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How the Oil and Gas Industry Can Improve Sustainability

The oil and gas industry finds itself at a crossroads. While demand for oil and gas remains high, the fact remains that these are non-renewable resources. Also, research on issues such as longevity and climate change reveals human beings must move to more sustainable forms of energy.

Faced with these inevitabilities, the industry has branched out, using technology to two ends: building a sustainable business model while cleaning up past environmental catastrophes. Here are measures utility companies can use to ensure they remain viable for the long haul, while simultaneously protecting the environment.

From Oil and Gas to "Utility"

The larger the oil or gas utility, the more likely they are to come under fire from environmental groups and shareholders alike. ExxonMobil and Pioneer are two such utilities facing such scrutiny. In response, both companies have taken measures toward greater transparency regarding their operations.

Pioneer published their first sustainability report in 2017. Globally, governments have cracked down on carbon emissions, and the purpose of this report reassures shareholders of Pioneer's market position while revealing the company's plan to break into the renewable industry.

Pioneer sits on some of the lowest-cost coal shales in the United States, even when oil falls to a quarter of the current level of demand. To enable them to branch out into the sustainable industry, Pioneer currently plans to lease land on the shale reserves to wind and solar facilities to get a dual benefit out of their acreage. ExxonMobil has recently announced plans to release its own such report, and British energy giant BP has likewise invested $200 million in a solar company.

Voluntary Programs

As they embrace sustainability, oil and gas companies have likewise embarked on voluntary programs to address environmental concerns. Such programs seek to go a step beyond government regulations and act to repair the damage environmental disasters cause company reputations. Examples of such initiatives include the EPA's STAR program and OSHA's voluntary protection programs.

The voluntary nature of these programs enables scientists and volunteers to act quickly to make environmental strides. For example, one such initiative, Rigs for Reefs, involves toppling and sinking decrepit rigs with the purpose of creating new coral reefs. Once the reefs form, they serve as an ideal habitat not only for coral but also for the many fish that live and thrive on the reef. This voluntary program has already converted 470 abandoned rigs to reefs in the Gulf of Mexico alone.

Environmental Management Systems

Environmental management programs focus on bringing oil and gas companies together with the government to promote environmentally sound industrial development. These programs focus upon planning for the impact to the environment from oil and gas development, including the potential impacts to the soil, water and entire ecosystem of the area in which oil and gas exploration and drilling take place.

Also, environmental management systems help plan for unavoidable emergencies and plan for the most effective cleanup methods. They ensure oil and gas development companies operate within the scope of all local, national and international regulations and remain in compliance throughout each project.

Recycling Matters

Finally, oil and gas companies have initiated innovative recycling techniques to reduce the number of natural resources used in oil and gas production. One such innovation involves the recycling of used oil to convert it into diesel fuel, which enables energy companies to produce two products from the same drilled ore. As a bonus, recycling used oil into diesel fuel costs less than traditional oil disposal methods.

Another recycling method oil and gas companies have implemented is an increase in the amount of water they recycle. Such measures should reduce the amount of fresh water necessary for everyday operations. By using biological methods such as sulfate and iron-reducing bacteria instead of chemicals, recycled water enables companies to maintain production levels without releasing additional chemicals into the environment.

Being aware and cautious of one’s environmental impact is the new reality and it demands that oil and gas refining companies innovate new methods to deliver cleaner energy to the public. By embracing changes to help ease the transition to greener energy, everyone, from the manufacturer to the consumer, reaps the benefits.

Nathan  Sykes's picture

Thank Nathan for the Post!

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Stephane Bilodeau's picture
Stephane Bilodeau on Nov 27, 2018 2:31 pm GMT

Great post Nathan!

Sustainability measures are key items for all industries that want to thrive (or sometimes to survive) in this ever-changing world, and it is surely relevant for the Oil & Gas industry.

Rupam Wani's picture
Rupam Wani on Jan 19, 2020 4:33 am GMT

Though Electrification is very good idea but it is not possible to electrify whole world in a year. Hence, Oil and Gas industries will play very important role in next decade. So there is urgent need to invent replacement of oil and gas which are equally efficient but less harmful to the environment such a Biodiesel. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 21, 2020 3:13 pm GMT

Thanks for your insights, Rupam. You're definitely right that electrification will be a long process, not a quick one. Are you suggesting biodiesel works as a bridge until everything gets electrified? Why would a switch to biodiesel be more expedient than one straight to electrification?

Rupam Wani's picture
Rupam Wani on Jan 21, 2020 4:10 pm GMT

Good Question Matt. It is very interesting that we are focusing on electricity but have you noticed? Most of the Steam power plant uses coal or diesel as a fuel  to generate the heat in the furnace. Hence we cant say that electrification will stop pollution problem. Also, developing countries like India and Indonesia can't afford 100% electrification due to its costly infrastructure and it will take at least 10 years for maximum electrification. At the same, currently, we are in the phase of our environment where we can't wait for a single year in hope of 100% electrification. We have to take quick actions which should be environment-friendly and cheaper. Hence, as per my research work, I will suggest biodiesel as the most effective replacement for petrol and diesel at least for the upcoming decade. I hope you will get it. I request you to check my recent article on 100% electrification.

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