It is difficult to miss the lines of thinking in popular culture that fossil fuels are “bad” and renewable fuels are “good.” Or that electric-powered vehicles are the answer to ending climate change. Or that more good energy can come from a field of clean power-generating wind turbines than a field of pumpjacks lifting dirty oil to the surface. “Keep it in the ground” is a protest chant we in the oil and gas industry often hear.
So how do you respond to your nonpetroleum friends and family when asked why you toil away day after day in the much-maligned petroleum industry?
Bob Dudley, group CEO of BP, offered his views on the topic to attendees at the 2018 World Gas Conference held in Washington D.C. in late June.
“We are living in a remarkable time, and the contribution that energy makes to that is often overlooked,” he said, before going on to highlight a long list of advancements made possible by energy.
In the past three decades, he noted, the global population has increased from 5 billion to well over 7 billion, people are living seven years longer on average, the global gross domestic product has gone from under $20 trillion to more than $70 trillion and extreme poverty has been cut in half.
“And in that same period of time, global energy consumption has increased around 80%, and that’s no coincidence,” he said. “Energy has been essential to human progress. It still is.”
The affordable abundance of natural gas is why its position in the energy mix will increase.
“The world is on course to need around a third more energy over the next two decades, and most of that is coming from developing countries. As well as being cleaner, the extra energy needs to be affordable and that’s why gas is a vital fuel for advancing the energy transition,” he noted. “In short, gas can support the dual challenge of increasing energy demand while lowering emissions.”
Take the U.K., for example, where the switch from coal to natural gas has reduced emissions to levels last seen in the 1890s, and in the U.S. levels are down to those last seen in the 1990s, according to Dudley.
However, there are those who doubt the long-term benefits of natural gas. According to Dudley, removing those doubts requires getting ahead of the methane emissions challenge.
“When gas is in the pipes or being used efficiently, then it’s a great resource,” he said. “But that’s not so much the case if it leaks to the atmosphere before it is consumed.”
A recent study from the Environmental Defense Fund published in Science found that the U.S. oil and gas industry emits 13 million metric tons of methane from its operations each year—nearly 60% more than currently estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
BP and nine other companies are partners in the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative. In addition, the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) announced in June the formation of the Collaboratory for Advancing Methane Science. GTI will manage the effort alongside its partners Cheniere, Chevron, Equinor, Exxon Mobil and Pioneer Natural Resources to conduct scientific studies on methane emissions and “deliver factual data that can be used to inform regulations and policy development,” according to a press release.
I will keep Dudley’s remarks in mind. Perhaps his remarks will help the next time you are questioned about your support, too.