Petroleum Group Lifetime Award: My Acceptance Speech

Well, firstly grateful thanks to the Petroleum Group, the Society and the proposers, who completely and utterly surprised me with this honour. I didn't expect to be up here on this stage again after 10 years, even if it is in front of a blue whale instead of good old Diplo.

I was allowed to choose anything I wanted, within reason of course, for this award. This rather spectacular 19th Century painting of Vesuvius in full eruption, actually one of a pair, has a special history. It was commissioned in Naples 140 years ago by a professor at my old college who was a well-known volcanologist. Much later, forgotten and unappreciated, it was rescued from a flooded basement by another professor at the same college, one that taught me. So, as you can see, this picture now has a special meaning for me in many ways. It'll be well looked after, and have pride of place on my wall!

I have been extraordinarily lucky in both my personal life, having a very supportive wife and family, and in my career. Lucky for being on the first wave of British working-class kids to be funded through university. Lucky because I did my first degree at a very special time, the late sixties, a crazy time when the whole of geoscience was being turned on its head by continental drift. So, I started my degree learning about those mythical beasts called geosynclines, and ended it learning about plate tectonics. Plate tectonics is 50 years old this year, and it feels like we've grown up together - which, of course, dates me fair and square!

It wasn't my original intention to join the oil industry, and I confidently expected to spend the rest of my life in a little ivory tower somewhere. But once in, I quickly became addicted and didn't look back. I've only really been with two companies - Conoco, and for the last 24 years, Statoil. Both companies had the good sense to realise I worked better when I was allowed a little freedom to indulge my fringe interests, like writing stuff about regional geology, as well as looking after the main business. I'm very grateful that they did. It enabled me to keep a few ties to other parts of the geological community, and hopefully the company benefited too.

Being attracted to big geological ideas - the bigger and wilder the better - I soon learned that those ideas seldom come from the brain of one person. So, it's fortunate that I've met and worked with some great geologists and great mentors - people who can do things I can't do. Some of them are here tonight, including my long-term partner in crime Erik Lundin. Erik's constant stream of brilliant and occasionally off-the-wall ideas kept me afloat when I was in danger of sinking under the weight of administrative duties. Even during my busiest job, as head of North America Exploration, he wouldn't let me rest. So, it's largely due to Erik that when my long period in management came to an end I was, miraculously, still a geologist. Erik, sincere thanks and long may our BS sessions continue.

The term "Lifetime Achievement Award" has a slight note of finality to it although, obviously, I prefer not to look at it that way. But maybe this kind of occasion does allow me the indulgence of just one reflection. I mentioned earlier how the whole of geoscience was transformed, almost overnight, at the beginning of my career. I genuinely believe we are now at a similar major watershed in the industry. I don't have to tell anybody here about the falling discovery rates for conventional resources, or the decrease in new resources being brought into production. I don't have to remind you of the economic feedback mechanism between unconventional production and OPEC that's been keeping the oil price at modest levels for some time now. But what has really taken pundits by surprise is the growth of alternative energy sources, especially for power generation, despite the abundance of cheap oil.

I believe that's because it's no longer just about supply and demand. It's about a change in the way people are thinking. Most rational people accept the evidence for anthropogenic climate change, even if the Leader of The Free World doesn't. People are worried, they want change, and oil-finders are seen by some as the "bad guys" getting in the way. I see this mood in my contacts with academia. You may have heard the term "divestment", which in the academic context means that the college gets rid of all its shares in the petroleum industry. That puts us on a par with armaments and tobacco companies. Of course, we know such action would have a minimal effect on a company's fortunes, but it's important because it reflects the feeling amongst a quite a large section of the community.

Now, as you can guess, after nearly 40 years in the industry I'm not in any mood to apologize. I passionately defend the role of our industry in improving our standard of living and general well-being. Without the product that we make civilization grinds to a standstill. Our houses fall down, our systems stop working, and this Marks & Spencers tux, I'm pretty sure, disintegrates before your eyes. And, of course, we can forget about those holidays abroad and round-the-world gap-years, made possible by cheap air fares. But nothing is forever. Unconventionals may extend the Hydrocarbon Age by another 20-30 years, but the whole Hydrocarbon Age is just going to be the blink of an eye in human history. Change has to come, and I think the tide is turning now.

All of which might explain why, when Statoil recently unveiled its updated long-term strategies, "Low Carbon" was right there in the top three. My first thought was "Isn't this a bit hypocritical? We produce fossil fuel - how can we possibly be low carbon?" But of course, this wasn't just about cutting down travel, and emissions from refineries. The CEO was, I think, genuinely trying to position us for a future where alternative energy sources become increasingly a part of our corporate life. I showed that to some of those divestment people, and they were quite taken aback. Perhaps we weren't so far apart after all. And, I'm pleased to say, some other companies are thinking the same way. Bottom line - to paraphrase a recent editorial by the PESGB president Nick Terrell, our millennial petroleum geoscientists are going to have a lot of exciting stuff to do. We're still going to need oil, even though we won't necessarily be using it for the same things, or looking for it in the same way. It's not going to be "business as usual", but that's OK. We can deal with this, and we should welcome the change.

I want to finish by thanking you all again for this kindness, with a special mention for my work colleagues who have really pushed the boat out today with three tables. It's a bit alarming, though, that three of my bosses are down there, including my current one. Bill, Tim, Erling - please don't compare notes guys, or my manipulation techniques won't work anymore.

I really believe that the job we do is a privilege. We're reasonably well paid, the work is exciting and varied, we see great data for the first time ever, and we produce a commodity that people need. Sometimes, when I'm a bit stressed out, I have to remind myself of that. Because even if you only like your job 50% of the time, you're still on a winner compared to most people in the world. So, I count myself fortunate to be a petroleum geoscientist, and I hope you feel the same way.

It won't be too long now until I hang up my corporate hat, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop being a geologist. I've loved geology since I first picked up fossils and minerals in Derbyshire at the age of eight. My hobby became my job, and to quote the great Van Morrison, "It's too late to stop now". I'm having far too much fun for that!