Commentary: Innovation is driving climate progress

September 20, 2020

By Todd Staples, For the San Antonio Express-News

Meaningful action toward climate progress is rooted in investment and innovation, and no one is investing more in clean tech than the U.S. oil and natural gas industry.

From 2000 to 2016, U.S. oil and natural gas companies invested more than $300 billion in technologies to mitigate greenhouse gases — more than the rest of the private sector and the government combined during that period. Because of these investments, smart policies and science-based regulations, America’s environment is cleaner than ever before.

Oil and natural gas companies are investing in enhanced efficiencies in operations, development of shale gas, cleaner fuels, alternative energy sources like wind and solar, technologies that capture, reuse and store carbon dioxide, and cogeneration, which reduces emissions by capturing heat and gases produced by industrial processes to produce electricity.

And these investments are working. Thanks to expanded use of natural gas in power generation, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are near 20-year lows. Methane emissions from oil and natural gas systems are down 23 percent during a time when production has almost doubled.

Real progress has been the result of open dialogue and collaboration, a spirit the oil and natural gas industry has embraced through several multibillion-dollar initiatives to protect and improve the climate. Eighty-three energy companies are part of the Environmental Partnership, whose members are reducing methane emissions by sharing best practices, investing in low-emission equipment and world-class emission control systems, and using advanced technologies like optical gas imaging cameras and drones to detect and repair leaks.

In Texas, more than 40 oil and natural gas companies formed the Texas Methane and Flaring Coalition to share best practices and develop recommendations with the goal of reducing emissions and ending routine flaring.

Several of the world’s largest oil and natural gas companies participate in the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, or OGCI, whose members collectively invest about $7 billion every year in low-carbon solutions and research and development. In addition to investments by its individual member companies, OGCI maintains a billion-dollar fund that invests in innovative startups whose solutions lower the carbon footprints of the energy and industrial sectors.

Oil and natural gas companies are also pioneering breakthrough technologies to capture, store and reuse carbon dioxide. Oxy Low Carbon Ventures LLC, a subsidiary of Occidental, and Rusheen Capital Management have formed a development company to advance plans to engineer the world’s largest direct air capture and sequestration facility to remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Captured carbon dioxide can be used in enhanced oil recovery, a process in which carbon dioxide is used to free trapped oil and then safely stored underground permanently.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures President Richard Jackson said, “Using atmospheric carbon dioxide for oil recovery greatly reduces the net addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from oil production and fuel use and opens a pathway to producing fully carbon-neutral or even net-negative fuels.”

Advances in water recycling and reuse are also having a positive impact on the environment and our natural resources. Valero, for example, has mastered a way to treat wastewater from its Three Rivers Refinery and recycle it for reuse on its irrigation farm, which produces 3,000 bales of hay a year, helping local ranchers and ultimately our food supply.

By harnessing its resources and collaborating with public- and private-sector partners, the U.S. oil and natural gas industry is making an unmatched contribution to global efforts to protect and improve the environment. At the same time, the United States is helping to improve air quality and the human condition around the world by exporting liquefied natural gas, providing the affordable, reliable energy that is essential for clean, safe and healthy communities. The industry is demonstrating that it can meet the world’s energy needs while innovating technologies that will advance continued climate progress.

Todd Staples is president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association and former Texas agriculture commissioner.

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