Shaking hands with the enemy: working for an oil company

quick spiel: If you’re wondering how that photo relates to this blog, the answer is .. I don’t know either. But they’re my favourite rocks lol and well, oil is underground, and there are rocks underground.

It doesn’t take much questioning to see that the way we (as a society) are living is unsustainable: why is meat so cheap when they take so much time, energy, and resources to produce and transport? Why are there so many clothing stores — more than people could possibly use or even consume — and how come they are there still more being produced? Where do all this stuff go? Why so much energy used on producing low-quality stuff?

Why are the buns at McDonald’s so perfect?

A restaurant in Niagara Falls just started using iPads as menus: the superfluous, fancier, and more energy-intensive option.

We humans are a funny bunch. We play with things we don’t understand and then are left to deal with the consequences.

Energy is a big part of the equation. Once we’ve tasted a little bit of the benefits of fossil fuels (those imported bananas are so good in smoothies! And that nice bathing suit I bought yesterday was made from synthetic materials derived from petroleum), it’s difficult to go back. But the need to do so is piling up as we see the negative consequences of human-induced climate change (well, not yet for North America).

My internship begins in less than one week, and the questions are booming! I’m wondering about why we (as a society) are so dependent on fossil fuels, and why the transition away from it is so difficult. At the core of it, I’m looking to come to peace with my decision to work here, and how to think about my future contributions to a demonized industry.

For a while, I thought that the transition away from fossil fuels has been so slow because of its quality and price, as well as the infrastructure that’s already in place. This is from what I understand. Compare to biofuel, for example, oil provides more energy per given volume. Fossil fuels are also more easily transported than other forms of energy (e.g. electricity). And it, along with electricity, is the only two forms of energy currently used for transportation. Alternatives such as biofuel, or hydrogen aren’t really feasible… we need crops for biofuel and ethanol and we need a whole lot of energy to split water molecules to get hydrogen, not to mention that it’s highly reactive. Even these alternatives require fossil fuels for its generation. As for price, even with increases in technology, less oil is being retrieved from respective oil fields. This may be seen as incentive to move away from fossil fuels, but it could be motivation for quite the opposite; if the demand remains, then companies may be more willing to explore more risky locations and methods. As for infrastructure, new forms of energy require new infrastructure, and where will the needed energy for construction come from?

I like to believe that the solutions are neatly lined up, and that’s why the oil companies are seemingly unconcerned about making a substantial switch. I don’t know if this is the case, but I hope to find out soon!

During my phone interview with the graduate recruiter, he asked me why I’m interested in working with an energy company. I wasn’t particularly interested. In short, I told him that it’s a good place to be at this time because we are in need of alternative forms of energy. I actually told him something very similar to that huge paragraph above. To be able to understand how the base of an oil company operates is indeed a valuable experience, if I use that information well.

I’m doing a little online research, and came across this line from a exploration geophysicist (they find the good, i.e. fossil fuels) :

“My response to people [about why I work for an oil company] actually came from a good friend of mine. It’s usually a variation of “Wouldn’t you rather have someone who gives a [thought] about the environment working for an oil company than someone who didn’t?” It usually makes the conversation much more civil. “

“For a while there were bumper stickers floating around that read “Ban mining, let the [stinkers] freeze in the dark.” It was usually taken as a joke along the lines of the “nuke the whales” bumper sticker. It does, however, provide a good analogy of how those on the right view environmentalists. … Think about that, though, what would happen if we could not mine for raw ore, rare earth metals, or petroleum products. Modern society as we know it would stop progressing. I think the bumper sticker was getting at the point that mining is so essential to our culture that the alternative is no shelter and no heat. “Nuke the Whales,” though? That’s just hilarious.”

Here’s the full interview, for your reference:


I’m trying to dissociate myself mentally from my company though; lest I somehow be in support of stuff I don’t actually believe in. No doubt though, these future experience will change my views.

Regardless, I have to find out more of the facts and appropriate ways to view them.

My father’s a cute man (using “cute” to describe my dad? Well, that’s the most appreciate word I can think of). One of the first things he told me when I got here was that I’m here, specifically here at Fort McMurray, working for an oil company, for a reason and purpose. No one knows, but I’ll find out, perhaps in a few years… or decades.

My responsibility now — as always —  is to use my resources wisely, whatever that means.

Thanks for reading (and enduring through) all that!
*virtual high-five*
**self note: try to write shorter posts

Leave a comment and share what you think about all this, and/or if you want to share any resources!

– Chelsea


2 thoughts on “Shaking hands with the enemy: working for an oil company

  1. Hey Chelsea! I’m reading all your posts right now and I like them… Keep on doing it, I can relate to a lot of things you write and feel. Hope your internship works out well 🙂

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