Conversation With Marga Hoek

Conversation With Marga Hoek About Tech For Good, A Growing Business Concept That Includes Oil And Gas.

Originally published on on November 28, 2023

Is the oil and gas industry embracing new-era technology for positive environmental and social impact?

First-ever robot artist giving the keynote speech at UN AI global summit, July 2023, in Geneva.
First-ever robot artist giving the keynote speech at UN AI global summit, July 2023, in Geneva.

Tech For Good is a new book that reveals how Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies will help solve the world’s greatest challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, inequality, and poverty. Tech For Good shows how businesses can apply advanced technologies in a purpose-driven manner while unlocking new markets and seizing business opportunities. Packed with 75 real-life business cases of companies from all over the world, this inspiring book unfolds how businesses synergize technology and sustainability. The purpose of this book is to imagine how advanced technologies can drive sustainable growth and realize Global Goals.

Marga Hoek is a three-time CEO, Chair, and Board Member. Hoek has gained recognition over the years as a global thought leader on sustainable business and capital. She is a multi-golden-awarded bestselling author of the trailblazing titles New Economy Business (2014) and The Trillion Dollar Shift (2018).

Fortune praised The Trillion Dollar Shift, which highlights opportunities the UN’s Global Goals hold for business, as “required reading.” Recognized by Thinkers50 for her global management thinking, Marga Hoek coined the slogan “Business for Good” in 2014 to emphasize her mission “to make Business for Good the norm, rather than the exception.”

1. What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution? And what are some of the big new technologies that belong here?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, often abbreviated as 4IR or Industry 4.0, is a term used to describe the current era of rapid technological advancements that are reshaping the way we live, work, and interact with the world. It builds upon the previous industrial revolutions, which include the use of steam engines (1st), electricity and mass production (2nd), and the advent of computers and automation (3rd). The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital, and biological worlds.

Some of the key technologies and trends associated with the 4IR include Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, Blockchain, 3D Printing, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), Robotics and Automation, Quantum Computing, and The Internet of Things (IoT).

The potential of the 4IR to address major global challenges, including poverty, climate change, nature loss, and inequality, is immense.

2. What if any of these new technologies are or would be of interest to the oil and gas industry?

The oil and gas industry can benefit significantly from 4IR technologies to improve operational efficiency, safety, and environmental sustainability.

First, renewable energy integration will be a key component as the world shifts toward cleaner energy sources. Oil and gas companies may explore opportunities to integrate solar and wind, into their operations. These initiatives will be further streamlined by advanced techs. For example, distributed renewable energy blockchain solutions empower underserved communities to reduce the use of fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change. Blockchain is also a big help when tracking the origin and quality of crude oil and gas products.

Further, IoT devices can be used to monitor and manage equipment, pipelines, and facilities remotely. Sensors that provide real-time data on temperature and pressure will enable predictive maintenance and reduce downtime for energy supply. AI and data are also being applied for predictive maintenance, reservoir modeling, and optimization of drilling and exploration activities. These machine-learning algorithms analyze vast datasets that identify patterns, improve decision-making, and enhance safety measures. The energy industry generates massive amounts of data, and 4IR analytics can help optimize operations, forecast demand, and improve supply chain management.

3. The oil and gas industry has focused on sustainability in certain areas of business. But isn’t extraction of oil and gas non-sustainable by definition?

While the extraction of oil and gas is non-sustainable by definition, the oil and gas industry has increasingly focused on sustainability in certain areas of its business to mitigate some of these challenges.

Environmental stewardship has been one of the industry’s more sustainably-minded focal points. Many oil and gas companies have implemented environmental practices to reduce their ecological footprint. This includes minimizing the release of pollutants, investing in cleaner technologies, and implementing programs to restore or protect local ecosystems. The industry has also adopted more energy-efficient processes to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions during their production, refining, and distribution processes. Some forward-looking fossil fuel companies are even diversifying their portfolios to include renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. This helps transition the industry toward cleaner and more sustainable energy options.

4. Energy security is quoted as a reason oil and gas production should continue and may need to continue longer even while renewable energies are growing. How would your book title “Tech for Good” fit in here?

Energy security is important for both business and civil society. Maintaining energy security while transitioning away from oil and gas is a complex but essential challenge. A key step is to diversify energy sources – while we still need fossil fuels to bridge the transition, we must rapidly advance innovations to secure renewable energy. This includes expanding the use of renewable energy (e.g., wind, solar, hydro), and natural gas (as a bridge fuel), to reduce dependence on oil and coal. Diversification enhances energy security by reducing reliance on a single energy source, and it enhances climate security.

The book title “Tech for Good” fits in well here as a concept for balancing energy security and climate security as the world seeks to reduce carbon emissions. Several technological innovations throughout the book can be directly linked to energy security. As an example, developing advanced energy storage technologies, such as large-scale batteries for grid-scale energy storage, is a way to store excess energy from renewable sources and ensure a stable energy supply even when renewable energy generation fluctuates. Also relevant is the deployment of advanced biofuels and synthetic fuels that have a lower carbon footprint and can replace conventional fossil fuels in aviation, shipping, and heavy industry.

5. Do you have examples of “Tech for Good” in the oil and gas industry?

Digital Twin Technology is very innovative for creating virtual replicas of physical assets, allowing for real-time monitoring and simulation. In the oil and gas industry, this technology aids in optimizing operations, reducing downtime, and enhancing safety, making it more efficient and environmentally responsible.

We also have carbon capture and storage technology that captures carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and industrial facilities, preventing them from entering the atmosphere. This not only reduces the industry’s carbon footprint but also mitigates the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change.

6. What are the “advanced technologies” that might appeal to oil and gas companies interested in “Tech for Good”?

AI and machine learning models are advanced technologies that optimize operations, enhance predictive maintenance, and improve the efficiency of drilling, exploration, and production processes. Similarly, IoT devices and sensors are used to monitor equipment, pipelines, and facilities, providing real-time data for predictive maintenance and environmental monitoring.

Sensors and remote sensing technologies are employed to monitor and report on emissions, air quality, and other environmental conditions, enabling better responses to environmental incidents. New technologies like satellite-based monitoring and drone surveys are also used to detect and reduce methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas associated with oil and gas operations.

These represent the industry’s commitment to utilizing technology for positive environmental and social impact, in line with the concept of “Tech for Good.”

7. “Social License to Operate” is a term used by some to refer to the need for oil and gas companies to reduce their carbon emissions (i.e. greenhouse gases). Some companies have leaned toward climate goals because of “Social License to Operate”. Is this an example of “Tech for Good”?

While the “Social License to Operate” involves the support of a company’s activities by society, it is influenced and enabled by technology, data, and environmental awareness. It’s an example of “Tech for Good” in the role that technology and data play in driving responsible corporate strategies and sustainable business practices.

The push for reducing carbon emissions and adopting climate goals is often driven by the increasing availability of data. Technological advancements, such as satellite monitoring, remote sensing, and climate modeling, provide valuable insights into the environmental consequences of oil and gas operations. Companies that utilize advanced software and data analytics are better able to measure, report, and verify their carbon emissions. This data influences stakeholders’ expectations for cleaner and more sustainable practices. This transparency is essential in gaining and maintaining the social license to operate by demonstrating a commitment to environmental responsibility.

8. If you could choose one business case from your book “Tech for Good” that references how the fossil fuel industry is integrating advanced technologies, what would it be?

CarbonTech is an exciting growth area in materials science that has both economic and environmental benefits. A startup in Iceland named Carbfix captures and permanently removes CO2 by imitating a natural process. CO2 is dissolved in water and interacts with reactive rock formations, such as basalts, to form stable minerals in a permanent and safe carbon sink. 

The global storage potential is greater than the emissions from burning all fossil fuels on Earth. In addition, it is a technology that can be scaled via low-cost and eco-friendly measures.

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