Managing the Rising Risk of Methane, What Investors Can Do

sean-headshotIn a recent blog post, I discussed three ways investors can have a positive impact on the environment.  One of those levers is engagement, or using your influence with the companies you invest in to help ensure those companies are being managed both profitably and sustainably.

Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) is a recognized global authority on how investors can engage with companies to manage environmental risks. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is partnering with PRI to release a new how-to guide for engaging with oil and gas companies globally on methane emissions.

As investor scrutiny ramps up on all forms of climate risk, investors globally are becoming more aware of and concerned about the material risks that methane poses to portfolios, detailed in EDF’s Rising Risk report.  That report found methane poses a series of reputational, regulatory and financial risks to operators and their investors.  Methane, 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, is a potent form of carbon risk, and left unmanaged it can literally leak away shareholder value.

An Investor’s Guide to Methane responds to growing demand from investors globally for practical guidance on how to not only manage these risks through company engagement, but surface opportunities as well.  Investors want to understand how companies should measure their emissions, what they should be reporting, and what kinds of best management practices they should adopt to keep more product in the pipeline.  This guide provides details on what leading methane management looks like.

Just as investors use quarterly earnings to understand who the most profitable companies are, investors can use the performance benchmarking framework included in the guide to help differentiate relative methane performance.  Because methane management is such a powerful proxy for operational excellence, understanding relative performance on the issue can be a helpful insight for investment decision-making. As such, early-engagers will have a first-mover advantage. This framework is also designed to help identify concrete next steps companies can take to improve management, such as using additional emissions reductions technologies or adopting methane reporting metrics.

summary-performance-assessment-toolThe guide also provides detailed questions to help support constructive dialogue.  For example, EDF’s Rising Risk report found that as of early 2016, zero of the leading 65 companies in the US had disclosed a methane reduction target. The guide includes questions such as “What form of a quantitative methane reduction target would work best for your company?” that can help an operator think through how to best set an ambitious but achievable target.

As part of their engagement, investors should expect all operators to measure, report and reduce their emissions:

Measure – We’ve all heard the phrase “what gets measured, gets managed.” Getting accurate information on a company’s methane emissions is the first step in understanding the extent of the problem, uncovering hidden risks, and identifying opportunities to bring more product to the bottom line.  The more accurate the information, the better positioned companies will be to effectively reduce emissions. Expert level methane management requires companies to utilize robust direct measurement, or the process of getting out into the field to measure emissions, as this is more accurate than desk-top estimates.

Report – Investors require actionable methane information in order to understand the relative performance of operators, and leading companies will demonstrate how they are managing methane risk.  Operators should set and disclose a methane reduction target, and report how they plan to meet that target. For example, expert level operators will report the frequency, scope and methodology for their leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs as one best practice to limit emissions.

Reduce – Minimizing methane emissions is highly cost effective, and can be done using proven, off the shelf technologies.  Because methane is both pollutant and product, many of these technologies have a positive payback. Investors should feel confident in encouraging companies to reduce emissions knowing they can do so in a shareholder-friendly manner.  Leading operators will show a declining trend in emissions, frequently inspect assets for leaks, join global voluntary initiatives like the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, and support regulations to reduce emissions.

The key points from these three buckets, as well as related engagement discussion questions, are summarized in a 2-page cheat sheet summary investors can take to meetings with them.

managing methane riskMethane is the next frontier for investor engagement on climate and carbon risk. Unmanaged emissions of methane can directly undermine the natural gas’ ability to play a role in a lower-carbon energy economy, impair social license to operate and be a proxy for operational inefficiency.   Conversely, active methane management can inspire investor and stakeholder confidence, keep product in the pipeline and prepare companies to operate in an increasingly carbon-constrained, regulated world.

Investors should utilize their influence, and this guide, to ensure companies are proactively managing methane risks and leveraging opportunities.

Download An Investor's Guide to Methane


Follow Sean Wright on Twitter, @SeanWright23


Additional reading: Why energy investors need to manage methane as a Rising Risk

 

Three Ways Investors Can Drive Environmental Gains

sean-headshotInvestors can be powerful change agents when it comes to the environment. Investors have capital which they can allocate in ways that either help or hurt the environment. They also have significant influence with the companies they invest in and with policymakers globally, both critical stakeholders when it comes to improving the environment.

While some investors are already working at the nexus of the environment and finance, given the earth’s pressing environmental challenges like climate change, overfishing and deforestation, there has never been a greater need for all investors to engage on sustainability issues. For example, private capital will be essential in order to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change – a recent UN study estimated that it will require roughly $90 trillion dollars, much more than philanthropic or public (i.e., government) investments can fund.

Of course, investors should consider environmental issues not just to do good, but also because the returns often meet if not exceed the performance of more traditional investments. And because investors are interested in risk-adjusted returns, managing environmental risks like carbon and water is critical to any comprehensive investment process.

Below are three levers investors can use to when considering environmental impacts:

  1. Capital allocation – The first decision any investor must make is where to invest their money. Considering sustainability issues can help drive capital towards investments that provide both an environmental and financial dividend.

One way to allocate capital toward more sustainable investments is to integrate environmental criteria into the investment process. Organizations like Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) improve disclosure on issues like carbon emissions and water, enabling investors to gain insight into how efficiently a company operates and manages environmental risk. In this respect, as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) disclosure improves, investors can move from screening out whole sectors to proactively allocating capital toward companies that better manage material environmental issues, an investment trend which is becoming more mainstream in the U.S.  For example, while Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Rising Risk report found methane disclosure in the oil and gas industry to be poor, as methane data improves, investors will be able to shift capital to those operators who are actively managing risk from this powerful pollutant and wasted product.

Investors can also place their money into investments with an explicit environmental component, like green bonds. These bonds are a debt instrument specifically tied to achieving a beneficial environmental outcome like energy efficiency, climate resiliency, or water infrastructure. The market for these double bottom line investments has grown from less than $3b just a few years ago to over $40b in 2015.

Investors are gaining new opportunities to invest in innovative products that help to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and agriculture and improve sustainable fishing practices around the globe. Sustainable investing is also no longer just for sophisticated institutional investors. As financial tech startups are enabling individual retail investors to invest in an environmentally-friendly manner – giving all an opportunity to do well by doing good.

  1. Company engagement – Once their money is allocated, investors can then use their influence as equity or debt-holders to hold corporations accountable for environmental performance, risk management and disclosure. Organizations like Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) act to help investors be effective engagers by coordinating efforts on topics from deforestation and palm oil to water risks, and encourage collaboration where possible.

Engagement can include the ability of asset owners like private equity to work with portfolio companies to become more sustainable. EDF worked with leading private equity companies to design the Green Returns tool, which enables private equity to approach value creation through an environmental lens, and spot opportunities such as energy efficiency and waste reduction initiatives that generate cost-savings. Using this tool, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) was able to add $1.2 billion to the value of their portfolio while avoiding significant greenhouse gases, water use, and excess waste.

Shareholders in public companies also have the ability to file shareholder resolutions to publically encourage better environmental management. In 2016, shareholders filed a record number of climate-related resolutions, which a recent Harvard Business School study has shown to be effective in improving both financial and environmental performance when focused on material ESG issues.

  1. Policy Support – Getting the rules right will be critical in both addressing environmental issues directly and in driving private capital towards environmentally-friendly assets. As Hank Paulson, the former Treasury Secretary and CEO of Goldman Sachs noted in a recent NY Times Op-Ed, we need policies that “include environmental regulations to stimulate clean, sustainable development; incentives and subsidies for clean energy investments; and the pricing of carbon emissions.”

Investors with expertise on business, markets, and finance have an important role to play in the policy process. The next generation of investor leadership on sustainability will require aligning external policy positions with internal sustainability practices and playing a proactive and public role to support legislation and regulations.

Organizations like CERES have been instrumental in activating investors on policy matters. Just this year, CERES played a leading role in getting 76 global investors with $3.6 trillion in assets under management (AUM) to support methane regulations in the U.S. and Canada while working with organizations like Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) in Europe to recruit 130 investors with $13 trillion in AUM to support implementation of the Paris agreement. Such statements of support are meaningful in helping build the business case for environmental policy.  And direct engagement with law and policy makers is a next frontier for investors looking to maximize their impact on supporting sound policy development.

The need for investors to engage on environmental issues has never been greater, and the opportunities to do so profitably have never been more widespread. Investors of all kinds should incorporate the levers of allocation, engagement and policy in their investment process – a move with the potential to benefit both the planet and their portfolios.


Follow Sean Wright on Twitter, @SeanWright23


Why energy investors need to manage methane as a Rising Risk

 

Methane Emissions are Risky Business for Investors

No one likes uncertainty, least of all investors. From changes in interest rates, to supply chain disruptions, the list of risks investors must monitor is long and growing. Good, actionable information is investors’ most important tool for risk management and integral to successful investing. Without proper data, investors are flying blind.

Rising-Risk-coverA new report published by EDF this week  throws the spotlight on a growing risk for investors—methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. As so clearly demonstrated by the ongoing and massive leak at Aliso Canyon, methane emissions pose a multitude of expanding risks, with both short and long-term consequences.

Three key risks from oil & gas methane

At 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short-term, methane emissions represent a potent and fast-emerging form of carbon risk. In a world looking to reduce carbon pollution, methane emissions pose regulatory, reputational and economic risks. Preparedness to comply with forthcoming rules varies across the industry, methane undercuts natural gas’ ability to play a role in a carbon-constrained world, and emissions of methane are lost product amounting to $30 billion a year globally.

Investors should be asking themselves these questions:

  • Do you know how much money your oil and gas companies are losing?
  • Do you know if they have a plan to reduce emissions to limit impacts?
  • Do you know how prepared they are to comply with forthcoming regulation?

It’s difficult to find out, and that’s a problem. Read more

The Best New Job Opportunities in Oil & Gas Might Surprise You

People often think of the energy sector as a great place to find jobs, but some of the best, most stable job opportunities in the sector aren’t what you’d think. They’re not dedicated to resource production, but to minimizing the millions of tons of natural gas and associated pollution that leaks as the product is produced and delivered, wasting resources and causing a serious environmental problem.

methaneleaks2_378x235Each year, more than 7 million tons of methane – the main component of natural gas and a powerful pollutant – escapes from oil and gas operations. These emissions pack the same short-term warming punch as pollution from 160 coal-fired power plants, and equal enough wasted natural gas to heat and cook meals for 5 million American homes.

Companies across the country are already harnessing the power of American innovation to solve this problem, creating new job opportunities in the process. And, a growing trend toward stronger state and federal safeguards to standardize methane reduction best practices is putting more wind in the sails of this growing industry.

Many of the positions being created are skilled, high-paying jobs for workers such as engineers and welders, according to a 2014 Datu Research report on the emerging methane mitigation industry. But these companies need a variety of other positions filled too, from sales to accounting to general labor.

Many of these companies have their roots in traditional equipment manufacturing, such as valves and sealing technologies that keep industrial systems running as efficiently as possible. Others, such as makers of optical gas imaging, are on the cutting edge of new technologies that allow users to identify methane leaks that are invisible to the naked eye. Read more

Game Time for Fixing The Natural Gas Industry’s Achilles Heel

As the dog days of summer expire and football season approaches, many sports fans will anxiously scan their favorite team’s rosters for training camp injuries–finding everything from the innocuous, to the dreaded torn Achilles that already sidelined several pro players for the season’s start.

Gametime-300x250When it comes to the energy industry, methane emissions loom as the Achilles heel of natural gas. On the surface, natural gas appears to many as a star American player – abundant and cleaner burning than coal.

But unchecked methane emissions, which are 84 times more potent than CO2, undercut natural gas’ climate change performance.

This risk has grown particularly acute because the recently finalized Clean Power Plan, which targets carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, casts natural gas as part of a viable near-term strategy to win the climate game.

The spotlight on natural gas’ performance is only growing as more viewers tune in.

The difference is, while there is no sure-fire way to prevent an Achilles tear on the athletic field, we have the means at our fingertips to dramatically reduce methane emissions and help natural gas become a stronger player that puts more points on the board for the economy and climate.

New EPA methane rules announced Tuesday can be an important step if finalized in strong form, yielding four business benefits: Read more

Methane Mitigation Sector: EPA Actions Good for Industry, Will Curb Waste and Protect Communities

sean_wright_287x377A rising chorus of companies in the oil & gas services sector are adding their voices to the majority of Americans who think it’s a smart idea to limit vast waste of methane taking place every day in the nation’s the oil and gas operations. These companies in the methane mitigation industry are experts in finding and fixing methane waste. They issued statements welcoming the EPA’s announcement of planned rules aimed at reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas value chain.

As the ones who are working overtime to provide technologies and services to minimize release of methane and other pollutants throughout the natural gas value chain, these companies see limiting methane emissions as smart business for the oil and gas industry.

Consider their remarks:

  • “Rebellion Photonics welcomes today’s announcement from the EPA regarding its methane plan. It is a positive step towards ensuring we minimize emissions of methane, a short-term climate forcer, from the US oil and gas value chain. America’s shale revolution holds vast potential to both power our economy and drive environmental gains. Limiting the amount of methane that leaks from natural gas equipment ensures that we will maximize the environmental benefits of America’s plentiful natural gas resources,” said Rebellion Photonics, a manufacturer of specialized cameras that detect methane leaks.
  • “The FSA and its members are committed to doing its part to address climate change. The FSA is well equipped to work with our partners in the oil and gas sector, the EPA and the Obama Administration in finding solutions and being a technical resource to curtail methane emissions,” said the Fluid Sealing Association, which represents major US manufacturers of sealing technology that helps limit emissions of methane.
  • “Apogee Scientific, Inc. looks forward to working closely with the EPA and the Oil and Gas sector to reduce the environmental and health impacts of oil and natural gas development in the United States. As a company based in Colorado, a state with the country’s strongest methane rules, we have seen first-hand how good, comprehensive policy can drive environmental, economic, and local community benefits. The EPA should look at Colorado as the model of how good methane policy can benefit all stakeholders involved,” said Apogee Scientific, a Colorado-based maker of leak detection equipment.

These statements express the clear private-sector support for smart, common sense limits on methane emissions that will level the playing field for operators nationwide and drive down emissions. Read more

Methane Emissions Just Like Oil Spills in the Sky

An inspector uses a FLIR camera to detect methane gas leaks. (Source: FLIR)

An inspector uses a FLIR camera to detect methane gas leaks. (Source: FLIR)

Out of sight, out of mind. This certainly applies to methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

That’s because methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas and the primary constituent of natural gas, is invisible to the naked eye.

And it’s one reason methane emissions, while a significant threat to our environment, don’t get the attention they should from policymakers or the public when compared to, say, conspicuous oil spills.

But we have the technology to make the invisible visible. As you’ll see in the video below, fugitive methane emissions look very much like an oil spill in the sky.

The footage comes from FLIR, a maker of optical gas imaging cameras and one of the largest companies in the methane mitigation industry.

Read more

Report Finds Opportunity for Natural Gas Job Growth—But It’s Not Where You Think

In 1933, Milton Heath Sr. opened a small, family-run consulting firm to find leaks from natural gas pipelines in an emerging energy market. More than 80 years later, the Texas-based business has expanded to provide more than 1,200 manufacturing and service jobs nationwide.

Methane Cover Photo

Heath Consultants’ business model may have changed – but the company’s commitment to finding and reducing leaks of methane—a potent greenhouse gas—has not wavered.

Stories like Heath’s are the focus of a new report released this week by Datu Research. The Emerging U.S. Methane Mitigation Industry looks at the growing industry that specializes in manufacturing technologies and providing services that help oil and gas companies reduce their environmental impact and deliver a valuable product to market.

The report analyzes more than 70 companies that limit methane emissions and provide high-paying, highly skilled jobs to thousands across the country. They operate in a rapidly growing industry responding to concerns over methane pollution that is rising in tandem with our domestic energy boom.

Read more

Financial Sector Focuses on Risks from Methane

Environmental concerns about methane emissions continue to grow as more people understand the negative climate implications of this incredibly potent greenhouse gas. Now the financial community is taking note of not only the environmental risks but the impact of methane emissions on the oil and gas industry’s bottom line. Methane leaks not only pollute the atmosphere, but every thousand cubic feet lost represents actual dollars being leaked into thin air—bad business any way you look at it.

stock graph

Source: Ash Waechter

Last week the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)—a collaborative effort aimed at improving corporate performance on environmental, social and government issues—released their provisional accounting standards for the non-renewable resources sector, which includes oil and gas production.

These accounting standards guide companies on how to measure and disclose environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks that impact a company’s financial performance. Their work highlights the growing demand amongst investors and stakeholders for companies to report information beyond mere financial metrics in order to provide a more holistic view of a company’s position.

Read more