Many governments have set a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 to keep the earth from warming more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, with 194 committing to the UN’s Paris Agreement on limiting global warming.
According to estimates of MAN Energy Solutions, a German multinational company, roughly 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas are flared yearly, equating to 350 million tonnes of carbon dioxide discharged into the sky. It is crucial for oil and gas producers to consider the sector’s carbon footprint.
For a company to reach a state of net-zero, it would have to complete work to minimise emissions, capture carbon or rehabilitate environments to the extent that its harmful emissions are offset. Unsurprisingly, significant investment is required to achieve net-zero goals.
Dr Fatih Birol, International Energy Agency (IEA) executive director, said in 2020: “No energy company will be unaffected by clean energy transitions. Every part of the industry needs to consider how to respond. Doing nothing is simply not an option.”
With the global population forecast to reach 10 billion by 2060, and global electricity demand expected to rise in tandem, it is critical to reduce emissions per unit of electricity produced, according to the Columbia Climate School. Due in part to fossil fuels, power generation, including electricity and heat production, accounts for 30% of world CO2 emissions.
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Reducing methane emissions
Oil and gas wells emit methane by venting or flaring natural gas. Methane emissions occur during all stages of drilling and production, and occasionally, even after a well has stopped producing, badly closed wells can still release significant amounts of methane and other dangerous air pollutants.
According to the IEA, reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations is among the most cost-effective and impactful actions governments can take to achieve global climate goals.
Methane emissions from the global oil and gas industry fell by 10% in 2020 as producers cut output due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Research from the American Association for the Advancement of Science says that new and improved technologies provide options for reducing or eliminating natural gas venting and flaring, and effectively managing methane. Gas injection and on-site power generation technologies can reduce waste gas emissions from oil and gas production.
New sensors and monitoring technology enable increasingly accurate measurements of methane emissions from plane-mounted sensors and satellites. Sensor systems and methane detectors are being developed and used by utilities, oil and gas firms, regulators, researchers, and others in a variety of places and installations, the research showed.
Manage energy waste and control flaring
The Columbia Climate School report showed that two-thirds of the energy used to generate electricity is lost as waste heat. The institution utilises that waste heat to warm the plant or surrounding buildings, and this method can enhance power generation’s energy efficiency by 80%.
Reducing flaring of waste gas from oil and gas processing, stopping unintentional methane leaks along the value chain, and stepping up efforts to detect and stop methane emissions are other common priorities for reducing emissions from production offshore and onshore.
Refineries, for example, use waste-heat-recovery technology and medium-temperature heat pumps to reduce the amount of primary energy consumed in distillation, an analysis by Mckinsey, a global management consulting firm, shows.
Enhanced gas processing and infrastructure could reduce routine flaring. The Mckinsey analysis showed that one operator discovered that nonroutine flaring accounted for 70% of all flaring emissions, owing to low reliability. As a result, it concentrated on enhancing its operations, such as doing predictive maintenance and upgrading equipment.
As renewables become more integrated into the grid, improved low-cost energy storage for the grid is required to smooth out their intermittent nature and assure reliability, especially as climate change causes more extreme weather.
Carbon capture, utilisation, and storage
Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) can trap and use CO2 emissions from fuel burning or industrial processes. Some European countries have implemented large-scale projects, and industry leaders are pushing for a global strategy to make CCUS financially viable and to establish a circular carbon economy.
Starting with carbon capture, CCUS removes emissions either immediately from the air or, more frequently, before releasing them into the air. The trapped gas is then compressed as a liquid or solid and either deposited deep underground or made available for further processing.
The UK Government introduced a new carbon capture, utilisation, and storage approach in October 2017, an IEA report says. This approach could enable the UK to become a global technology pioneer in CCUS while also ensuring that the government can adopt CCUS at scale during the 2030s, subject to cost reductions.
CCUS can “decarbonise the economy” and increase economic prospects in the UK, the report says. However, it is expensive, and cost reductions are required to deploy CCUS in the UK cost-effectively, delivering value for money to taxpayers and consumers.
Electrifying offshore platforms
Electrification, along with energy efficiency and CCUS, implemented by the upstream oil and gas industry could help mitigate climate change. Connecting offshore wind projects to oil and gas platforms would assist in decarbonising, boost job development, and allow new companies to enter the offshore renewable energy market.
Oil and gas extraction from reservoirs far from the land is an expensive investment that poses numerous difficulties for offshore companies. Subsea installations located far from shore or on remote platforms can be cost-effective because they do not require a fixed or floating topside installation.
According to ABB, the petroleum sector spends more than $700m per year dealing with these blockages. By adopting an electrified system, ABB can prevent the formation of these blockers, reducing the cost without using potentially hazardous chemicals.
“By replacing thermal generation with offshore renewables or power from shore, we could see significant reductions in the sector’s GHG emissions,” said Rob Lindsay, business development manager at Global offshore, in a statement.
“In addition, where some operators are currently burning 5% or more of their product for platform power generation, they could instead be utilising other power sources, meaning more product for the market, and more income for the operators.”