4 Ways the Oil and Gas Industry Is Working to Boost Sustainability

By Johnny Wood

The global energy industry is working hard to future-proof its operations and address climate change concerns.

The road to sustainability is a recurring theme in the oil and gas sector, where discussions focus on how the industry can help to protect the planet. Environmental issues are becoming embedded in our everyday thinking, and oil and gas companies are finding realistic ways to increase efficiency, promote cleaner energy and reduce carbon emissions.

Here are four ways the sector is working towards a more sustainable future.

1. Boosting Efficiency

Most heavy industry is energy intensive and oil and gas is no exception, with numerous compressors and turbines operating at every stage of production, transportation and processing.

The latest technology in this area reduces energy consumption and cuts emissions. Speaking at Ceraweek 2019, Bjørn Otto Sverdrup, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Equinor, said energy use accounted for 5% of the oil and gas industry’s emissions.

“That’s about 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 per year,” he said.

“It’s fully possible to improve by 50%, cutting CO2 emissions by 750 million tonnes. That’s like 146 million cars taken off the road each year.”

In addition to improving the efficiency of turbines and compressors, further savings can be made by reducing wasted energy. For example, trapping gas that would otherwise be flared, and recycling heat from applications including natural gas compression stations and refinery hot streams. Recycled heat can be used in heat applications, or it can be turned into additional power: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group company Turboden’s Organic Rankine Cycle technology captures heat and converts it to electricity.

Up to two-thirds of the energy used to run industrial processes can be wasted, but by harnessing lost heat, existing resources are used more efficiently.

Turboden's Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) turbine
2. Switching to Renewables

Generating emissions-free power will be crucial to realizing a zero-carbon economy and the switch to renewables is already well under way. This change is prompting oil and gas companies to evaluate their place in the market, as stakeholders invest in technologies and policies to reduce their carbon footprint.

Statoil, Norway’s national oil company, recently changed its name to Equinor to reflect its transformation from solely an oil and gas company to include its role as a major wind farm operator.

Saudi Arabia, for example, uses almost no renewable energy sources today. But, according to one projection, by 2030 its power mix could be transformed to be 50% renewable, mainly due to solar projects. A growing renewables sector diversifies the economy away from reliance on fossil fuels, and allows Saudi Arabia to export more of its oil and gas reserves instead of consuming them domestically.

3. Embracing Hydrogen

The potential of hydrogen as an emissions-free energy carrier is being rediscovered by an energy industry concerned with limiting the impact of global warming. Oil and gas companies are exploring more sustainable alternatives to sourcing hydrogen from natural gas.

At Rhineland Refinery in Wesseling, Germany, for example, Shell is creating the world’s largest electrolyzer, capable of producing 1,300 tonnes of hydrogen each year. The 10MW facility uses electricity to produce hydrogen, which will be used in the refinery’s production process.

Provided the electricity is generated using renewable power sources, the electrolysis process is emissions-free – apart from emitting water.

4. Using Captured Carbon

Carbon capture storage and utilization (CCUS) systems remove CO2 emissions from industrial processes and prevent them entering the atmosphere. Once captured, carbon can be used in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques that force inaccessible oil deposits to the surface.

In Texas, the Petra Nova project transports captured CO2 along more than 80 miles of pipeline to the West Ranch Oilfield, near the Gulf coast. Using EOR techniques, hard-to-reach deposits of oil can be harvested. As well as bringing old oil fields back to life, the process also reduces reliance on oil imports.

Oil revenues from Petra Nova can support investment in the facility’s own carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) system. The facility captures more than 90% of CO2 emissions from the site’s 240MW slipstream of flue gas.

Johnny Wood has been a journalist for over 15 years working in different parts of the world – Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. As well as an accomplished features writer he has edited several prestigious lifestyle magazines and corporate publications.