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

Leading methane commitment from Exxon’s U.S. driller: Why it matters

The degree to which the oil and gas industry can be trusted to play a constructive role in a low carbon future depends in no small measure on whether and how it reduces climate pollution today. That’s why company insiders, investors, and policy makers should take careful note of the sensible and innovative commitments announced by XTO Energy, the ExxonMobil subsidiary that leads the United States in natural gas production.

The industry’s many outside stakeholders both in the U.S. and around the world are increasingly calling for emission reductions and greater commitment to cleaner production. Companies that heed those calls, and advance new technologies, will be much better positioned to answer society's demands for responsibility. Read more

Regulation as a Platform for Innovation

IMG_0187To get anything accomplished, you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. One unsung story buried in last week’s release of EPA’s new source methane rules may make good options even better – driving innovation and offering industry more options to meet the methane challenge.

The new rules target a pervasive problem: methane – the primary component of natural gas – leaking throughout the oil and gas value chain. Methane emissions represent a waste of saleable resources, a reputational risk, and a contributor to both poor local air quality and climate change.

Under the EPA’s framework, oil and gas operators must take steps to minimize emissions from new and modified sources – from finding and fixing leaks to swapping out equipment to reduce methane vented from pneumatic controllers and pumps. Companies in Colorado working to comply with the state’s similar rule have reported that putting similar measures in place is cost-effective, even generating positive returns from selling the captured gas.

But what should an agency do when the solutions available now are reasonable but not perfect? Existing strategies don’t monitor all the time – only a few days a year. So leaks and malfunctions can be missed, or leak for months before they are fixed.

MDC-devices-in-fieldNew technologies – emerging from research labs, startups and mature companies in adjacent sectors – can help spot leaks at lower cost, including through continuous monitoring. EDF’s Methane Detectors Challenge will launch pilots of sensitive, rugged, low-cost continuous methane monitors with oil and gas operators. Due to collaborative partnerships, these innovative technologies are advancing rapidly.

In a regulated industry like oil and gas, adaptability as technology progresses is key to ensuring operators can use more effective and lower-cost solutions as they become available. That insight led many innovators, forward-thinking oil and gas operators and EDF to call on EPA to include a pathway to innovation in the final rule. Read more

Three Ways Methane Standards Can Help the Oil and Gas Sector Rebuild

A massive wave of market and societal forces is changing the oil and gas industry. Low commodity prices are driving out weaker players with excessive debt, and forcing those that remain to become leaner and more efficient. As climate change effects worsen and countries move to fulfill their commitments from the Paris climate agreement, public scrutiny of oil and natural gas and their impacts only intensifies.

The question is not will industry change to meet these challenges — it’s how. It’s about what opportunities can propel industry to come back stronger out of the depths of the commodity slide, as a leaner, cleaner industry standing on firm ground that it can play a meaningful role as societies work to transition to lower-carbon economies.

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While natural gas remains a fact of life, and switching from coal to natural gas has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientific research has demonstrated that potent methane emissions from the oil and gas system are undermining that climate benefit. The latest U.S. inventory shows over 9 million metric tons of oil and gas methane emissions, packing the same climate impact over a 20 year timeframe as over 200 coal-fired power plants. That’s a lot of methane no matter how you slice it.

Methane standards like the rule announced today by EPA can aid industry, for three reasons: Read more

Coming Soon: Solutions for Finding Methane Leaks Faster

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Infrared footage of the leak from the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility

After more than four months of spewing potent methane pollution, the massive Aliso Canyon gas leak has finally been plugged. But now the state of California and the utility that owns the site, SoCalGas, are left with the responsibility of ensuring a disaster like this doesn’t happen again.

While Aliso Canyon has captured the attention of the nation, it’s important to remember that there are smaller—and far more prevalent—leaks happening throughout the country’s oil and gas supply chain every day. In fact, those emissions add up to more than 7 million metric tons of methane pollution every year.  That equals over $1 billion worth of wasted natural gas at 2015 prices.

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Map of leaks around the Porter Ranch area

Methane leaks aren’t just wasteful—they have real impacts on communities. In Wyoming, for example, oil and gas pollution has driven up respiratory illness and smog levels to rival those in famously polluted Los Angeles. In California, residents living near the Aliso Canyon leak have already experienced headaches and vomiting; the long-term health impacts of their exposure to these leaks are a big unknown.

While solutions to detect leaks—like the infrared cameras that made the Aliso Canyon geyser visible to the world—are readily available today, a group of technology developers and oil and gas companies are collaborating with EDF to develop even more cost-effective–and automated–technologies to dramatically speed up leak detection. 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

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

Investors Voice Market Support for Methane Regulation

banner_gasLast week, financial community leaders took a big step into the intersection of business and policy on the urgent need to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. A group of investors managing more than $300 billion in market assets sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration and the White House, calling for the federal government to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. The letter urged covering new and existing oil and gas sites, including upstream and midstream sources, citing that strong methane policy can reduce business risk and create long-term value for investors and the economy.

Spearheaded by Trillium Asset Management, the cosigners of the letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy included New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, who oversees the $160 billion New York City Pension Funds, and a diverse set of firms and institutional investors. They spelled out in no uncertain terms that they regard methane as a serious climate and business problem – exposing the public and businesses alike to the growing costs of climate change associated with floods, storms, droughts and other severe weather.

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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.

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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