Past SPE Presidents Weigh In on Decarbonization

Two former SPE presidents, Nathan Meehan (2016) and Darcy Spady (2018), have contributed their thoughts on continued efforts toward decarbonization amid an oil price war and a global pandemic. Meehan and Spady, as well as SPE board member Johana Dunlop, have written essays included in the latest Forum journal from The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

Meehan highlights the benefits of hydrogen as a source of low-carbon energy and lays out the technical processes and challenges for producing and using hydrogen to that end. “Hydrogen can be used as a fuel, as an energy carrier like electricity,” he writes.

In his essay “Blue and Green Hydrogen in the Energy Transition,” Meehan presents the distinction between “green hydrogen” and “blue hydrogen,” a distinction that is derived from the process used to create the hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is generated from fossil fuels, with that generation coupled with the capture and storage of the carbon produced in the process. Green hydrogen is produced when the electrical source for the process results in zero greenhouse gasses. The sources of electricity for these electrolysis processes can be nuclear, solar, or wind. In addition, “Advances in electrolysis technology hold the potential to be price competitive with natural gas,” he writes.

Spady, in his essay, examines the challenges of methane emissions from an economic perspective. “The oil and gas industry is obviously a large emitter of methane emissions,” he writes. “As an energy provider, this industry should be leading the way on methane emissions mitigation.”

As both a climate liability and an economic benefit, methane is inexorably entwined with the health of the planet and the health of natural gas producers. “One of the key actions we can take, right now, is to reduce fugitive emissions such as methane,” Spady writes. “For producers, on the business side, keeping methane in the system and monetizing it at the sales meter also make economic sense.”

Dunlop is SPE’s technical director for health, safety, environment, and sustainability. Her essay presented Gaia, an initiative created in collaboration with SPE, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, IPIECA, the International Oil and Gas Producers Association, and Oil and Gas Climate Initiative.

“Our basic premise,” Dunlop writes about the Gaia initiative, “was that all hands are needed on deck if oil and gas is to come out on the right side of history—valued for its contributions, yet agile and imaginative enough to evolve with changing expectations of its role in society, demanding as those expectations might be. We wondered what resources were not yet in play and realized that the brainpower and professional experience of tens of thousands of individuals working at the heart of the oil and gas industry were not yet engaged in achieving that goal.”

The initiative has presented six pathways through which professional society members could contribute to the challenge of sustainability: execution, internal industry collaboration, external collaboration, measuring what matters most, listening and communication, and innovation.

“Now that there is sufficient collective acceptance of the need for action,” Dunlop writes, “we need the time to plan and the tenacity, brainpower, and capital to create the technologies that will produce the solutions that can restore trust in the oil and gas industry and industry vital to the continued progress of humanity, but within the boundaries of the natural system from which we have become so disconnected. I am personally optimistic that oil and gas can and will lead the way. It must.”

Find the Forum journal here.

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