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Aiming for Net Zero

Achieving net zero is a complex issue and many companies involved in the oil industry are at pains to explain how they are going to go green.
This article appeared in Vol. 17, No. 5 - 2020

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Aiming for Net Zero

Many companies involved in the oil industry are at pains to explain how they are going to go green. Repsol, BP and Shell have all announced plans to reach net zero by 2050, while Eni says it will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in the same timescale. On the other side of the Atlantic, ExxonMobil and Chevron have not set longterm greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, but they have committed to reductions in methane emissions and cuts in flaring and are involved in projects to develop low emissions energy solutions.

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But, as ExxonMobil’s Chairman wrote in the company’s 2020 Energy and Carbon Summary: “Energy is essential. Accessible and affordable supplies of energy support our ability to meet the basic requirements of life and fuel society’s progress around the world”. And therein lies the core of the issue: how to reduce emissions, transition to a low carbon environment – and still manage to increase access to energy and electricity in the many parts of the world that are only just beginning to appreciate the benefits that those of us living in the more developed countries have been enjoying for decades. There is an interesting picture on the last page of our cover story that illustrates this admirably. Would digging holes in a sandy river bed to grab a saucepan-full of fresh water be a thing of the past if these people had access to electric pumps?

To make that a possibility, it appears that all scenarios for the energy transition indicate that fossil fuels, particularly gas, will be around for some time, as will be the inevitable CO₂ emissions. In this edition we discuss how CO₂ can usefully be employed in enhanced oil recovery, rather than just pumping it into the atmosphere. We also look at the idea of hydrogen as an energy source, which has been gaining ground recently, but most techniques for making hydrogen require electricity, so carbon capture and storage is needed if the power source is not green. 

Reducing emissions is an important goal but it must be approached globally. It is no use if one country or company claims to have reduced its carbon footprint if the polluting industry or process has simply shifted elsewhere where there are less stringent environmental controls. Achieving net zero is a complex issue.

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