Natural gas becomes the climate battleground - Activate World

Natural gas becomes the climate battleground

Some shale drilling companies want consumers to know that their natural gas was sustainably fracked. Many of companies behind the US shale boom are moving to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, toxic wastewater and other environmental impacts tied to fracking, amid mounting investor pressure over climate change. 

 

Lunchtime Conversations:

  • How can energy companies validate their claims of greener gas? What constitutes responsibly fracked gas?
  • Economic growth, along with extreme weather, pushed energy demand to an all-time high in 2018. How can we meet carbon-free electricity sources by 2040 and net zero emissions by 2050? Is solar, wind, and/or batteries the best approach?
  • America’s coal-burning power plants are shutting down, forcing eclectic utilities to face a big climate question. Should they embrace natural gas driven by the fracking boom or shift aggressively to renewable energy? What would you do as CEO?

Noteworthy:

  • The boom in U.S. fracking is why U.S. natural gas production has soared 60% since 2008 to around 90 Bcf/d, more than a quarter above second-place Russia.
  • According to Robert Howarth of Cornell University, “shale-gas production in North America over the past decade may have contributed more than half of all of the increased [methane] emissions from fossil fuels globally and approximately one-third of the total increased emissions from all sources globally over the past decade.”
  • Bloomberg’s Jennifer Dlouhy reports,“the Trump administration is readying a plan to end direct federal regulation of methane leaks from oil and gas facilities, even as some energy companies insist they don’t want the relief.” It makes them look like climate villains.

Storyline:

To monetize their investments, companies like Southwestern Energy Co. and BP PLC are now marketing their natural gas as a cleaner fossil fuel, similar to organic produce or fair-trade coffee. 

“It’s the same molecule. But it’s not so much about what we produce, but how we produce it,” said Mark Boling, a former executive at Southwestern, which last year reached a deal for gas touted as responsibly produced, selling it to utility New Jersey Natural Gas Co.

BP is investing in technology to limit methane leaks, and its part of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, an industry organization whose members have pledged to collectively cut average methane emissions to less than 0.25% of gas sold by 2025.

The company is also testing blockchain technology that will track its gas through the supply chain, enabling customers to know when they are buying BP-fracked fuel. “We do all the work on the ground to differentiate what we produce,” said Brian Pugh, chief innovation officer for BP’s US onshore business.

technology that will track its gas through the supply chain, enabling customers to know when they are buying BP-fracked fuel. “We do all the work on the ground to differentiate what we produce,” said Brian Pugh, chief innovation officer for BP’s US onshore business.

Despite these claims, environmental groups say that regulation, not green marketing, is the way to ensure sustainable practices. Unlike fair-trade standards or federal rules that oversee organic labeling, there is no widely accepted industry definition for responsibly fracked gas. “It’s hard not to be dismissive,” said Andrew Logan, senior director for oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit focused on sustainability.  

There is research indicating that levels of methane—the second biggest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide—have spiked in the atmosphere in the past decade. Robert Howarth of Cornell Universitysays, “The commercialization of shale gas and oil in the 21st century has dramatically increased global methane emissions.”

Sources:  ForbesNewsweekThe New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, Vox

Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash