How virtual reality can help the oil and gas industry confront its invisible challenge: methane

I’m a certified oil and gas tech nerd, and I’ve never before been this excited about my job.  I love data and the insights that it surfaces, along with the immense possibility of applying those insights to catalyze continuous improvement. There are few decisions I make without an Excel spreadsheet – and, after spending several years working for an oilfield services company, I’m passionate about solving one of the biggest environmental problems of our time: methane emissions.

Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas and a common byproduct of oil production. Unburned, it’s also a powerful greenhouse gas. Worldwide, about 75 million metric tons of methane escape each year from oil and gas operations (through leaks, venting and flaring) – making the industry one of the largest sources of manmade methane emissions.

As methane risk is starting to draw increasing attention from public officials, major investors, and leaders within the industry, tech solutions are booming and “digitization of the oilfield” is becoming industry’s hottest new term.

The good news: many of these tech solutions are available today and easy to deploy on a wellsite. Unfortunately, many stakeholders involved in this global challenge have either never been to a wellsite or don’t spend much time on a wellsite. And even if they do, methane is invisible.

That’s why EDF worked with the creative agencies, Hunt, Gather and Fair Worlds, to build a new virtual reality (VR) experience, called the Methane CH4llenge, that brings the wellpad to you and showcases the power of tools like infrared cameras and portable analyzers to experience first-hand what methane leaks look like.

I recently spoke with Hunt, Gather / Fair Worlds Creative Director Erik Horn, my partner in crime for this project, about developing the VR, which you can experience at the World Gas Conference next week. Here are five takeaways from our discussion, which you can watch in full here. Read more

Why this leading energy company sees opportunity in a low carbon future

At Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that environmental progress and economic growth can and must go hand in hand. EDF+Business works with leading companies and investors to raise the bar for corporate sustainability leadership by setting aggressive, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the eighth in a series of interviews exploring trends in sustainability leadership as part of our effort to pave the way to a thriving economy and a healthy environment.

Equinor, formerly known as Statoil, is not your average energy company. The Norwegian-based corporation reports producing oil and gas with half of the CO2 emissions, compared to the global industry average.

The company also stated commitment to building its business in support of the Paris Agreement, and plans to invest over $200 million in Equinor Energy Ventures, one of the world’s largest corporate venture funds dedicated to investing in growth companies in renewable energy. That may be why CDP ranked Equinor as the oil and gas company best prepared for a low carbon future.

Equinor is also doing its part to detect and reduce methane emissions by embracing innovation and technology. In fact, Equinor was the first energy producer to purchase and install a new solar-powered technology device to continuously detect methane leaks. And, Equinor collaborates with EDF and Stanford in supporting mobile monitoring advances, such as drone based sensors.

In advance of the World Gas Conference in DC later this month, I spoke with Bjorn Otto Sverdrup, senior vice president of sustainability at Equinor, to learn more about the company’s climate goals and how the company is addressing methane emissions from its oil and gas operations. Here's an edited transcript of our conversation. Read more

Business leadership on climate and clean energy is blooming this spring

The momentum driving companies to cut carbon emissions shows no signs of slowing down, despite the lack of leadership from Washington, D.C.:

Most important, businesses increasingly see public policy as critical to achieving their climate and clean energy goals. Last month, leading companies including Apple, Google, Mars, Danone, Nestle, Unilever and American Eagle Outfitters filed comments with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), opposing repeal of the Clean Power Plan and affirming their support for policies that drive down emissions and increase access to renewable energy.

Here are three key takeaways from these developments.

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Amazon’s big opportunity: Transparency in sustainability

At Environmental Defense Fund, we believe that environmental progress and economic growth can and must go hand in hand. EDF+Business works with leading companies and investors to raise the bar for corporate sustainability leadership by setting aggressive, science-based goals; collaborating for scale across industries and global supply chains; publicly supporting smart environmental safeguards; and, accelerating environmental innovation.

This is the fifth in a series of interviews exploring trends in sustainability leadership as part of our effort to pave the way to a thriving economy and a healthy environment.

Over the past few years, Amazon’s sustainability team has been busy setting ambitious goals on renewable energy, making their voice heard on smart environmental policies, and leveraging their expertise in technology to drive innovation that can benefit the planet – and boost profits.

I recently chatted with Kara Hurst, head of worldwide sustainability at Amazon and former CEO of The Sustainability Consortium, about how innovation and environmental goals intersect at Amazon, the launch of the new Amazon Sustainability Question Bank, and how sustainability issues could play a role in deciding the next Amazon headquarters (HQ2).

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Our president promised jobs. Instead, he’s slashing them.

Earlier this week, Trump announced his decision to impose a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels. A tariff will have a negative impact on solar – one of the fastest growing industries in the entire country.

Environmental Defense Fund released its second annual jobs report yesterday, In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the New American Workforce, following Trump’s decision. The report shows that solar jobs now outnumber those in the coal industry 1.6 to 1, with coal employing only 160,000. Even better, these jobs are local, well-paying and available to individuals from all types of educational backgrounds and career history.

But now, solar jobs are at risk. Yesterday, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimated as many as 23,000 jobs would be lost under Trump’s tariff. The supportive policy environment that encouraged this growth is no longer in place. Let me explain.

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Why 2017 was the worst and best year of my entire sustainability career

Of my 20 years in the corporate sustainability world, I’ve never seen a year like 2017.

Like many of you, I watched in shock as we inaugurated a reality TV personality as our 45th President. Since then this Administration has rolled back critical environmental and health protections and ceded U.S. government leadership on climate change and clean energy. Issues that I am passionate about and have devoted my career to advancing. Issues that affect kids like my son, who turned 6 this week, and the over 6 million other children across the country that suffer from asthma.

At the same time, our family members, friends, and colleagues from coast to coast have been impacted by heart-wrenching extreme weather events – made stronger by climate change. In the past 12 months alone, we experienced the country’s most devastating hurricane season (with damage estimates ranging to $475 billion), record breaking temperatures that grounded airlines to a halt, freezing temperatures in the Southeast that caused over $1 billion in agricultural losses, and wildfires that continue to blaze across the state of California.

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How to make Thomas Friedman’s climate optimism a reality

Heroic imagination is required to protect health and ensure prosperity in a world of climate chaos, according to Thomas Friedman at the recent New York Times ClimateTECH conference. This potential is ours to realize, says Friedman, due to the unleashing of new technology a decade ago. With Twitter, YouTube, GitHub and the like, the interdependent power of many has never been greater, and the independent power of one has never shone brighter.

Not surprisingly, Friedman’s words inspired the conference audience of entrepreneurs and established companies there to discuss new clean tech innovations.

The problem is that although inspiration and imagination can help motivate change, they are not strategies to achieve it. Building a climate-friendly economy will help us realize the greatest opportunity of our lifetime — creating jobs and protecting health.

Seizing the opportunity to build prosperity while facing climate chaos requires more than a field of a thousand blooming start-ups. It requires massive, continuous innovation, and exponentially increasing investment to bridge the gap between inspiration and implementation.

Here’s how to address both challenges.

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Three reasons for companies to defend the Clean Power Plan

US businesses turned out in force at COP 23 in Bonn, demonstrating to the rest of the world that they are committed to action on climate change, despite the US government’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. In fact, 2017 has been a banner year for corporate climate leadership: over 1700 businesses signed the We Are Still In declaration, and nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies now have climate and clean energy goals.

Now, there’s an immediate opportunity for companies to show leadership on climate change here at home: speaking up in defense of the Clean Power Plan, which the current Administration wants to eliminate but is still very much in play.

Here are three reasons for your business to publicly defend the Clean Power Plan before the EPA comment period ends on April 26, 2018.

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COP 23 caps off a milestone year of corporate climate leadership

Photo credit: Rhys Gerholdt (WRI)

After the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP 21) in 2015, where the historic climate accord was established, it was near impossible to imagine a future COP where the US federal government wouldn’t play a central role. Yet now, at COP 23 in Bonn, Germany, the US government doesn’t have an official presence at the event – for the first time ever.

To fill the void of federal policy action, companies and organizations from across the US are voicing their support for the Paris agreement at the U.S. Climate Action Center, a pavilion sponsored exclusively by non-federal US stakeholders.

The Climate Action Center is an initiative of the We Are Still In coalition of cities, states, tribes, universities, and businesses that are committed to the Paris Agreement. Thus far over 1,700 businesses including Apple, Amazon, Campbell Soup, Nike, NRG Energy and Target have signed the We Are Still In declaration – evidence that public climate commitments are quickly becoming the norm.

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NYC paves the path for a better future, encouraging other cities to follow

Earlier this week, New York City became the first city to devise a plan for meeting the goals outlined in the Paris Accord —the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement from which President Trump pledged to pull the U.S. from. The 1.5°C Paris Agreement-compliant climate action plan comes in response to Executive Order 26 (EO26), signed by Mayor de Blasio that reaffirms the city’s commitment to upholding the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The plan identifies specific strategies for reducing GHG emissions necessary to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as set forth in the Paris Agreement. Leading the charge is the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (MOS), which has been moving the city’s decarbonization efforts forward by accelerating the implementation of existing projects launched under the 80 X 50 initiative—a goal of reducing GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050.

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