Going, going ... green

NAP on ‘deep decarbonization’. Chatham House disses ‘ineffective’ CO2 removal tech. Northern Lights CCS on NCS. DoE funds LANL’s DigiMon program. IOGP calls on EU to scale-up CCS. OGCI CCUS KickStarter. MIT on uncertain ‘bridge fuel’ role for natural gas. Project Canary, Payne Institute to monitor Colorado fugitive emissions. BP deploys gas cloud imaging. Gaffney-Cline on use of Stanford’s OPGEE carbon monitor. Canada funds e-dump valve actuator development. Energy Futures Initiative report on ‘Clearing the air’. US EPA relaxes ‘redundant’ Obama-era regulations. ONE Future members reduced methane intensity. Yokogawa/KBC on end game strategy for oil and gas. ABB on climate change and downstream. Gaffney-Cline on CCUS status. Oxy Low Carbon Ventures to study CCUS at Holcim cement works. Direct air capture by MIT. BP funds FiniteCarbon offsets. Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures fund. ISO environmental monitoring standard. IOGP environmental genomics. Geology and decarbonization. Total ditches US association membership. MIT on climate financial disclosure. The (sustainable) world according to GARP. BBC Radio 4 on CCS, ‘net zero’ and the survival of the oil industry.

Big picture

A new publication from the US National Academies Press, ‘Deployment of Deep Decarbonization Technologies’ presents the proceedings of a 2019 Washington, DC workshop. The workshop explored the challenges and opportunities for deploying and scaling up technologies that could produce ‘deep’ (80% plus) decarbonization of the US energy sector by 2050. The 127-page free publication is a collection of presentations and discussions from academia and industry. One paper, from ExxonMobil’s Tahmid Mizan, highlighted energy efficiency as one of the ‘low-hanging fruits’, with significant future potential for carbon mitigation. Another possible avenue is substituting refinery heat inputs with low carbon electricity-produced heat or nuclear heat. Also of interest to the refiner is ‘blue hydrogen’ production (adding CCS to steam methane reforming units) and ‘green hydrogen’ production (using renewable electricity and electrolysis).


A new report, ‘Net Zero and Beyond What Role for Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage?’ from Chatham House, a London-based think tank, warns that ‘Policymakers are in danger of sleepwalking into ineffective carbon dioxide removal solutions in the quest to tackle climate change’. The paper warns against overreliance on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). BECCS was mooted in the iconic COP 21 as the most promising route to sub 1.5°C global warming.

Equinor, in cooperation with partners Shell and Total, is studying CO2 storage on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS). The Northern Lights project includes transport, reception and permanent storage of CO2. The storage project is part of the Norwegian State’s demonstration project ‘Full-scale CO2 handling chain in Norway’. A well is currently drilling into the Johansen formation on Equinor’s Aurora license (EL001) to study the reservoir’s suitability and capacity for CO2 storage.

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has announced $4 million in federal funding for national laboratories to collaborate with international partners on projects in the Accelerating carbon capture and storage technologies (ACT) initiative. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is the chief beneficiary of the DOE’s largesse. A ‘Digital Monitoring of CO2 Storage Projects’ (DigiMon) will integrate a broad range of monitoring technologies with data analytics to improve system cost and reliability for carbon storage projects. Another LANL project is looking into re-using existing wells for CO2 storage (REX-CO2). A ‘procedure and tools’ for evaluating the re-use potential will be developed. Yet another project, Assuring integrity of CO2 storage sites through ground surface monitoring (SENSE) involves ground surface movement detection combined with geomechanical modeling and inversion to study pressure distribution and hydraulic behavior of storage sites. Finally, LANL and subcontractor, the University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology are participating in ACT on offshore monitoring (ACTOM), an effort to build ‘a web-based toolkit’ to ‘collect algorithms’ for designing offshore geologic storage monitoring programs. More from the Office of Fossil Energy website.

In a recent white paper, the IOGP calls on Europe to scale-up its carbon capture and storage (CCS) effort. CCS will be essential to meet the Paris Agreement goals. It is a proven technology, with its roots in enhanced oil recovery. There are currently 18 commercial CCS projects in operation globally. The potential in Europe is around 134 Gt CO2, equivalent to 446 years’ worth of CO2 storage at the rate suggested necessary in 2050 by the European Commission. The EU should incentivize deployment and scale-up of CCS infrastructure to meet its climate objectives on time. In a separate announcement, the IOGP lashed-out at a campaign by network of environmental organizations for ‘Fossil Free Politics’ that aimed to restrict the IOGP’s right to ‘engage in the democratic and necessary public policy debate around energy and climate’.

OGCI, the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative has launched a new initiative to ‘unlock’ large-scale investment in carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS). The OGCI’s CCUS KickStarter initiative is designed to help decarbonize multiple industrial hubs around the world, starting with hubs in the US, UK, Norway, the Netherlands, and China. The aim of the KickStarter is to create the necessary conditions to facilitate a commercially viable, safe and environmentally responsible CCUS industry, with an early aspiration to double the amount of carbon dioxide that is currently stored globally before 2030.

In its January Monitor, Gaffney Cline enumerates current CCUS initiatives by Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and others to conclude, ‘the new wave of CCUS facilities shows the growing momentum around the technology and its role in supporting the energy transition’. However, ‘the reality is that much, much more is needed, with at least 2,400 million tonnes/year of CCUS capacity needed to be in operation over the next 20 years according to the IEA sustainable development scenario’.

The Oxy Low Carbon Ventures CCUS project is a joint venture with Svante, LafargeHolcim, and Total involving commercial-scale carbon capture and end-use at the Holcim Portland cement plant in Florence, Colorado. The project (actually, a ‘study’) will evaluate the cost of a facility designed to capture up to 725,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The CO2 is to be sequestered underground by Oxy. The project is to benefit from the US 45Q tax credit.

The Energy Futures Initiative (EFI), established in 2017 by former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, has published a summary report titled, Clearing the air: Technological carbon dioxide removal R&D initiative. The report proposes three broad approaches to CDR: ‘natural’ (trees, biomass), technologically-enhanced natural processes (ex-situ carbon mineralization, advanced crop cultivars, ocean alkalinity enhancement, and BECCS*) and ‘technological’ capture, including direct air capture (DAC) and electrochemical separation of CO2 from seawater. Moniz is suggesting a modest $10.7 billion effort over 10 years to come from multiple federal agencies including DOT, NASA, NIST and the Executive office of the President (good luck with that!).

* Bio-energy wth carbon capture and storage.


A new study, The uncertain role of natural gas in the transition to clean energy, by MIT examines the opposing roles of natural gas in the battle against climate change. Natural gas is touted as a ‘bridge fuel’ toward a lower-emissions future, but it also is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Uncertainty in estimating current levels of fugitive methane makes it had to evaluate natural gas’ true role. For the climate, ‘strategic choices must be made now about whether to invest in natural gas infrastructure’. MIT has looked at the uncertainty in methane monitoring to conclude that ‘present methods of controlling methane leakage need to improve by anywhere from 30 to 90%. Methane is a valuable commodity and operators have some incentive to minimize losses. Additionally, intentional natural gas venting and flaring continues.

Crestone Peak Resources, with partners Project Canary and the Payne Institute for Public Policy at Colorado School of Mines, are to implement continuous monitoring of emissions during all phases of its Colorado oil and gas production. The pilot will use Project Canary’s emissions monitoring devices and real-time data capture. The Payne Institute is to act as independent steward of collected emissions data.

BP is to deploy continuous methane measurement across future BP-operated oil and gas processing projects to detect, measure and reduce methane emissions. Measurement including gas cloud imaging (GCI), will be rolled-out to all new major projects worldwide. The technology has also been tested at BP’s giant natural gas Khazzan field in Oman. Technology providers involved include Providence Photonics (Mantis VISR camera for flare performance monitoring), Flylogix’s over-the-horizon drone service, Precision Hawk geospatial data analytics and methane sensor-carrying drones, SeekOps’ ultra-precise gas sensors, Rebellion Photonics’ gas cloud imager (static emissions monitoring), Fieldbit and RealWear HMT1 head-mounted VR tablets.

Gaffney-Cline reports on the use of OPGEE, Stanford’s oil production greenhouse gas emissions estimator. OPGEE is an open-source Excel-based tool that quantifies the Carbon Intensity (CI) of oil production with a breakdown of various sources of emissions and their relative contribution. OPGEE takes up to 50 inputs to characterize the fields production methods and evaluate the CI across the field’s lifecycle. Gaffney Cline’s own analysis of multiple oil and gas supply chains suggests that some oil and gas has over six times the CI of others, meaning that the total life-cycle emissions (including end-use) varies considerably. ‘Not all oil and gas is created, developed and operated equally’. An important consideration when companies are called-on to produce ‘sustainability’ reporting.

PTAC, the Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada, Linear Motion Technologies (LMT) and Spartan Controls have received a $2.1CAD grant from the government of Canada to fund development of a ‘state-of-the-art, affordable and fail-safe’ electric valve system to eliminate methane emissions from existing pneumatic valves. The electric dump valve actuator (EDVA) development is also benefitting from grants and in-kind support from Alberta Innovates and other stakeholders, bringing the total project funding to $3CAD. Houston-based LMT was established to commercialize patented shape memory alloy, aka ‘electric muscle’, and SmartRam actuator technologies.

The EPA is proposing to relax some of the Obama administration’s air regulations for oil and gas to remove ‘redundant’ requirements and reduce the burden on producers. The changes result from the EPA’s review of the 2016 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for the oil and natural gas industry, conducted in response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13783, ‘Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth’. The latest EPA findings are that the EPA previously failed to show that emissions from the transmission and storage segment of the industry cause or significantly contribute to air pollution. The proposal is to rescind emissions limits for methane, from the production and processing segments of the industry but keep the limits for ozone-forming volatile organic compounds. More than 100 speakers provided oral testimony at a public hearing in Dallas last October. Transcriptions of the proceedings and presentations are available on the US Regulations.gov https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0757 website. More information, including a pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice and a fact sheet, is available at https://www.epa.gov/controlling-air-pollution-oil-and-natural-gas-industry.

Industry association Our Nation’s Energy Future (ONE Future) reports that its members reduced their methane intensity by 41% from 2017 to 2018. The improvement, in the face of increasing natural gas production, comes from ‘upgrading and replacing pipeline infrastructure, as well as actively seeking and repairing system leaks’. NW Natural has joined the ONE Future methane emissions reporting initiative. One Future recently published its Methane Intensity Report for 2018.

Energy efficiency

Yokogawa’s KBC unit has produced an excellent analysis of the issues surrounding the energy transition and their impact on the oil and gas sector. We cherry pick some insights from the 26 page Industrial energy transition manifesto. Energy efficiency is the most economic mitigation strategy and is viable today with a zero (or negative) carbon price. KBC’s own EMISS benchmarks find that upstream and refining are significantly worse than petrochemicals and ‘even a top performer can save 10-15% of energy use worth $20-30 million per year”. Energy efficiency is a ‘robust and low risk option’. While carbon capture and storage gets the thumbs-up from KBC as a viable (albeit expensive) mitigation strategy, carbon capture and re-use is deprecated. While the economics can be made to appear reasonable, re-use is a thermodynamic aberration as the multiple energy conversions ‘lead to enormous system losses’.

KBC observes that, ‘the oil and gas industry will one day face decline’, although the speed and severity of decline is open to debate. Declining industries can still generate value so long as business strategies are adapted. Four paradigms for the oil and gas industry, based on the nature of the decline and the degree of shift in products produced, can be envisioned. KBC applies an end-game* methodology to the oil and gas industry to map a matrix of decline scenarios from an un-managed collapse of the industry to a ‘harvest and protect’ niche leadership position.

As a software house, KBC sees digitalization as germane to the energy transition. Digitalization will play a major role in accelerating efficiency, driving action by providing data transparency across portfolios. Artificial intelligence will show improvement opportunities and automation will ensure the systematic achievement of maximum potential.

* End-Game Strategies for Declining Industries, by Kathryn Rudie Harrigan and Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business Review July 1983.

In a similar vein, a white paper from ABB, ‘The impact of climate change on downstream operations’ concludes inter alia that ‘Technology exists today that can make meaningful efficiency gains through standardization, modularization, energy efficiency and future proofing. The key is digitalization and automation and control’.

Other stuff

MIT engineers have found a novel way of removing carbon dioxide from the air. The system work on any concentration level, even down to the current ambient atmospheric 400 parts per million. The technique involves passing air through a stack of charged electrochemical plates, coated with carbon nanotubes composited with polyanthraquinone. No, we have no idea what that is either. The technology is described in a new paper by MIT postdoc Sahag Voskian titled, Faradaic electro-swing reactive adsorption for CO2 capture in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

BP Ventures has invested $5 million into Finite Resources whose Finite Carbon unit runs voluntary carbon offset programs involving forest carbon management. The investment will enable Finite Carbon to grow a new line of business to incentivize sustainable forest management, financed by businesses seeking to voluntarily offset carbon emissions. Finite Carbon was founded in 2009 and is now the largest developer of forest carbon offsets in North America with more than 40 forest projects covering nearly three million acres.

Total has announced a $400 million global venture fund dedicated to carbon neutrality. Over a five-year period, the monies will be allocated to start-ups that develop innovative technologies and solutions which help companies to reduce their energy consumption or the carbon intensity of their activities. The fund will be known as Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures (TCNV). The fund builds on Total Ventures’ existing portfolio of 35 global start-ups that directly and indirectly contribute to carbon neutrality. That portfolio includes Solidia, Sunfire, Scoop, Shyft Power Solutions, Ionic Materials, MTPV, AutoGrid, Stem and OnTruck.

ISO, the International standards organization has just published ISO 14007, Environmental management – guidelines for determining environmental costs and benefits. The standard ‘helps in creating transparent and accurate data’ and should help demonstrate the value of ‘sustainability’. The new standard complements ISO 14008, Monetary valuation of environmental impacts and related environmental aspects, published in March 2019.

Seven IOGP member companies (Chevron, Eni, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Hess, Shell, Total) have launched a joint industry project (JIP34) on environmental genomics. The program will coordinate research into the application of eDNA-based analyses in environmental assessments and monitoring of oil and gas operations. eDNA is used to detect organisms and estimate biodiversity and is said to be faster, cheaper and more comprehensive than conventional sampling.

A paper in Petroleum Geoscience, Geoscience and decarbonization: current status and future directions, by authors from Equinor, BGS and others reports from the 2019 Bryan Lovell meeting of the Geological Society of London. The geologists concluded that ‘geoscience is critical to decarbonization, but that the geoscience community must influence decision-makers so that the value of the subsurface to decarbonization is understood’.

Total has ditched the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers association. Total considers the organization’s climate stance as not aligned with its own. Total is however, maintaining its affiliation with the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, considering these bodies to be ‘partially aligned.’ The French supermajor is to advocate internally for changes in their positions and will reconsider its memberships in the event of lasting divergences.

MIT has produced a 50 page study on ‘Climate-related financial disclosures: the use of scenarios’, a report from a 2018 workshop with participation from several supermajors and international bodies. Our cursory reading suggests that the report kicks the can down the road, concluding inter-alia that, ‘There tension between providing specificity about a firm’s climate‑related risks and supporting comparison among firms. Standardization of a reference scenario … would be a contentious task’. ‘Thoughtfully designed transparency requirements of modeling methodologies, rather than full standardization’ are advocated. However, ‘Private firms have commercial and legal concerns about the disclosure of financial information beyond what is required by law, and the call for climate‑related data only adds to what are familiar and long‑standing issues’. ‘Combining quantitative analyses of current asset exposures with qualitative expressions of future options could provide a useful picture of a firm’s strategy resilience. But ‘providing only part of this information, or doing so with inconsistent components, is not helpful’.

GARP, the Global Association of Risk Professionals has launched a certificate in sustainability and climate risk (SCR) to help professionals understand and manage the potential economic and operational impacts of a changing climate on their organizations. The SCR certificate costs $650 and involve some 100 hours of study and a three-hour exam. Registration begins June 1, 2020. Interested parties can sign up for more information here.

Finally a pointer to an excellent BBC Radio 4 program where Oxford University professor Myles Allen explains climate change and what to do about it. Allen’s solution, which incidentally is the only way the oil and gas industry can survive in a ‘net zero’ world, is carbon capture and underground sequestration. ‘Fossil fuel industries must be forced to take back the carbon dioxide that they emit. If carbon capture and storage technologies make their products more expensive, so be it’. Is this possible? Absolutely yes, witness the ‘geological industry’ over the last 100 years. The fossil fuel industry needs to take care of its waste and needs a ‘clear steer from government’.

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