Methane leadership is a competitive advantage, says global investor

Environmental Defense Fund Q&A with Tim Goodman, Director of Engagement at Hermes Investment Management

Tim Goodman, Director of Engagement at Hermes Investment Management

Early oil and gas industry adopters of methane management strategies and technologies are starting to see these reductions as an opportunity to gain a competitive edge.

Just last week, ExxonMobil announced  a new methane reduction program for its XTO Energy subsidiary, underscoring that the industry is paying close attention to the issue.

Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is leaked and vented across the oil and gas supply chain every day as the world energy mix shifts towards greater natural gas usage, according to the International Energy Agency. The oil and gas industry wastes billions of dollars a year of methane that simultaneously acts as a climate change accelerator, harming the brand of natural gas as a cheap and clean fuel source. Methane is 84 times more powerful as a heat-trapper than carbon in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. 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

Global investor touts methane opportunity with oil & gas industry

Institutional investors worldwide are increasingly encouraging oil and gas companies to improve and disclose their management strategies to minimize methane risk.

Methane – an invisible, odorless gas and main ingredient in natural gas – is routinely emitted by the global oil and gas industry, posing a reputational and economic threat to portfolios.

Natural gas is widely marketed as a low-carbon fuel because it burns roughly 50 percent cleaner than coal. But this ignores a major problem: methane. Natural gas is almost pure methane, a powerful pollutant that speeds up Earth’s warming when it escapes into the atmosphere.

Last month marked a significant milestone in investor action on the methane issue. The Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) launched a new initiative representing 36 investors and U.S. $4.2 trillion in assets that will engage with the oil and gas industry across five different continents to improve its methane management and disclosure practices. The PRI initiative complements existing methane engagement efforts focused on the U.S. led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and CERES.

EDF Senior Manager Sean Wright recently sat down with Sylvia van Waveren, a Senior Engagement Specialist with Robeco Institutional Asset Management, a Dutch-based investment firm managing over $160 billion, to discuss the matter and understand why some investors are keen to affect the status quo on methane.

Wright: Why is methane a focus of your engagements? What do you see as the risks of unmanaged methane emissions? 

Sylvia van Waveren, Senior Engagement Specialist, Robeco Institutional Asset Management

van Waveren: Methane is one of the most important drivers of engagement with the oil and gas industry. We invest in oil and gas companies worldwide. A year ago, we started engaging them, specifically on climate change – and within that the methane issue is included.

In the past, methane was viewed as a U.S. shale gas issue, but more recently it has become important in Europe as we learned that methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. So in that sense, we learned a lot from the U.S. discussions and we still do.

I would like to stress that we see the methane issue more as a business opportunity than a risk. What we often say to companies is that methane is a potential revenue source. It would be a waste if companies do not use it. 

Wright: The scope of PRI’s initiative is global, with investors from 3 different continents as far away as Australia and New Zealand, and a plan to engage with companies from the Latin America, Europe, North America and Asia-Pac. What does this level of global collaboration convey about methane emissions? 

van Waveren: I am happy and it is good to see that others have taken up the seriousness of this issue, as well.  Methane is no longer a U.S. only problem. The issue is being raised and discussed in all kinds of geographies.

I’m a firm believer in collective engagements. They can be a powerful force when the issue is not contained within borders. That is the case with greenhouse gases. So yes, I’m happy to see the PRI initiative taking off and I am an active believer in getting this solved and bringing attention to this subject.  

Wright: In your conversations thus far with companies about methane, what resonates best when making the business case for improving methane management and disclosure?

van Waveren: When we talk about motivation at the company level, I have to be honest, it’s still early days. The European companies are talking in general terms and just now conceptualizing methane policies. If we’re lucky, they have calculated how much methane is part of their greenhouse gas emissions. And if we’re more fortunate, they are producing regional and segregated figures from carbon, but it’s really very meager how motivated the companies are and what triggers them most.

I really feel we should emphasize more with companies to get them motivated and to really look at the seriousness of methane. One issue that is particularly bothersome is that many companies do not know how to calculate, estimate and set targets to reduce methane. It is still a mystery to many of them. That’s why we come in with engagements. We need to keep them sharp on this issue and ask them for their actions, calculations and plans. 

Wright: Who are other important allies that have a role in solving this problem, and why?

van Waveren: We always would like to have an ally in the government. For example, carbon pricing or carbon fixations are all topics that we look for from the government. But in practice, that doesn’t work. Governments sometimes need more time. So we do not always wait for the government. When companies say they will wait for government, we say, “You should take a proactive approach.”

We rely very much on our knowledge that we get from within the sector. We review data analyses and make intermediate reports of scoring. We find best practice solutions and we hold companies accountable. There are also times when we name names. So in that sense, that is how engagement works. The data providers and other organizations with good knowledge and good content on methane – and EDF is certainly one of them – are very instrumental to get the knowledge that we need.

Wright: Can you give me an example of a widespread financial risk facing an industry in the past that was proactively improved by investors leading the charge – similar to this initiative?

van Waveren: More than 20 years ago, we had a greenhouse gas issue – acid rain. Investors helped solve that problem. Because of this, I’m hopeful that investors can also play a positive role in reducing methane.

I would also say the issue of Arctic drilling. Not so long ago, this was top of mind when we talked to our portfolio companies. A lot of companies have now withdrawn from Arctic drilling, especially from offshore Arctic drilling. I think investors were quite successful in sending a clear signal to the industry in a collective way that we didn’t see Arctic drilling as a good process. Maybe profitable – if at all – to the companies, but certainly not for the environment.

Wright: Thank you, Sylvia. We really appreciate your time and your thoughtful answers showing how investors can be part of the solution on methane.

Careful what you wish for: Trump’s environmental attacks will harm industry

In the same week Apple raised $1 billion through green bonds to invest in clean energy, and Amazon put solar panels on a million square foot processing facility, the Trump administration – at the urging of the worst elements in the oil and gas industry –proposed a two-year delay of sensible rules that would limit emissions of methane and other air pollutants. While a federal court since struck down a previous 90-day delay as unlawful, the two-year delay is still subject to public comment, and many expect the administration’s attacks on methane safeguards to continue through other means.

Natural gas, which is mostly methane, has been put forward as a cleaner alternative to other fossil fuels and as an energy resource that can play a key role in the transition to a lower-carbon future. But now more than ever, that proposition is now called into serious question.

How will natural gas compete in a changing world?

Every year, oil and gas operations around the country emit some 8-10 million metric tons of methane into the air. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, responsible for about a quarter of the climate warming we’re experiencing today – and those emissions come mingled with a host of other smog-forming and carcinogenic pollutants.

There are cost-effective, proven ways to reduce these emissions, and leading companies are already implementing them. The problem is, many companies refuse to address the problem on their own. And now they’re looking to the Trump administration for a free pass to pollute.

When trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute attack cost-effective policies that protect public health and the climate, it sends a signal that the natural gas industry will do everything it can to maximize short-term profits – even at the risk of damaging the reputation of the industry in the eyes of the public and jeopardizing its ability to operate over the long term.

The question is: In an increasingly carbon constrained world, what is the natural gas industry’s plan for the future?

We’re not arguing that gas is at risk of going away tomorrow. The United States leads the world in natural gas production, as new technologies and processes have unlocked massive, cheap reserves. But make no mistake, the transition to cleaner energy in the U.S. and across the globe is irreversible and accelerating. In this context, fighting reasonable and necessary emissions rules only magnifies risk for the natural gas industry and its investors. It’s a head-in-the-sand approach that ignores the realities of what consumers, communities and markets demand.

Capital markets shifting to cleaner companies and forms of energy

The Trump administration’s recent moves come at a time when environmental concerns informing investment decisions are reaching record highs. For example, investors with $10 trillion in assets under management have committed to the Montreal Carbon Pledge to reduce the carbon footprint of their portfolios, with an eye towards portfolio de-carbonization in the long run.

As part of the shift to assets in lower emitting companies and industries, investors are demanding better carbon and methane disclosure as well as proactive environmental management. The recent watershed Exxon vote, in which 62% of investors (including industry titans like BlackRock and Vanguard) demanded better climate risk disclosure from Exxon management, showed that carbon risk considerations have hit the mainstream.

Increasingly, investors see methane simply as a form of carbon risk in need of management, not neglect. And methane waste can be cost-effectively managed – as proven in states like Colorado where production has continued apace even as strict methane rules have come on the books.

On top of investors’ efforts to shift portfolios towards cleaner companies, the divestment movement also continues to grow, driven by a range of environmental risks of owning fossil fuel stocks. Just recently mainstream investor CalSTRS divested from coal. Going forward, increasing numbers of investors will look carefully at the environmental record of oil and natural gas companies in determining their comfort level in continuing to invest.

Some companies lead but no substitute for commonsense rules

Companies like Southwestern Energy, Noble, Shell and others have led on methane emissions by setting methane targets, supporting state-based regulations, and working with the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership to disclose methane emissions. Their efforts certainly deserve recognition, and are supported by some investors who factor strong methane management into investment decision.

Still, voluntary actions by the few are no substitute for rules and oversight that require responsible operations by the thousands of oil and gas companies operating in the United States. Some of these companies simply lack a commitment to sustainability and to operating over the long-term, and will not rein in emissions unless they are required to do so by law.

Methane safeguards serve the long-term interests of industry and investors

As the scientific reality of climate change and consumer demand steer the world toward a cleaner energy future, will attacks on environmental protections inflict lasting damage on the oil and gas industry? Only time will tell. It’s likely, however, that if the loudest industry voices continue to oppose rules that could guide it toward a cleaner future, the industry as a whole will suffer.  Unfortunately, that will include the more forward-leaning companies, which will be dragged down by their intransigent peers. This outcome will become all the more likely thanks to the Trump administration’s erosion of environmental safeguards that are fundamental to responsible development.

It’s time for oil and gas operators and mainstream investors with a long-term view to take a look at what rules and regulations are needed to rein in methane emissions in their industry. And they also need decide if they want to align themselves with an administration whose policies may be unwittingly handicapping the very industry it attempts to serve.

Smart Money: Top Investors Press Oil & Gas Companies to Tackle Methane Emissions

A global group of 30 leading institutional investors coordinated by the PRI (Principles for Responsible Investment) has announced a new initiative that will encourage oil and gas companies, including gas utilities, around the world to initiate or improve efforts to measure, report, and reduce methane emissions. The move is the latest evidence that investors are concerned with the financial, reputational and environmental risks associated with unmonitored and unchecked methane venting and leakage.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. It’s responsible for about 25% of the warming our planet is experiencing today. Globally, the oil and gas industry is among the largest man-made sources of methane.

Methane is also the main ingredient in the natural gas, the product that major global producers have marketed to investors as central to their growth in the years ahead. Companies tout gas as a clean, low-carbon fuel, ignoring the vast amounts of unburned methane escaping from their systems each year, or the lack of transparency with regard to monitoring and reduction strategies.

The owners and asset managers involved in the PRI’s methane initiative oversee more than $3 trillion. They are global in scope, representing a dozen countries across North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. PRI plans to engage 29 companies on four continents, from across the natural gas supply chain (the names aren’t being made public). They will be urging greater transparency and stronger, more concrete actions, including setting methane targets and participating responsibly on methane policy.

A centerpiece of PRI’s ongoing efforts to improve companies’ methane management and disclosure will be the Investor’s Guide to Methane, published jointly with EDF last fall. PRI’s global methane initiative complements ongoing U.S. engagement efforts on methane led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and CERES.

Trumping Shortsighted Politics

This is an uncertain time for the methane issue globally. On the one hand, President Trump and many U.S. lawmakers are trying to roll back methane policies established during the Obama administration. On the other, officials in Canada are expected to release draft oil and gas methane regulations this year, and similar rules are being developed in Mexico.

Political backpedaling from methane controls is shortsighted and counterproductive for both industry and environment, ignoring one of the biggest and most cost-effective opportunities we have to slow the warming of our globe. But these major investors, whose long-term investment horizons require them to look beyond the short-term calculus that dominates both politics and executive compensation packages, are taking a view to match their financial stake in the industry’s future.

What they see is a growing liability for an industry looking to the production and delivery of natural gas a growth engine over the coming decades. The problem isn’t going to go away, no matter what they’re saying in Washington.

Producers like BP, Shell and Chevron routinely cite rising global demand for natural gas as a primary driver of growth and valuation. But in markets for new electric generating capacity, natural gas is increasingly competing on a cost basis with clean, renewable sources like wind and solar. Failure to deliver on its frequent promises to deliver a more climate-friendly energy choice puts the gas industry and its investors at risk.

That makes methane the key variable. Conservative estimates are that, worldwide, companies are releasing at least 3.5 trillion cubic feet of methane to the atmosphere each year. That’s about the same amount as all the gas sold by Norway – the world’s seventh largest producer. Besides being a huge climate problem, it’s also a huge waste of a valuable product, and perhaps an indicator that attention to the integrity of operations is not as great as what companies claim.

Industry Awakens to the Problem

Concern about methane isn’t limited to oil and gas investors. There’s growing awareness within the industry itself that methane poses a reputational risk, sparking some companies to start addressing the challenge.

For example, 10 of the world’s largest oil and gas companies – BG Group, BP, Eni, Pemex, Reliance Industries, Repsol, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Statoil and Total – recently launched the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), a billion-dollar investment to accelerate commercial deployment of low carbon energy technologies. Their primary focus will be carbon capture and storage and reducing oil and gas methane emissions.

Similarly, the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP), a voluntary effort to improve emissions reporting and accelerate best methane reduction practices recently issued its first annual report, detailing emissions found in nine key source categories throughout individual operator’s systems. Launched in 2014, participating companies include BP, Eni, Pemex, PTT, Repsol, Southwestern Energy, Statoil, and Total.

First Steps toward Big Benefits

These are crucial first steps for the industry, and is a sign that companies looking for ways to adapt to the changing climate surrounding its business. But the industry still has a very long way to go. Fixing the problem could yield huge benefits: A 45% reduction in global oil and gas methane emissions would have roughly the same climate impact over 20 years as closing one-third of the world’s coal fired power plants.

Investor calls for action on methane are quickening and now industry needs to show shareholders it will take the necessary steps to deliver on the low-carbon fuel promise of natural gas. Investors want to invest in well-run companies with good governance, and increasingly look to methane as a proxy for efficient operations. As company executives think about how to attract capital, they will be well-served to note this emerging dynamic and proactively get ahead of the issue.

To make its climate commitment a success, BlackRock must focus on methane

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager with over $5 trillion in assets, recently announced a new commitment to focus on the financial risks of climate change, with a specific eye towards the disclosure and governance of climate risk. The company also signaled a potential greater willingness to support shareholder resolutions on climate issues.

Considering Blackrock’s massive size and influence, the significance of these announcements should not be understated. The development has the potential to drive increased attention among corporate executives in all industries on the need for more action on climate.  The move is also another welcome sign that mainstream institutional investors are taking climate risk seriously.

BlackRock’s announcement puts them in-line with other investors already doing good work on climate risk. A robust effort to limit oil and gas methane will be essential to their success, and provides a number of opportunities for BlackRock to truly lead.

Why Methane Matters to Investors

As EDF has previously highlighted, methane is a highly potent form of carbon, and therefore a significant climate risk. In fact, methane is 86 times more harmful to our climate than carbon emissions, and is responsible for a quarter of the warming we are already experiencing today.  The oil and gas industry is the largest industrial source globally, and emissions occur across the entire value chain.

From an investor’s perspective, methane poses distinct risks. As the primary component of natural gas, methane represents lost product. All told, the oil and gas industry loses $30 billion a year on otherwise saleable product.  As such, smart investors should look at proactive methane management as a proxy for executive leadership and operational excellence.  In an increasingly carbon-constrained world, unmanaged methane emissions also invite regulatory scrutiny. Smart companies will be prepared. Lastly, methane undercuts the reputation of natural gas being cheaper and cleaner, and jeopardizes its opportunity to play a role in a transition to a lower-carbon economy. This has negative long-term demand implications.

Leading investors, including Legal & General, BMO Global Asset Management, and CalSTRS already understand that methane poses a significant risk, and BlackRock should too.

How Investors Can Engage Industry

To help investors manage methane risk through engagement, EDF, in partnership with Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), released An Investor’s Guide to Methane.  The publication highlights best practices for measuring and reducing emissions while equipping investors with suggested questions to guide constructive dialogue.

The Guide also focuses on improving disclosure, given recent research from EDF has shown that current methane disclosure is inadequate to meet investor needs.  The methane metrics highlighted in the Guide were designed to provide investors with actionable methane data, and align with The Task Force for Climate-Related Disclosure’s framework and its focus on metrics and targets companies should use to manage climate risk, for which BlackRock prominently highlighted its support recently.

In response to growing investor concerns around methane, PRI is launching a collaborative engagement on methane, and is currently recruiting investors. BlackRock should join this effort to engage with oil and gas companies globally to reduce methane risk and improve disclosure. This is an opportunity for global leadership on climate.

Shareholder Resolutions – An Opportunity for Near-Term Action

As mentioned, BlackRock indicated it is more open to using its voting power on shareholder resolutions to manage climate risk. Currently, there are 8 methane-related shareholder resolutions up for vote this spring, and BlackRock appears to be a top shareholder for 6 of these companies.  The resolutions urge companies to provide better disclosure on methane management, and similar resolutions have earned the support of both ISS and Glass Lewis, the two major proxy advisory firms in the US. They deserve BlackRock’s vote.

New Products – An Opportunity to Innovation and Leadership

One way BlackRock could raise the bar on methane and be a global leader would be to use its platform to develop products to incentivize comprehensive emissions management.  BlackRock has already launched low-carbon exchange traded funds (ETF) that over-weight (i.e. reward) less-carbon intensive companies. Could BlackRock launch a low-methane index that screens in methane leaders and locks out methane laggards, thereby rewarding effective methane management with relatively higher share prices?

So, What is Success?

BlackRock is right to focus on climate risk as a key priority for its engagements over the next two years. If BlackRock is successful, effective methane risk management will be appropriately rewarded in the public markets, and will be par for the course for oil and gas companies who want BlackRock’s significant investment dollars. EDF stands at the ready to help BlackRock in making their important work on climate risk a success.

Methane Detectors Challenge: An Unlikely Partnership

The 2016 election was one of the most divisive in recent history. I cannot remember a more polarizing time. However, today, I believe, more strongly than ever, that many Americans across the political spectrum have a hunger for something better: for turning down the volume, having rational conversations and finding common ground that unites us.

In the energy sector and environmental communities, this common ground means achieving solutions that benefit the environment and help businesses thrive, not pitting one against the other.

Three years ago, Environmental Defense Fund launched the Methane Detectors Challenge, an unlikely partnership between oil and gas companies and U.S.-based technology developers. This partnership aims to reduce methane emissions by catalyzing technology solutions that continuously detect these emissions. This is our story.

 A Shared Problem, A Shared Solution

25-percent

About 25 percent of today’s warming is driven by emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry speed global climate change, waste a valuable energy resource (methane is the key component of natural gas), and often slip into the atmosphere with other pollutants, harming air quality.

In other words, methane emissions are a problem and detecting leaks quickly is a needed solution.

However, in 2013, we learned that no oil and gas operators were conducting 24/7 monitoring of methane emissions. None. Some companies were not using technology to conduct leak detection and repair activities, while others conducted manual leak surveys with special cameras once or twice a year – far better than nothing, but a long way from continuous detection made possible in the digital age.

When EDF learned about this lack of continuous monitoring, we could have launched a negative ad blitz. Started a petition. Designated a villain.

We didn’t.

Instead, where some might see failure, we saw opportunity and a reason to partner. We decided to take a risk, try something bold. We decided to partner with leading companies in the oil and gas industry, technical experts, and others, to source innovative technology solutions from the marketplace and solve the methane leak problem.

We called it the Methane Detectors Challenge. Our aim was to catalyze the development and adoption of new, cost effective, continuous detection systems.

I remember sharing our vision with Mark Boling, President – V+ Development Solutions at Southwestern Energy, over breakfast. Before the food had even arrived, Mark committed to Southwestern’s participation. We had our first partner. And this was just the beginning.

A Partnership Blooms

In the months that followed, we recruited partner after partner: Apache, Anadarko, BG Group, Hess, Noble Energy, Shell, Southwestern and Statoil. We found experts willing to lend their knowledge, from places like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the University of Houston.

We launched a series of gatherings that brought stakeholders together in Houston to define the problem and develop a shared plan of action. We got to know one another and to develop a common empathy for the challenges we all shared.

At the end of our first Steering Committee meeting, one of our corporate partners came up to me and said, “Great meeting today, but one thing you should change. Don’t call it the EDF Methane Detectors Challenge. Just call it the Methane Detectors Challenge. We’re all in this together.”

In March 2014, our jointly developed request for technology proposals was out in the world, and we soon reviewed twenty proposals from four different continents. The surge of market interest was incredible, and the best of the proposals inspired excitement among all partners.

By the end of 2015, in partnership with the independent non-profit Southwest Research Institute, we had conducted rigorous indoor and outdoor controlled testing of nearly a half dozen technologies. Two technologies performed excellently, catching leaks of various sizes in various wind conditions. Next step? Industry pilots.

When Challenge Strikes

As the Methane Detectors Challenge shifted from third-party evaluation to piloting, there were increased expectations of our oil and gas partners. They had already helped inform the project’s direction and shared invaluable technical input about their technology needs. The next step was a higher bar – purchasing one or more units and committing organizational resources for pilot testing.

And then a challenge struck.

In 2015, the oil and gas commodity markets fell off a cliff. Oil nose-dived from over $100 a barrel to as low as $29 a barrel. Natural gas prices crashed. Before we knew it, our partners were making layoffs, in some cases as large as 40%, and cutting capital expenditure by as much as 80% for the year ahead.

As the markets sunk and companies down-sized, our effort became much more challenging, but the foundation of trust and the value of our common mission remained unchanged. And so we persevered.

Over the course of 2016, dialogues continued between the leading entrepreneurs and a number of our industry partners. The unglamorous, but necessary issues were resolved: contracts, prices, disclosure and data sharing agreements.

And then one day, I came into my office to find a note from my colleague. “We have a deal”, it said. A large energy producer and Methane Detectors Challenge partner, Statoil, agreed to purchase a methane detection system and host a pilot with Colorado based start-up Quanta3.

Weeks later, we got more good news. Following a successful pilot test, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) (an enthusiastic recent addition to the Methane Detectors Challenge), agreed to send a device from Acutect, the other leading entrepreneur, to an operating facility in California for real-world testing.

In praise of an unexpected partnership

In the coming months, we will learn much more about how the technologies developed for the Methane Detectors Challenge perform in the trials with Statoil, PG&E, and likely others. It’s too soon to know whether these technologies will provide the needed breakthrough for continuous methane detection, whether they will require additional development, or whether other advances from the marketplace will propel methane management forward.

But it’s not too soon to appreciate this unexpected partnership.

pge-methane-sensor-3828-300dpiWe have demonstrated that there is a vibrant global marketplace of entrepreneurs eager for the chance to accelerate a clean energy future and willing to take risks along the way. And, we have shown that diverse groups can come together over a shared vision.

Most of all, I hope we have proven that even in this era of divisiveness, partnerships are not just possible, they are powerful. Our door is always open to new partners.

 

EDF is grateful to our partners and hope the Methane Detectors Challenge is the beginning of something even bigger.


Follow @RatnerBen on Twitter


 

The Value of Pursuing a Rational Middle in Polarized Times

rational-middleAt Energy Dialogues’ North American Gas Forum last month, I had the opportunity to participate on a panel moderated by Gregory Kallenberg of the Rational Middle. While the panel pre-dated the presidential election, the topic of constructive engagement through rational discourse is now more important than ever.

We explored how environmental groups, industry, and other stakeholders need to come together to rationally discuss and collaboratively act on the challenges of meeting rising energy demand while addressing real and growing environmental risks.

The still principally fossil-based energy system, which includes natural gas, is not the only cause of climate change, but it is the largest. And so a range of stakeholders, from protesters holding signs, to investors with a long term interest in the future of natural gas, to industry consumers, are looking with increasing criticism at fossil fuels. That was true before the election, and it’s true today. They’re asking: How can we reconcile the environment we want to protect for the future with the traditional energy and feedstock resources we are using now?

Unfortunately, industry, when pressed with concerns and asked to act, has often come up short. For example, with precious few exceptions, oil and natural gas companies have declined to set quantitative methane reduction targets – of their own choosing, and for their own product. And they have declined to join their counterparts’ support for a 2 degree limit on temperature rise. Too often, industry has failed to engage with the real concerns of their customers and communities.

But there’s a better way.

As Sarah Sandberg, from the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, said on the panel, “You’re either at the table or on the menu.” As panelist Michael Crothers from Shell observed, industry must engage directly and responsively with the legitimate climate concerns of the general public. And they’re right.

At Environmental Defense Fund, we work to create opportunities for diverse stakeholders to come to the table and have the conversations that feed the actions – whether establishing public policy, catalyzing technology innovation, or making best practice standard practice – to address environmental challenges and protect our future.

There have been bright spots of industry leadership, like energy companies joining the table in Colorado to help craft the first methane regulations, or Shell Canada supporting Alberta’s new climate strategy, including a methane goal backed by regulations. Unfortunately, such constructive engagements have been the exception to the rule. All too often, industry’s response to environmental concerns and opportunities has amounted to “Just Say No”.

A better response? “Just Say How.” For example:

  • How will operators demonstrate that they hear and are addressing in practical terms, the air and groundwater pollution concerns of the 15 million Americans who live within a mile of a well?
  • How will industry leaders acknowledge and finally engage on public policy to reduce their contribution to climate change?
  • How will they make unnecessary methane emissions a thing of the past, by finding and fixing leaks?
  • How will the companies that do step up and lead on these issues maximize the competitive advantage of being cleaner companies in a world that demands it?

Let’s hope industry can take the real issues head on and start showing how we can make positive changes by working together. Pressure on industry is not going away, and rational engagement can help cut a productive path through polarization.

America knows better: Addressing climate change is good business

President-elect Donald Trump made claims of his own business smarts a cornerstone of his campaign. Vote for him, the logic went, and send a first-rate businessman to the Oval Office to apply business acumen to make America great. Unfortunately, Trump’s actions to date on climate and energy – notably charging a climate change denier with leading the EPA transition and signaling desire to abandon the historic Paris climate accords – send a message of business obliviousness.

In contrast, a smart business approach would embrace tackling greenhouse gas emissions and supporting clean energy. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Create American jobs – The opportunity to create new American jobs in the transition to clean energy is tremendous. There are now more jobs in solar energy than in coal mining, and the number of solar jobs has grown more than 20 percent in each of the last three years. States like Florida and Nevada are bountiful in sun and can contribute to American energy self-sufficiency.Moreover, just as smart action to nurture domestic clean energy can accelerate jobs in the renewable sector, there are jobs on the line helping the oil and gas industry reduce its air pollution in a cost effective way. Environmental Defense Fund found that there are over 70 American firms employing Americans to help keep potent methane emissions in natural gas pipelines and out of the atmosphere. These jobs, thriving in states like Texas and Pennsylvania, are mainly small business and above average wages – exactly what we all want to see more of. Of course, it’s a competitive global economy, and taking our foot off the pedal in creating green jobs could well cede the space to others like China, which already leads the United States in clean energy investment. Whatever a politician’s personal views on climate change, it is undeniable that global demand is growing for clean energy solutions. Growing demand means growing commercial opportunity for the United States in terms of innovation and exports. But only if we seize it.
  1. Listen to leading American businesses – Savvy business people listen to each other. So Mr. Trump should be interested to learn that 154 American businesses supported the American Businesses Act on Climate Pledge in the run-up to the Paris climate accords. These businesses are a part of the backbone of the American economy, employing nearly 11 million people across all 50 states, with a then market capitalization of over $7 trillion. Participating companies of particular interest: 21st Century Fox, Dupont, Wal-Mart, even a name that will be familiar to any casino magnate – MGM Resorts.These companies not only voiced support for a strong Paris outcome, they committed to increase their low-carbon investments in line with the direction of America’s leadership. Pulling out the rug from American businesses investing in low-carbon would send a destabilizing signal to the market. More recently, 365 companies including Unilever, Intel, General Mills and others reinforced that “implementing the Paris Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all”. In sum, the overwhelming voice of businesses who have weighed in on the Paris talks are supportive of climate action. This business groundswell cannot be ignored. Nor should Trump ignore his own prior signing of a 2009 letter that failure to act on climate and the environment would cause “catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.”
  1. It hits home – Continued American leadership on climate change can help mitigate physical risks to some of Mr. Trump’s most cherished investments, for example the Mar-a-Lago golf club in Palm Beach. NOAA found that “tidal flooding is increasing in frequency within the U.S. coastal communities due to sea level rise from climate change and local land subsidence.”Just a week before the election, the Palm Beach Daily News reported that the local Shore Protection Board unanimously recommended a six-figure “coastal vulnerability evaluation” as flooding has remained long after high tide in certain cases.
  1. Voters want clean energy – One of many things that will change for Donald Trump is that going from CEO to President means having a boss – actually about 300 of million of them. A recent Gallup poll found that 64% of Americans worry “a fair amount” or “a great deal” about climate change, an increase from last year, and including 84% of Democrats, 64% of independents, and 40% of Republicans. Clean energy is also wildly popular, with over 80% of Americans saying they support increased wind and solar, according to a recent Pew Poll.

Early on the campaign trail, Donald Trump often used his association with his alma mater, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, as Exhibit A in establishing his business smarts. Political leaders including Mr. Trump must learn from experts like Wharton’s Professor Eric Orts, who noted that moving away from President Obama’s climate change polices would come with stiff costs.

From missing out on job creation to ignoring business leaders who have studied the issue and have a stake in its resolution, and from fueling risk to Trump’s own business interests to overlooking voter desires, the case is clear that the costs are stiff indeed. Climate action is good business, and the smart money says it’s time to stay the course.

Technology Breakthroughs: Creating Fertile Ground for Innovation in the Oil and Gas Sector

aileen_nowlan_31394David Hone, Chief Climate Change Advisor at Shell, recently stated that it takes 25 years for a new technology to reach one percent of the energy system. At the multinational companies I have worked with as clients and partners, I have seen how much time it can take to launch a new idea or product.  But, I believe we can and must accelerate the pace of technology development and adoption. This is especially crucial in the area of methane detection. Methane is the main component of natural gas and methane emissions are the cause of 25% of today’s global warming.

For the past three years, the Methane Detectors Challenge (MDC), a groundbreaking partnership between Environmental Defense Fund, oil and gas companies, technology developers, and other experts, has focused on designing and testing promising methane detection technologies. Two of the most promising technologies, both of which provide low-cost continuous methane emissions monitoring, will soon be pilot-tested by major oil and gas companies. Moving from concept to pilots in just a few years teaches us that it is possible to accelerate the adoption of new technology in the oil and gas sector.

Lesson One: Bring all stakeholders to the table around a realistic shared goal

During tMDC_teamhe initial phase of the Methane Detectors Challenge, we facilitated a series of meetings between environmentalists, scientists and oil and gas companies, including Shell, Noble Energy and Southwestern Energy.  This collaborative approach set MDC up for success.  We gained insights on how methane detectors would need to work in the field—simple, self-powered, able to send automated alarms—and this helped the technology entrepreneurs target key functionality.

Our environmental goal for MDC struck a balance of ambitious and pragmatic; detecting big emissions that account for the vast majority of total methane emissions.  By understanding which features would deliver the most impact, we focused on key—but not all—technology gaps.  This dramatically sped up the development and testing time.

Lesson Two: Cast the net widely

At the start of the Methane Detectors Challenge, we cast the net widely for initial applications. If existing providers aren’t already solving the problem, there is no reason to stick with the familiar.  MDC invited applications from all over the world and from different industries.  The result was technologies adapted from outer space, coal mine safety, and personal breathalyzers, to name a few: fresh ideas and new approaches brought together by entrepreneurs who are committed to slowing the tide of climate change.

Lesson Three: Small, flexible investments can pay off

Small investments in emerging technologies can yield great results, and while not all will pay off, those with promise will improve rapidly. This is a portfolio approach to innovation—much like successful Silicon Valley enterprises. This requires leadership commitment and clear communication of project goals to all stakeholders, then being flexible and creative.

Taking some early-stage risk is necessary to create opportunity for big payoffs. Oil and gas companies are familiar with this at the exploration stage; the same is true for technology innovation.  MDC focused on new hardware solutions. Many entrepreneurs (as with entrepreneurs in other sectors) were often advancing personal funds to contract manufacturers or suppliers. This is a dangerous stage that many startups do not survive.

Oil and gas companies should consider offering working capital, rapid payment terms, and in-kind support for early-stage ventures.  The payoff could be significant—a more efficient, more effective strategy that works with a company’s exact specifications. With the right assistance, hardware startups are still not going to turn a profit on the first units, but they might make it through their first year.

MDC headerCatalyzing innovation requires flexibility and compromise on all sides.  Just as entrepreneurs aim to learn about the culture, quality and safety standards and business priorities of oil and gas customers, oil and gas companies will learn and improve faster if they ask themselves what they do and do not need from an early-stage entrepreneur as compared to their expectations of an established provider.  Their requirements for fast iteration of a developing technology may be different from adoption of a tested and proven technology. A lower risk, rapid improvement orientation can be reflected in product or service agreements, warranties, and the feedback offered to innovators.  Similarly, for oil and gas companies, the business case for adopting a new technology may not initially outweigh their current approach.  But with a portfolio of small bets, and the patience to help new ideas progress down the cost curve, these companies increase the odds that a new technology dramatically improves on the status quo.

During the Methane Developers Challenge, I have witnessed first-hand how environmentalists and oil and gas companies can learn from the portfolio approach and rapid iteration lessons of Silicon Valley innovation. In the next few months, MDC entrepreneurs will learn from deploying their technologies at major oil and gas companies. This is a powerful example of ambitious and pragmatic collaboration. This corporate leadership, with oil and gas companies taking a risk and putting their unique resources and insights to work catalyzing innovation, will enable business and the planet to thrive.


Follow Aileen Nowlan on Twitter, @aileennow


Additional information on EDF Methane Detectors Challenge