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In case you missed it, last week The Energy Collective hosted a webcast on the topic of oil and gas and what the future held for these fossil fuels. As recent research has shown, despite the unprecedented levels of growth and attention wind, solar and biofuels receive as energy sources, the globe’s hunger for energy will guarantee that fossil fuels make up a large part of our energy mix for quite some time.

The expert panel of Jesse Jenkins, Breakthrough Institute; Geoffrey Styles, GSW Strategy Group, Terrance Ivers, Siemens Energy; and Letha Tawney, World Resources Institute’s Climate and Energy Program discussed at length what is being done to improve sustainability in oil and gas, in terms of technology innovations, process, or otherwise.

The panel seemed to focus on three specific areas:

  1. The areas where the industry could make the product of oil and gas more efficient and less taxing on the environment
  2. The role of renewables in the production of oil and gas
  3. The importance of R&D in the future of oil and gas production and use

 

How Do We Make Oil and Gas Production Efficient

All the panelists seemed to agree with Mr. Styles that 80% of emissions from oil are used to drive our cars; not to extract and refine it. That means the industry only controls about 20% of oil production emissions. However, several ideas were offered on how to reduce emissions and increase efficiency on that 20%.

First, Mr. Styles pointed out that projects like the Keystone XL pipeline help reduce the transport of oil that would otherwise have to be shipped via traditional transportation, such as rail. In fact, he said that by canceling a project such as the Keystone XL pipeline, we actually increase the total lifetime emissions of that crude oil by about 10%.

On a separate note, Mr. Ivers pointed out that you can increase the efficiency in which you use the energy from oil and gas. For instance, he pointed to HVDC lines as a way to ensure that you minimize the amount of energy lost in transmission; thereby allowing you to produce less energy but still give the same amount of power to the end-user. Further, he said, in the U.S. for example, by upgrading old coal-fired power plants to more efficient and new gas power plants will result in their ability to produce more power with less fuel and emissions. He believes we can reduce CO2 by a third.

The Role of Renewables in the Production of Oil and Gas

The group also explored the possibility of renewable energy sources playing a role in oil and gas production. Ms. Tawney began the discussion by stating that using renewables to pump oil makes sense from a business perspective. She said there would be more oil and gas to sell with lower GHG's in total.

The rest of the panel debated this from a logistics perspective. Mr. Styles pointed out that oil and gas production is a 24/7 process that cannot be taken offline just because the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. So how do your offshore rigs, for instance, function with inconsistencies in wind power?

The Importance of R&D in the Future of Oil and Gas Production and Use

Research and development in the area of energy is always a subject that cannot be covered completely. However, the panelists brought up a couple of areas they would like to see more done around and some areas they think are moving along quite well.

Specifically, Ms. Tawney expressed concern, “I worry a lot about getting carbon capture and storage (CCS) to a mature place before we need it.” She believes that CCS fundamentally addresses public good with emissions reductions but that the private sector is not always inclined to do R&D in that area mostly due to costs.

Circling back around to the 80% emissions that comes after the oil and gas are extracted and refined, an audience member asked about the possibility of natural gas vehicles. Again, the logistics of the solution was debated. Mr. Styles pointed out, “A vehicle that burns natural gas instead of liquid fuel is typically more expensive.” Their weight can be significantly bigger due to the energy density of the fuel, which contributes to the need for larger fuel storage in the vehicle.

Beyond that, Mr. Styles also pointed out that the key issues in moving toward such vehicles really, “comes down to infrastructure & fleets.” And, that could not be truer. As the alternative auto industry will agree, one of the largest barriers to entry is a refueling infrastructure. While there is a very established network of gas stations throughout the world, where all drivers know they can fill up their gas tanks at any number of stations that are located every few miles, setting up charging stations or natural gas stations will take some time, effort and cost.

These and many other topics were covered in the webcast, and I invite you to listen to the recording and include your own thoughts in the discussion.