Time travelers

March 14, 2005
For the last couple of years, at yearend, OGJ editors were asked to predict what would transpire in the oil and gas industry during the coming year.

For the last couple of years, at yearend, OGJ editors were asked to predict what would transpire in the oil and gas industry during the coming year. Editors give their insights into the status of various elements of the industry based on their knowledge and expertise, and the ability to recognize and evaluate trends, and project their direction. These projections and their significance are published in the first issue of the year.

Specialty editors, consultants, economists, and other analysts make it their business to predict what is expected in the future so that clients or subscribers can act on and benefit from that knowledge.

By looking back to see ahead (compiling and charting historical and current data), analyzing trends, taking note of needs, and assessing the possibility of fulfilling those needs through evolving technology, political intervention, or assets transfers, they project anticipated future scenarios.

The World Future Society (WFS), Bethesda, Md., however, is a different kettle of fish altogether. A think tank comprised of more than 30 futurists, they conduct studies covering changes over great swaths of time-10-50 or more years-differing from economists and market researchers who usually look at shorter periods.

In a similar manner Europeans in 1973 established another major group, the World Futures Studies Federation, Honolulu. WFSF is a global organization of 500 individuals-researchers, teachers, scholars, policy analysts, activists, and others-from more than 80 countries and 60 institutions worldwide that promote futures education and research.

Using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, futurists focus on systemic, transformational change rather than incremental changes from existing trends, and they provide “alternative, possible, and preferable futures” rather than single predictions. In that way, should the outcome predicted be dire, stakeholders can take actions to avert the calamity and direct the change toward a different direction.

Back to the future

It is always interesting a few years later to look back at such attempts at time travel, and see how accurate or inaccurate the forecasts were. What hit the mark? What missed?

In 2000, WFS’s publication The Futurist printed 10 technologies identified by George Washington University futurists as being expected to have a “huge impact during the first decade of the 21st Century.” Looking back from the perspective of 5 years, most of them have come to pass or are in various stages of doing so.

At least five of those technologies could affect the energy industry at least tangentially. WFS’s predictions:

• By 2003, about 30% of industrialized nations will use portable, hand-held devices to surf the internet, send e-mail, watch videos, and more.

• Toyota and Ford should introduce experimental fuel cell automobiles by 2004.

• “Virtual assistants” will handle routine chores, with software creating computerized helpers to file, screen calls, and write letters by 2007.

• Computers will assume health care tasks, with powerful hardware and software systems keeping medical records, fulfilling prescriptions, and monitoring patients by 2009.

• Alternate energy sources will challenge carbon-based fuels. By 2010 renewable sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydroelectric power will meet 30% of all energy needs. (A tall order, 30% by 2010! The jury is still out with 5 years to go, but all the coal in China says this one may miss.)

Other trends, forecasts

Change is occurring today faster than in any other time in Earth’s history in all areas of our lives and creating the necessity for swift decisions. However, information available on any given subject is staggeringly vast, making decisions difficult at times.

In fall 2004 a number of trends and forecasts were released that could affect future decision-making in the industry:

• The US workforce in the next 10-15 years will continue to grow, albeit slowly.

• The concept of retirement is “outdated,” and a more-favorable approach should be taken towards ongoing work, said Ken Dychtwald, expert on aging.

• World population is expected to grow to 7.9 billion in 2025 from 6.4 billion in mid-2004 and to 9.3 billion in 2050. They will need energy.

• The human ecological footprint continues to grow despite technological progress.

• Greater transparency will be evident, with total transparency becoming international law in 15-20 years, according to another study.

It will be interesting to follow these for the years indicated and look back from the future to the time when the forecasts were made.