Can technology save the climate? These companies are betting $1 billion it can

Photo credit John Davidson.

Last November, on the same day the Paris climate agreement took effect, 10 of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, including BG Group, BP, Eni, Pemex, Reliance Industries, Repsol, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Statoil and Total, announced a billion-dollar investment in climate solutions. Together, the member-companies of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) produce 20 percent of the world’s oil and gas and operate in 55 countries.

Their commitment was the beginning sign of a growing and public recognition by the oil and gas industry that tomorrow’s low carbon energy transformation has become today’s new energy imperative.

Right now, the biggest, most pressing climate item for the oil and gas industry is methane. Importantly, OGCI’s announcement included a global focus on reducing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Far more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timespan, methane is responsible for about a quarter of the warming we feel today.

Many expect OGCI to direct hundreds of millions of its billion-dollar pledge into addressing methane. Beyond the climate benefits, it’s a smart business investment. The International Energy Agency has said, “the potential for natural gas to play a credible role in the transition to a decarbonized energy system fundamentally depends on minimizing these emissions.” Simply put, methane is an existential threat for an industry and its long term investors banking on natural gas to aid the transition to a lower-carbon energy economy.

Potential is high for OGCI’s methane endeavor to catalyze important breakthroughs. With sets of OGCI members holding joint stakes in nearly 250 natural gas projects worldwide, there is opportunity to catalyze and spread methane emission reductions throughout the whole industry. We stand ready to help OGCI develop innovative solutions and offer the following suggestions as it begins its methane work.

Data Drives Success

Data alone won’t solve the methane challenge. But strong and credible data are essential. In the United States, vast scientific initiatives have greatly improved our understanding of methane leaks, releases and total emissions from oil and gas activity. This scientific understanding helps companies identify reduction opportunities and regulators develop sound, data-based regulations.

Globally, however, methane measurement is much less mature. Filling the gaps to better inform how companies and countries can address this problem in other parts of the world is important, while companies continue to pursue mitigation opportunities. As a future founding member of the UN’s Oil and Gas Methane Science Studies partnership, OGCI is positioned to bolster reliable and transparent methane science worldwide.

Innovation Requires Collaboration

Some of the innovation required to solve the methane challenge will come from collaboration within and among the OGCI companies. But not all of it. Around the world, there are entrepreneurs, scientists and investors that are already tackling methane. In our experience with the Methane Detectors Challenge, we learned that innovation requires early and ongoing collaboration across technology and energy sector lines. Without it, entrepreneurs don’t know what the market needs or wants and energy companies don’t know what technologists can deliver.

Today, there are gaps of information, culture, language and understanding between technology entrepreneurs and the energy companies they are trying to serve. Closing these gaps by supporting technology innovation is a prime opportunity for an industry group like OGCI to support, and OGCI is positioned to do this now that it has set up a smaller investment vehicle with the license to be nimble.

Focus on Prevention and Detection

Preventing methane leaks and finding them quickly are the two most important methane opportunities.

Every leak that is prevented is a leak that doesn’t need to be repaired. Innovation in design, technologies and strategies that prevent emissions at specific and known sources of equipment should be top of mind for OGCI. For example, aerial measurement studies have shown that tanks are significant emission sources, some of which are not properly controlled. Routine methane releases from inefficient or malfunctioning valves are also believed to be a significant source.

An undetected methane leak can leak indefinitely. It’s one reason why periodic detection is so important, and efficient airborne sweeps for large leaks should be investigated. But while routine checks are better than none, they can still allow leaks to persist for months at a time. In the United States alone, studies have shown that 10 percent of leaks are responsible for 80 percent of emissions. Fortunately, next-generation detection technologies are being developed to catch large leaks with the speed we’d expect in the digital age.

Statoil, a Norwegian-based international oil and gas company and OGCI member, is pioneering continuous methane emissions monitoring at a well pad in Texas, and a leading natural gas utility is doing the same in California. These are promising developments, bringing real-time methane monitors to market. Now, the next level of industry leadership from groups such as OCGI are vital to help spur competition in this growing segment and drive unit deployment up and costs down.

Avoiding the wasteful flaring of natural gas in favor of recapturing the fuel is another worthy opportunity to tighten the oil and gas system. There are roughly 16,000 flares worldwide, and some flares burn all day and night. OGCI can galvanize investors and operators to provide the capital and incentives to put entrepreneurs to work turning wasted gas into productive use.

Results Matter

OGCI’s success will be measured by the amount of methane reductions it delivers. Now is the time for OGCI to set a clear path for how it will achieve success with its multi-million dollar methane mitigation endeavor.

EDF’s global goal – reducing oil and gas methane emissions 45 percent by 2025 – coincides with OGCI’s 10-year mandate and is a mark we encourage the group to embrace or exceed. Industry leaders and investors need to manage methane risk so that natural gas is a cleaner, more responsible transition fuel. Governments and their citizens need to know that industry is doing all it can to address the global methane challenge. OGCI is in a unique position to spur innovation that can satisfy both needs.

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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

Big Question about the Oil and Gas Industry’s Newest Climate Effort

methaneleaks2_378x235Europe’s largest oil companies are reportedly working together on a policy strategy leading up to this year’s international climate talks in Paris. It’s nice to hear that some of the biggest players in the global oil and gas industry want to engage in solutions, but it remains to be seen if they will take the action needed to effectively tackle some of our most immediate climate threats – or to seize a major untapped opportunity.

That opportunity is methane. The highly potent greenhouse gas that’s been largely ignored until recently represents a solution for making real and immediate progress to slow warming. So will the group of oil companies sign on to tackle methane as a big part of its strategy, or are they going to ignore it?

Methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas, has over 80 times the warming power of CO2 and is responsible for 25 percent of the warming we are feeling today. That means tackling methane is an essential piece of the puzzle in making a real impact on greenhouse emissions. Read more

3 Climate Leadership Openings Corporate America Can't Afford to Miss

Too much ink has been spilled on the anti-climate furor of the Koch brothers. If we lose on climate, it won’t be because of the Koch brothers or those like them.

It will be because too many potential climate champions from the business community stood quietly on the sidelines at a time when America has attractive policy opportunities to drive down economy-endangering greenhouse gas emissions.

Corporate executives have the savvy to understand the climate change problem and opportunity. They have the incentive to tackle it through smart policy, and the clout to influence politicians and policy makers. Perhaps most importantly, they can inspire each other.

And today, they have a chance to do what they do best: lead. Corporate climate leadership has nothing to do with partisanship – it’s ultimately about business acumen.

For starters, here are three immediate opportunities smart companies won’t want to miss.

1. Clean Power Plan: Will spur new jobs and investments.

The Obama administration’s plan will cut emissions from coal plants by 30 percent by 2030. This is expected to trigger a wave of clean energy investment and job creation. It will also seize energy efficiency opportunities and take advantage of America’s abundant and economic supply of natural gas.

Every company with an energy-related greenhouse gas footprint has something to gain from a cleaner power mix. Each one of those companies therefore has a stake in the Clean Power Plan.

Google and Starbucks – two large and profitable American companies by any standard – are among more than 200 businesses that have already stepped up to voice their support.

Who will follow them?

2. First-ever methane rules: Will make industry more efficient.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s upcoming methane emission rules are another opportunity for business leaders to weigh in.

The rules are part of a White House plan that seeks to reducemethane emissions – a major contributor to global warming and resource waste – by almost half in the oil and gas industry.

Globally, an estimated 3.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas leaks from the sector each year. This wasted resource would be worth about $30 billion in new revenue if sold on the energy market.

Some oil and gas companies that have already taken positive steps include Anadarko, Noble and Encana, which helped develop the nation’s first sensible methane rules in Colorado.

Engaging to support strong and sensible national standards isa good next step for companies in this space. And for others with a stake in cleaning up natural gas, such as chemical companies, and manufacturers and users of natural gas vehicles.

3. New truck standards: Can help companies cut expenses and emissions.

New clean truck standards are scheduled for release this summer. Consumer goods companies and other manufacturers stand to see significant dollar and emissionsavings as they move their goods to market.

Cummins, Wabash, Fed Ex, Con-Way, Eaton and Waste Management are among those that applauded the decision to move forward with new standards.

Putting capitalism to work

American business leadership is still the global standard and will remain so if it adds climate policy to its to-do list. While it will take time to build the bi-partisan momentum for comprehensive national climate legislation, there are immediate opportunities to move the needle.

Which companies will take the field?

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices.

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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.

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Leadership on Sustainability Must Include Helping Shape Smart Policy

This past year, we’ve seen some bold action by companies in what we’ve dubbed the business-policy nexus, and it’s taking several different forms. Some have been calling for state or federal action on environmental impacts, while others are taking far-reaching voluntary efforts that could help support policy advocacy in the future.

Whether you view engagement on public policy as risk mitigation, providing market certainty, supporting corporate sustainability goals or securing competitive advantage, leading businesses are increasingly stepping up their efforts to support smart policy reform that will benefit the environment and economy.

Keeping toxic chemicals out of supply chains

Walmart shopper

Walmart and Target are moving to proactively get harmful chemicals out of their supply chains, even though the nation’s main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is outdated and hasn’t been reformed in nearly two decades.

Earlier this year, our long-term partner in this area, Walmart, took a big step forward by announcing a new sustainable chemicals policy focused on cutting 10 chemicals of concern from home and personal care products it sells. Chemicals of concern – for example, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen – have been found in about 40% of the formulated products on Walmart shelves, including things like household cleaners, lotions and cosmetics. 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.

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.

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