Why Reducing Greenhouse Gases Is Like A Football Game For Oil And Gas Producers And Their Countries.
Originally published on Forbes.com on December 29, 2021
For the world to reach the goal line, oil and gas industries and their countries need to plan together and to collaborate, to share information and research in a transparent manner.
Fossil fuels provide about 83% of the world’s energy, and cause 73% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The GHG emissions are primarily carbon dioxide, CO2, and secondly methane, CH4.
The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing exponentially since the industrial revolution took off about 1850. Its now at the highest level in about 3 million years.
Data from ice cores show CO2 and global temperature have been in lockstep for almost the past million years. Global temperature is increasing exponentially. If GHG emissions are not controlled, by the year 2100 the earth will be hotter than it’s been for the last million years. If nothing is done, our earth will enter a twilight zone.
Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels in both low-atmosphere pollution and high-atmosphere GHG emissions.
At the recent COP26 climate conference, 40 out of 200 countries signed on to phase down (not phase out) coal usage. Countries that didn’t sign the pledge included the US (the fourth largest exporter of coal), Australia (the largest exporter of coal) and China (the largest user of coal).
The move to change over from coal power plants is accelerating. Big commercial names have, within the last few years, joined the list of those pledging to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050: Excel Energy, Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, Ameren, Entergy, and Vistra Energy. Vistra, the largest independent, non-utility company, announced closures by 2027 of all seven of its coal-burning plants in the mid-western states.
But it’s not a quick or complete changeover to renewables. Duke Energy’s target by 2030 is to reduce their emissions by 50% from 2005 levels, which may not be enough to make net-zero by 2050. Ameren will close coal-burning plants slowly – over twenty years.
Oil and gas future.
The oil and gas industry is responsible for 57% of global energy, and 50% of GHG emissions. There was no phasing out of oil and gas at COP26.
There are six strategies to reduce GHG from oil and gas (much of this is also applicable to coal):
Strategy 6: Producers lower their own operations footprint (for example, using clean electricity instead of dirty diesel to pump fracs).
Strategy 5: Stop flaring gas at wellheads and plug methane leaks in wellheads, tanks, pipelines and other facilities.
Strategy 4: Capture GHG after fossil fuel has been burned. Despite success in Iceland, carbon capture and storage (CCS) has scale-up limits that make it an impractical technology to save all the world’s oil and gas production.
Strategy 3: Take the focus off oil and gas by searching for and developing new technologies to reduce global GHG. Some applications are: zero-carbon cement and steel; zero-carbon fertilizer and plastics; next-gen nuclear fission and fusion; underground electricity transmission; geothermal energy. Wealthier countries can do more here, since this kind of R&D is expensive.
Strategy 2: Stop burning oil and gas in:
- Power plants. The small state of South Australia has hit 100% renewable electricity via onshore wind farms and is heading toward 100% permanently in the next few years. The country as a whole is expecting almost 80% renewables by 2030, with most coal power plants closed down. This is attributed to a rapid drop in costs of renewables technology, plus demand by industry for cheaper and greener power.
- Cars and trucks. 60% of new car sales are EVs in Norway. In the US, Elon Musk always believed lithium-ion batteries could be advanced and he surmounted great difficulties to get Tesla rolling which forced other car legacies such as Nissan and Volkswagen to join the game.
This strategy is feasible according to Rystad. As happened in Norway, new fed policies will push US in this direction, and recent commitments by car companies portend a fast-moving future.
Strategy 1: Divest some oil and gas production and reinvest in renewable energies. Bp is a prime example but, overall, oil companies have put over US$10 billion into renewable energy projects in each of the last three years.
It makes sense: New-build wind, solar and battery storage systems are now cheaper than conventional new power plants. Large, so-called big-batteries are being built all over Australia, and can fill a power gap for up to 4 hours, and more if house storage batteries can be pulled into the grid when weather doesn’t cooperate. Last, Form Energy has a secret battery that they claim works only on iron pellets and promises very cheap electric storage.
Why it’s like football.
The world’s oil and gas industry is a bit like the National Football League (NFL) in the US. The six strategies above are different “plays” that can move the football down the field toward the goal line and to score. The goal line for the world is net-zero GHG emissions by the year 2050.
The football team is made up of many different players. The world team consists of the oil and gas industries in many countries. Anyone play by the team will involve many players. Anyone strategy will involve industries in many countries of the world.
For the football team, a variety of plays (hopefully all six plays) will give the best chance to score. For the world, using all strategies will improve the chance of meeting the goal.
What is obvious about a football team: the players must coordinate and help each other – called teamwork. For the world to reach the goal line, oil and gas industries and their countries need to plan together and to collaborate, to share motivation and information and research in a transparent manner.
Last, strengths need to be shared and weaknesses shored up. For example, the US industry is strong on strategies 6., 5., and 4.
The industries in Norway, Denmark, and Australia are adept at 2.
The industries in the UK (bp), Norway (Equinor), Denmark, and Australia are focused on 1.
The year is 2021 and the world transition team is at the 25-yard line, with a long way to go to score. It will be fascinating to see what progress will be made and how the game will change in 2022.