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The oil and gas sector usually comes under fire for the environmental cost of extracting oil and for the greenhouse gas emissions that comes from burning oil for fuel. But that doesn’t mean the people who work in oil and gas are Captain Planet villains. In fact, the industry as a whole is working to promote safer and cleaner ways to operate. 

“My own conversations with oil company geologists over the years has convinced me that virtually all of usare environmentalists at heart,” says Dr. Andrew Miall, at University of Toronto’s Department of Earth Sciences. “I think the professional community in Calgary has been deeply affected by the international protests about Canada's ‘dirty oil’.”

Miall adds that the industry has taken positive steps to environmental responsibility, like Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance. “In this regard, the industry is actually way ahead of the federal government at this point. The Harper government policy appears to position environmental issues as secondary in importance, and may be out of touch with modern corporate thinking.”

This positive industry attitude means jobs for disciplines you don’t normally associate with oil. Environment science major? Bio specialist? You can work in land reclamation: after the company gets their oil, they return the land they got it from to its original state. A company puts down soil, plants seeds, and monitors the wildlife to make sure the ecosystem becomes viable again.

The great part about land reclamation is that it requires a whole group of specialists with different scientific backgrounds. If your degree lets you understand water, terrain, wildlife, or vegetation, you can probably find some leverage in a job application for an oil company. Rick Davidson, recruitment lead at Cenovus Energy, says “When working with land we have a lot of environment science majors working with us ... we have petrophysicists, geophysicists. Different people, different backgrounds.”

On the other, more technical, side of things, the industry also needs people who know their way around a blueprint. From carbon sequestration to friendlier ways to extract oil, innovations in the field are headed by the people researching better ways to do things. Research starts in labs, and (hopefully) eventually ends up in the field. “[An innovation] leads to different things, like modeling, which might turn into piloting, and then to full commercialization,” says Davidson.

Sandy Stash, senior vice president at Talisman Energy, also points out that her company needs scientists and engineers to assess extraction processes before it goes into large-scale activity. Currently, Talisman is interested in shale development. While the economic benefits are huge (“We could go from an importer to an exporter in North America ,” says Stash), there is controversy around hydrofracking, the process that extracts the oil and gas. Talisman is relying on their own scientists and engineers, as well as others from universities and NGOs, to come up with a better picture of how exactly the environment is affected by fracking. “It has potential impacts for the environment.” Stash says, “So one of the things we’re very, very focused on is ways to minimize any impacts from that on the environment.” 

So, you have a science or engineering degree. How do you make yourself attractive on that green oil application? Do some research on the specific environmental topics in the area of oil and gas you’re interested in, and then try to get as much knowledge and experience as you can in those areas. Water management, for example, is a big one since water resources are used for extraction. Talisman is interested in using brackish water for fracking, and Cenovus wants to minimize water usage for their steam-assisted gravity drainage. Davidson elaborates, “[For example], using less water for our operations and also recycling the water that gets used. We also include water that’s basically salt-water, non-consumption water.” 

As concern for the environment grows, and as the oil and gas industry tries to extract more and more hydrocarbons from the earth, these “green” jobs are looking better and better for people concerned about the planet. However, you can’t expect to save the world all at once. “There will be a massive job to reclaim land disturbed by surface mining,” says Miall, speaking of land reclamation specifically. “This job has barely started. Its cost and magnitude will certainly test the good will and purpose of the industry and government alike.”