New CIMS Fellow Aims to Separate Fact from Fiction

Peter Carragher has devoted his whole career to geology. But if it weren’t for chemistry, he might not have chosen the field.

Carragher, who recently was named a CIMS Industrial Fellow, was working for Unilever in his native England prior to starting university. An aspiring chemist, his job was to plot the career paths of Ph.D.s in the company. When he learned that after 10 years, most had entered management or, as he put it, “were still testing washing powder,” he realized the field wasn’t for him. He wanted to be in the field, in a profession that didn’t require the kind of specialization that chemistry—or academia—demanded. So, being “sort of the outdoor type,” he zeroed in on geology, even though he didn’t know much about the subject, ultimately graduating with a bachelor’s degree from King’s College in London in 1974.

Pete became acquainted with the CIMS team while he was at BP, which is a longtime corporate member of CIMS. He began his career with the company in 1977 as an exploration geologist with Amoco, which would later merge with BP. When he retired from BP in 2010, he was serving as the chief scientist of the Deep Water Horizon Response Team, helping to mitigate the environmental impact of the accident. That summer, when he joined the Houston-based energy consultancy Rose & Associates, he continued his involvement in the cleanup as the firm’s senior science advisor to BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization.

Just as innovative clean-up technologies assisted scientists in the aftermath of the massive spill, Pete believes innovation will be key to helping the U.S. acquire and implement sustainable energy sources and policies.

“Some of the biggest energy news in the last two years is the realization that the country is standing on 100 years of natural gas reserves,” he said. “Our long-term energy endowment is obviously a worrying thing, and of course there are the environmental concerns associated with ‘fracking,’ but with innovations in the field of frack management and disposal, I have confidence that the shale industry will succeed. It’s a big business opportunity.”

One thing that does stand in the way of innovation is, ironically, the free flow of ideas we enjoy in a civilized, connected society, according to Pete. When anyone with a blog can become a so-called expert on even complex subjects like energy exploration and technology, scientists and companies trying to find new, workable solutions often face public backlash based on half-truths and ideologies.

“Innovators everywhere, including academics and industry, have to push back against the whole  anti-science, anti-climate change problem,” he said. “People who are trying to move us forward are being attacked personally.”

Doing his part to help advance science, Carragher is currently writing a white paper with a leading oil and gas researcher on natural oil seepage in the Gulf of Mexico. “There’s stunning video of oil slicks in the Gulf on the Internet, but the presence of such slicks doesn’t mean there’s an oil spill,” he said. “We’ve been trying to put facts into the equation.”

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