The post title is drawn from the conclusion of Roland Horne’s essay, “The future of petroleum — and of petroleum education.” The essay runs through a peak oil explanation – citing advocates and critics of the concept – and offers a sort of mild endorsement of peak oil theories. However, Horne suggests that peak oil would be good news, not bad news, for students now studying in petroleum-oriented university programs (from petroleum engineering, geology, and land management programs to energy finance and energy economics). As oil becomes harder to find, as remaining reservoirs become harder to develop, the return on an investment in related human capital will increase.
Students of energy subjects in universities today will find themselves in a new world tomorrow. Oil demand will outstrip supply, probably within a few years and certainly within a few decades. Oil will not ‘run out’, but the cheap ‘easy oil’ of the twentieth century has already been replaced with resources that require huge investments, advanced technology and high levels of expertise from its industrial workforce. These challenges should be an incentive rather than a deterrent, as in fact they represent tremendous opportunities for young professionals. To capitalize on these opportunities, today’s graduates need to attain technical abilities that are both flexible and advanced. Professionals in the oil industry will work in a global context, and will need to master understanding of other cultures and other languages. Finally, students who begin their careers now as petroleum professionals will probably retire in 40 or 50 years as energy professionals. [Emphasis added.]