This month sees yet more evidence of oil and gas companies stepping up their sustainability commitments as they adapt to the newly emerging realities of the global energy landscape. With governments across the Middle East and wider world setting targets for lower carbon emissions and greater presence of renewables in their national energy mix, the oil and gas industry is looking towards cleantech innovations to find the best ways to successfully pivot towards this future energy vision.
Increasingly, we are seeing a lot more oil and gas companies trialling and enjoying success with a widening range of technologies and solutions that are helping them become more sustainable, minimise costs and ultimately cut their carbon footprint. With so many of the Middle East’s OPEC countries pushing the pace of their economic diversification strategies, this is prompting even greater and faster adoption of sustainability measures across the industry, so we can expect to see a lot more instances of companies exploring the following:
1. Better use of data
At the end of last year, McKinsey placed the O&G industry’s performance gap at $200 billion. Their research states that on average, offshore platforms run at only 77% of maximum production potential. Correctly implemented data analytics systems and tools can overcome the operational complexity of O&G operations, quickly yielding returns of as much as 30-50 times the original investment and reducing ecological impact by reducing wastage, accidents and bottlenecks.
2. Decreasing freshwater usage
Water is an essential element in various oil production processes, from fracking to separating oil from other elements present in oil sands. Hundreds of millions of barrels of water are utilised every single day, and while the global O&G industry currently manages to recycle the vast majority of this water (between 80-95%), companies are rethinking the extraction process to reduce freshwater from the very outset.
3. Improving water recycling efforts
In order to decrease freshwater usage, O&G companies are exploring more effective ways of recycling and reusing water for their operations. Increasingly, companies are aiming to use 100% non-potable water by improving filtration oxidisation methods, as well as advanced chemical-free water treatment solutions to neutralise bacterial contaminants such as sulphate-reducing and iron-oxidizing bacteria.
4. Reducing methane leaks
Finding ways to reduce methane leaks is a cost-effective opportunity for the industry. Recent figures from the International Energy Agency have outlined that it is financially possible to reduce oil and gas methane emissions utilising currently available and emerging technologies.
5. Used oil recycling
More companies are utilising small-scale waste-oil micro-refinery units that transform used oil into diesel fuel. Not only does this approach yield fuel for ongoing operations, it’s also a relatively inexpensive alternative to more traditional oil disposal methods.
6. Streamlining/improving processes
Even innovations that don’t specifically make oil and gas processing greener and cleaner can still help improve the industry’s overall sustainability by allowing for more cost-efficient processes. For example, new ultrasound technology allows companies to create 3D images of the inside of oil wells, enabling them to make more informed and cost-effective production decisions. Similarly, IIOT, analytics, automation, reserve replacement and enhancement capabilities, and emerging artificial intelligence programmes can all help find and eliminate operational inefficiencies.
By improving the efficiency of ongoing operational processes by even a small fraction, O&G companies can produce the same amount but with reduced costs and energy expenditure, leading to a lower overall carbon footprint.
7. Creating digital oilfields
Going beyond incremental operational improvements, the quickening pace of digitalisation of the O&G industry has allowed for the creation of the ‘digital oilfield’, a process that is starting to come to prominence. Through the use of cloud technologies and big data, the digital oilfield allows for all operational data to be monitored, analysed and utilised in real time, leading to safer, more sustainable decisions being made.
8. Greater acquisition and use of renewable energy
While many O&G companies are looking to lower emissions, just as many are also looking to diversify into the renewables market. At the beginning of 2018, BP said that $0.5 billion of its capital investment fund would be dedicated to clean energy, and the company recently bought a $200 million stake in Europe’s largest solar producer. With more high profile investments like this becoming the norm, O&G companies are set to transform into a significant investor base for renewables in the coming decades.
Equally exciting are the advances being made in biofuel, which may enable production levels on a much larger scale in the near future. Exxon Mobil is currently developing its Calipatria site and believes that due to recent major breakthroughs, it will be capable of producing 10,000 barrels of biofuel per day by 2025. This is an essential step forward in the foundation of an entirely sustainable and renewable biofuel industry.