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Innovation at pace – key to delivering net-zero

13 June 2019
Written by Roger Esson

The UK Government has now announced a legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to ‘net-zero’ by 2050, building on a similar commitment by the Scottish Government to achieve the same aim by 2045.

Against this backdrop, I had the pleasure of chairing the session on Diversification and the Energy Transition at the OGUK Industry Conference in Aberdeen last week, at a particularly important time for our industry as we embark upon a necessary energy transition if we are to achieve our greenhouse gas emissions targets.

In the session, we had two excellent presentations from non-oil and gas speakers. Claire Mack, Chief Executive at Scottish Renewables and Sian Ferguson, Trust Executive for the Ashden Trust, JJ Charitable Trust and Mark Leonard Trust. They shared honest feedback on the oil and gas industry and how we’re perceived.

This session was outside my normal area of expertise, decommissioning, but there’s a link I’ll come to later.

Make no mistake – we must move towards net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, but we to recognise that oil and gas is still an essential part of the UK energy mix. Why do I say this?

Take electricity generation, where only part of our energy demand is generated using fossil fuels, mainly gas. National Grid’s analysis shows that 44.2% of our electricity comes from gas powered generation. That’s not easy to replace quickly. So, to feed that demand, we’ll still need security of domestic supply for this fuel and avoid imports.

We are moving to electric vehicles but we’ll be buying petrol and diesel engine vehicles for many years to come yet and all our installations require electrical power to operate, generated by gas turbines or diesel generators.

So back to my link to decommissioning – could we power some or all of those installations using renewable power, thereby decarbonising the process?

I think the answer is yes and connected to our technology roadmap, we’re currently undertaking a project in the Decommissioning Solution Centre to demonstrate whether we can power our offshore installations by using renewables.

Hydrogen production offshore is also being considered as is carbon capture and storage so in this energy transition there are significant opportunities for the supply chain.

There were a couple of things I took away from the conference. Firstly, we need to be clear in the language we use. This isn’t a “lower carbon” future; the target is “net-zero”.

Secondly, we need to pick up the pace. Public opinion is I believe, wrongly, against our industry but we have to change.

We simply cannot go on as though nothing is happening, hiding behind the statistics that tell us that oil and gas will be a key part of the energy mix for several decades to come. We have to embrace the change, get ready for the future and maximise the opportunities to develop and deploy technologies that can transform our industry.

At the conference it was discussed that our industry has world-leading engineering skills and expertise in extracting oil and gas and why with our experience in wells and reservoirs, what’s stopping us becoming the experts in removing CO2 from the environment and storing it permanently?

Oil and gas extraction in the 1960’s and 70’s was frontier technology development. It was difficult. In the 21st century, dealing with climate change will also be difficult. But, can we use our experience to become, as someone suggested at the conference, the “carbon managers for the world”?

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