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Meeting Society’s Expectations

IPIECA is the global oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues. Executive Director Brian Sullivan tells us about its aims and its importance to the industry and the wider world.
This article appeared in Vol. 13, No. 2 - 2016

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Can you tell us about the background and mission of IPIECA? 

IPIECA is the only global association involving both the upstream and downstream oil and gas industry on climate and energy, environment and social issues. Our membership comprises oil and gas companies involved in the exploration, production and refining of oil and gas, along with national and international oil and gas industry associations. Altogether, IPIECA company members produce 60% of the world’s oil and gas. 

IPIECA was originally formed in 1974 to act as a liaison with the United Nations Environment Programme. Since then our remit has broadened to include other UN bodies such as the International Maritime Organization, international NGOs and other stakeholders, including academia and the investment community. IPIECA’s work was primarily focused on specific environmental impacts such as oil spills or the particular local risks of pollution from operations, but over time our remit has broadened to reflect environmental, social, climate and energy issues. We have also extended our scope beyond the liaison role and spend most of our time convening working groups supported by over 500 member employees to develop and share knowledge and good practice on environmental and social issues. Our vision is an oil and gas industry that successfully improves its operations and products to meet society’s expectations for environmental and social performance. 

Does the industry know enough about IPIECA? 

Given the specialist roles we fulfil for the industry, it is unlikely that people in other disciplines will know much about us. What is important is that the industry is aware of and understands the environmental and social context in which it operates and seeks to continuously improve in order to maintain its licence to operate. At IPIECA we can help the industry to achieve this through sharing knowledge, developing good practice and keeping stakeholders informed about industry progress. 

Does the E&P industry care enough about environmental and social issues? 

The industry places a very high priority on environmental and social issues. From our vantage point connected to 36 of the world’s leading oil and gas companies, we see continued commitment to environmental and social responsibility despite the challenging economic environment. Companies appreciate the business case for responsible operations and products. They are also fully aware of the interests of their stakeholders. Many provide regular updates of progress through sustainability reports. 

What do you think are the most pressing environmental issues? 

IPIECA Executive Director Brian Sullivan joined the organisation in 2011 after 23 years in BP. (Source: IPIECA) Climate change is an important topic for the industry. It affects the political and social environment in which the industry operates and the risks present challenges to our markets, industry facilities and operations. Also, the industry can play a significant role in climate risk mitigation through the provision of gas as an alternative to coal and through actions to reduce emissions from our operations. 

Air quality is another pressing environmental issue linked to energy usage. The industry, through IPIECA, has a long history of collaborating with our UN partners to improve the situation, most recently through the eradication of leaded gasoline. Other important environmental issues include biodiversity and ecosystem services, water management and oil spill preparedness and response. 

And the most pressing social ones? 

It’s hard to separate environmental and social issues as they become increasingly interconnected. However, key areas in terms of social responsibility include business and human rights. The recent UN guiding principles for business and human rights provide a framework for business to understand and manage risks and issues arising from their activities. IPIECA has led the work of the industry in operationalising the guiding principles so that they are deliverable in the oil and gas sector. 

What would success look like in 2040? 

One thing is for certain, the world, its energy use and the oil and gas industry will look very different in 2040 compared to today. How different remains to be seen; however, scenarios published by the International Energy Agency and others, based on current knowledge, suggest that oil and gas will remain as significant sources of the world’s energy. The industry must and will continue to improve its operations and products to meet stakeholders’ everincreasing expectations. Success in 2040 would be recognition that the industry is the leading sector in meeting these expectations and that IPIECA has played its part in enabling that.

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