremendous potential. Scientists believe that deposits of methane hydrates, which contain methane gas frozen in ice crystals, could produce clean-burning energy for more than 1,000 years. But first, technology must unlock the secret to harvesting them in an affordable, efficient manner and making them a viable source of fuel.

Most experts agree that none of these alternative energy sources will replace oil and natural gas in the near term. At this point, they do not match oil and natural gas for affordability, versatility, portability, energy efficiency or ease of use.

Furthermore, in addition to perfecting the technologies themselves, delivery infrastructures, trained people, scalable networks, equipment, expertise and extensive collaboration and consumer acceptance will be required to make alternatives available and acceptable to enough consumers to make a substantial difference in the need for oil and natural gas. Someday technology might introduce a new source of energy to the marketplace that is even more efficient, cleaner and cheaper than oil and natural gas. In the meantime, we all need to work together to use existing energy resources wisely.

Future fuels – Innovations Today and Tomorrow.

The oil and natural gas industry believes that there is a role for many energy resources – wind, solar, biofuels and others – in meeting the world’s growing demand for energy supplies. The world needs a portfolio of resources, as well as advanced research into future sources and technologies.

There are several conventional and unconventional fuel sources that have potential to provide
future benefits:

Conventional sources – billions of dollars in research have helped and scientists continue to pursue cleaner, more efficient, and better performing fuels from crude oil:

  •  Reformulated gasoline has led to significant reductions in ozone precursors and toxic emissions
  •  Low sulfur gasoline is enabling today’s cars to be 97 percent cleaner than those produced in the early 1970s
  •  The introduction of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel is enabling the use of cleaner-technology diesel engines and vehicles resulting in significantly improved air quality
  •  Some refineries are converting heavier, sour crude oil into low-sulfur gasoline, diesel and jet engine fuel and squeezing extra gallons from every barrel
  •  Upgrading other inferior sources of oil (i.e. tar and oil sands) into refinery feedstocks shows some promise
  •  Turning waste and residue hydrocarbons into high-value products through gasification is yet another approach being considered

Unconventional sources – research is also leading the way toward the development of new sources of energy:

  •  Biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are being produced from corn, oil seeds, animal fats, and waste oils
  •  Processes to convert woody biomass and other cellulosic feedstocks into transportation fuels are being actively investigated
  •  Hydrogen is being considered to fuel transportation
  •  Fuel cells, many of which combine hydrogen and oxygen into water to produce energy, could be used for heat and cooling, as well as for transportation in the future
  •  Methane hydrates – methane gas frozen in ice crystals – could produce clean-burning energy for several generations
  • Coal gasification produces liquids that show promise as transportation fuels
  •  Processes that turn natural gas into a liquid fuel also can help to meet transportation demands Energy companies are conducting or funding a significant amount of research into alternative energy sources. They also have partnered with the federal government and the U.S. auto industry through the Department of Energy’s FreedomCAR & Fuel Partnership, a public/private effort to examine requirements to develop technologies for a full range of affordable vehicles and the fueling infrastructure to support them.

Unforeseen advances also could come from so-called “disruptive” technologies. These are breakthroughs that could have the potential for significantly altering energy production, distribution and use. This might include development of nano-technology and advanced materials that can be used for superconducting “smart grids” to vastly improve electricity transmission, reducing weight while maintaining or increasing vehicle safety, or for reducing friction and improving energy efficiency for both ground and air transportation.

Solar, wind and geothermal solutions also are part of the energy mix. For the foreseeable future, it is likely they will produce electricity as an end product and will be suitable only for vehicles that can run on electricity.

Vehicle Technology Research.

In addition to conducting research on fuels of the future, vehicle and engine manufacturers are looking into ways to increase fuel economy, reduce emissions, and improve performance from internal combustion engines.

Hybrid vehicles, for example, are powered partly by gasoline and partly by an electric motor that recharges while driving. Hybrids are already moving into the market and the rate at which they become part of the vehicle fleet will depend largely on how their price and performance satisfy consumers.

Experts generally agree that it will likely be two or three decades before any of the new energy sources will be ready to replace oil as the primary energy for transportation. Until then, improvements combined with more efficient use of current fuels will have an impact and may help reduce energy consumption within the next decade.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that $17 trillion in global energy investments will be needed by 2030 to meet projected energy demand. That’s $650 billion per year to turn human ingenuity into commercial success.

For more detailed information on the progress and potential of emerging technologies, future fuels and vehicles, access API’s brochure “Fuel Choices for Advance Vehicles” at http://www.api.org/aboutoilgas/otherfuels/upload/25132_FUEL_CELL_BROCHURE_FINAL.pdf.

To access a study on “Oil and Gas Industry Investments In Alternate Energy, Frontier Hydrocarbons and Advanced End-Use Technologies” conducted by the Institute for Energy Research and the University of Texas, visit http://www.api.org/aboutoilgas/upload/API_EMERGING_ENERGY_FINAL5_2.pdf.

If you would like to learn more about the work of the oil and natural gas industry in the United States check out our website at www.api.org.  There’s lots more information here to help you out with the Energy Merit Badge!