Oil and gas will have a role to play in driving the energy transition, with companies making strategic decisions about how to tackle emissions and tackle climate change.
Electricity is going to play a major part in providing an increasing amount of the world’s energy, not least from the rise of EVs, but it cannot do all the heavy lifting.
Environmental Defense Fund vice president Mark Brownstein, speaking on the third episode of Road to ADIPEC, said the hydrocarbon industry should focus on “zero and low carbon molecules”.
Electricity cannot do everything that we require, he said. “We don’t have the technology to fully utilise electricity in all the places we need to decarbonise,” citing examples such as shipping, aviation and heavy industry.
As a first step, the energy industry must improve the way in which it handles natural gas.
“Controlling methane emissions is job one. Any amount of methane emissions into the atmosphere today has major consequences for the planet,” Brownstein said. Natural gas accounts for more than one third of the world’s warming, he said, resulting from human activities.
Technology is set to play an ever increasing role in tackling emissions, as more scrutiny comes to bear. Drones, sensors and satellites can all play a part in helping the industry understand where the problems exist and how to tackle them.
Much of the media discussion on reducing emissions focuses on the IOCs, but NOCs an even more important role, given their higher production and their access to reserves.
NOCs “in particular need to be engaged” in discussions around tackling emissions, Brownstein said. “We’ve seen companies like ADNOC step up and make commitments to reduce methane emissions,” he noted, such as the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership (OGMP).
“We need more national oil companies to follow that example.” Brownstein said he hoped that ADNOC CEO – Sultan Al Jaber – may use his position as president of the upcoming COP28 to lead that discussion.
The next step will be hydrogen. Over the last three years, interest in hydrogen peaked, with breathless suggestions that this would be a cure all to tackle the industry’s woes.
“The industry is beginning to confront the fact that they need to get past the buzzwords,” Brownstein explained. It was seen as a “magic elixir” but is starting to be seen in more measured terms.
Amid a shift to hydrogen, the industry must ensure that emissions are minimised. “Hydrogen nonetheless has a powerful impact on the climate. It’s a very small molecule and it’s tricky to handle, we don’t know how much hydrogen goes missing in production, transportation and use.”
Hydrogen, of course, is expected to provide solutions to the decarbonisation challenge in a number of different ways, including via ammonia, methanol and e-fuels.
“Getting hydrogen right is critical to getting that whole suite of alternative fuels,” he said.
One area ripe for progress is how hydrogen is qualified. For simplicity’s sake, colours are used, such as green for hydrogen from renewable resources and blue from natural gas with carbon capture.
This is a broad brush approach though. As the sector evolves, there is likely to be more focus on quantifying the actual carbon emissions, which will provide much needed differentiation.
As Brownstein noted, “blue hydrogen cannot achieve anything approaching low carbon if the feedstock is coming from methane with a high emission rate.”
Listen to the third episode of Road to ADIPEC here. Mark Brownstein will be speaking at the event.
ADIPEC this year has the theme of “decarbonising faster together”. It begins today and will run until October 5 in Abu Dhabi’s ADNEC.