Blog: The oil industry is the enabler and not the pariah of energy transition and achieving net zero

13 May 2021

The major challenge facing society in the 21st century is to improve the quality of life for all citizens in an egalitarian way, by providing sufficient food, shelter, energy and resources for a healthy meaningful life. At the same time we need to decarbonize anthropogenic activity to provide a safe global climate. Limiting temperature rise to below 2º C can only be done if the world achieves net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050.

Decoupling GDP growth and emissions

The oil and gas industry is frequently blamed for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by NGO’s and ill-informed activists, when it is the population’s consumption of good and services which is the real driver. Currently the spread of wealth and health across the globe is dependent on increasing the GDP of countries. This is driven by the use of energy, which until recently has mostly derived from fossil fuel, though a number of countries have decoupled growth and greenhouse gas emissions through rapid increases in low carbon energy generation. Nevertheless, as low carbon energy technologies are implemented over the coming decades, fossil fuels will continue to have a vital role in providing energy to drive the global economy.

Large scale GHG removal is required

Considering the current level of energy consumption and projected implementation rates of low carbon energy production, a considerable quantity of fossil fuels will still be used. To avoid emissions of greenhouse gases, carbon capture and storage (CCS) on an industrial scale will be required.

The IPCC estimate that large scale greenhouse gas removal from the atmosphere is required to limit warming to below 2º C using technologies such as Bioenergy CCS (BECCS), and direct carbon capture (DACS) to achieve climate safety – both require geological storage of carbon dioxide. This is not a new technology, the oil and gas industry has been injecting CO2 for decades for enhanced oil recovery and for over a decade CO2 has been separated from gas and injected into geological storage in projects like Snorre & Snøhvit in Norway and in Salah in Algeria.

To compensate for the projections of fossil fuel use to 2050 by the IEA and BP, over 71,000 Snøhvit size installations will be required to achieve net zero globally – the UK alone would require 250. This will require huge investment and technical development to find the storage volume, drill the disposal wells and build the pipelines and transport infrastructure required to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050.

A necessary new approach

The oil and gas industry has the geological and engineering expertise and global reach to find the necessary storage structures and build the facilities, pipelines and wells required.  However kick starting this industry will need government policy changed to allow BECCS to be considered for Contract for Difference (CfD) contracts like wind and solar, to help develop the biomass supply, the bioenergy power-stations and CCS infrastructure. It will require a new approach to offshore licencing and the decommissioning of oil and gas wells so the geological structures can safely be reused for CO2 disposal. It is clear that CCS is technically feasible and that in order to achieve both net zero and the requirements for more energy, this industry must be up and running at a large scale by 2050.

Only the petroleum industry has the skills to start up and maintain this huge CCS industry. If it grasps this opportunity its image will be transformed from climate pariah to global saviour.

 


References

Hastings A, Smith P (2020). Achieving Net Zero emissions requires the knowledge and skills of the oil and gas industry. Frontiers in Climate: Negative Emission Technologies. 10.3389/fclim.2020.601778

A Hastings, P Smith. 2019. Decarbonizing Anthropogenic Activity: The Oil and Gas Industry is a Major Component of the Solution. Transactions of the SPE Offshore Europe Conference and Exhibition 2019. , One Petro SPE-195716-MS. https://doi.org/10.2118/195716-MS