Oil and Gas Sustainability in Action
Putting SPE’s revised vision into action mandates extensive collaboration and effective engagement with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders. Since I became president-elect in September 2017, I have been visiting with stakeholders around the world, reframing how most view the concept of oil and gas sustainability, which includes economic, social development, and environmental components. I have presented the industry’s commitment toward securing uninterrupted affordable hydrocarbon energy resources in a safe and environmentally responsible manner despite the downturn, the drop of oil prices, anti-fossil-fuels activists, and pessimistic outlooks.
I believe that the world cannot address the climate challenge without the collaboration and engagement of the oil and gas industry. The world cannot stop using oil and gas tomorrow, even as some activists call for that action. There will be a lengthy transitional journey that includes a mix of fuels, including oil and gas, renewables, and nuclear. Producing and using oil and gas in cleaner ways are a major component of that transition.
The world’s population is expected to grow by 3 billion in the next 50 years, mainly in China, South Asia, India, and underdeveloped countries in Africa. In addition, most of the economic outlooks forecast a doubling of the global economy in the next 20 years. Supporting the expected economic growth, the current 1 billion people who have no access to modern energy, and the projected additional 3 billion people who will need jobs, energy, and higher standards of living cannot and will not be met with one source of energy or without the contribution of oil and gas. Many projections show oil and gas will remain more than 50% of the global energy mix for 20 years or more. Hence, our industry has to be a major player, and may have the opportunity to take a leading role, in addressing all of these challenges, including climate concerns.
During the past 18 months, I have seen the concept of sustainability in action, which has become part of the core business of large companies across the industry. This is evident through their annual sustainability reports and CEO-level tracked key performance indices. It is also reflected in operational practices, environmental measures, and research and development investments.
Through my visits to universities around the world, I found that research institutes in major universities are engaged in sustainability initiatives and research studies. During the month of January, I had the honor to be the keynote speaker during the launch of two sustainability initiatives by the Energy Advisory Board of the University of Houston (UH). This event was part of an ongoing collaboration between the UH Energy Advisory Board and the energy industry to integrate sustainability in companies’ strategies and day-to-day operations, a goal that fits perfectly my theme as SPE president.
The first initiative from UH is the Center for Carbon Management in Energy. This relates directly to the discussions I have been having about the industry’s stewardship in improving carbon intensity, fuel efficiency, the conversion of oil to chemicals and natural gas to power, and carbon capture, storage, utilization, and sequestration (CCSUS), especially for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). According to the Global Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Institute, as of 2018 the world has more than 43 large-scale CCS facilities—18 in commercial operation, 5 under construction, and 20 in various stages of development. The world is currently injecting more than 50 million tons of CO2 per year, which is projected to increase in the future. Many of these facilities were developed within our industry.
According to many energy leaders I met, including Dr. Fatih Birol, general director of the International Energy Agency, CCS and CCSUS are imperative technologies in tackling the climate challenge while also providing energy security to support the global economy and growing population. CCSUS is becoming a necessity to reduce CO2 emissions. Not only does our industry have experience with this technology, it can be transformed into a business opportunity for EOR and development of new carbon-based-products. Accordingly, I believe that companies are shifting from looking at emissions reduction as an overhead expense to new business models where carbon becomes a valued asset. With this transformation, I believe that our industry can take a leadership role, demonstrating positive contributions to solving climate concerns, which can only help to improve public perception.
The second UH sustainability initiative, which integrates the industry with the societies where it operates, is the Consortium for Energy Corporate Social Responsibility. We all know how much our companies contribute to the countries and localities where we operate, but those contributions are rarely recognized. I expect the consortium to highlight industry stewardship with respect to social development, and to expand the sharing of best practices and remove barriers to enhance and expand adoption of corporate social responsibility practices. Many regulatory and governing bodies are beginning to mandate a separate social development strategy as part of new and ongoing hydrocarbon development projects. We need companies of all sizes and types across our industry to embrace the concepts of social responsibility and develop effective programs to contribute to this important pillar of a sustainable world. I would love to see our industry recognized by external stakeholders for significant contributions in this area.
I also recommended the UH Energy Advisory Board consider developing another consortium to cover economics—the third pillar of oil and gas sustainability. Our industry plays an important role in job creation, economic growth, and energy-poverty reduction.
Another great external stakeholder engagement event I attended during the month of January was a Middle East Energy Outlook panel discussion held at the British Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) in London. During this well-attended event, I spoke about the pride and responsibility of our industry toward securing enough hydrocarbon resources to meet global energy demand. The result of that commitment is improvement in human lifestyle in the short, mid, and long term. We can, and are, meeting that commitment in a very social and environmentally responsible manner. I also called upon external stakeholders to collaborate with our industry in achieving their long-term vision of near-zero CO2 emissions. I highlighted the major industry initiatives to address climate challenges and the substantial investment our industry commits to this common global challenge. Given the length of the energy transition and the ongoing crucial role of oil and gas, as well as our leadership in CCSUS, our industry must be engaged as part of developing the solutions that will work globally.
Finally, during my January visit to the US, I met with the Energy Institute of The University of Texas at Austin. We discussed the potential to develop advanced analytics and correlations to quantify the components of oil and gas sustainability. Such measures could capture and highlight the impact of the oil and gas industry globally, regionally, and at the country level on economic impact, social development, and the environment. This could include measures of impact on GDP growth, job creation, energy poverty, urban development, health, lifestyle improvement, emissions, energy security, and more. I believe availability of such measures can lead the industry toward being recognized as the most reliable, affordable, and secure source of energy that also has a significant positive effect on economy, social development, and lifestyle with minimum impact on environment. I hereby call upon energy organizations and research institutes to embrace efforts to quantify oil and gas sustainability.
Oil and Gas Sustainability in Action
Sami Alnuaim, 2019 SPE President
01 April 2019
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