It might seem oxymoronic to use sustainable and non-renewable energy in the same sentence. How can the oil and gas sector commit to sustainability when oil and gas resources are being depleted with each moment of discovery, extraction and production?
However, if we apply an element of common sense, we can use the term sustainable in this context because the resources will continue to be available for an exceptionally long time.
So, what does sustainability really mean?
If we were looking for a definition of sustainability in the oil and gas industry it would likely be the pursuit of cleaner oil and gas production, minimising the impact on the environment and wider societal interests. The existential threat to the sector is not a depletion of resources but more a drive to eradicate its relevance due to the damage it does to the world we live in.
Why is this such an issue for the industry?
There is a drive to eliminate hydrocarbons from entering the atmosphere. The Climate Action Plan would limit the use of fossil fuels in order to protect the environment. However, such restrictions would prove damaging to the economy of a modern and affluent society. By restricting the use of oil and gas, you would be most likely to damage the lives of those on lower incomes or living in poverty.
Therefore, part of the sustainability argument is a debate for the survival of the industry. There needs to be a serious discussion about the importance of hydrocarbons to our way of life. However, in return, the sector needs to do more to improve its impact on the state of the planet. Sustainable development in the oil and gas industry means taking responsibility for the negative effects of hydrocarbons.
What areas must we improve?
There are several areas where we could do more to improve. We could look to methane emissions, the use of water and land, the amount of plastic waste we produce, the impact of flaring, the development of technology for carbon capture and sequestration, as well as the possibility for low-carbon initiatives.
As well as looking inward, the oil and gas industry experts also need to look at partner sectors. For instance, what can the industry do to help aviation in the development of cleaner fuels for air travel? How can car companies work with oil and gas producers to manufacture cars that are less damaging to the world we live in?
The industry-level takeaway
If the world needs oil and gas to address the ravaging effects of poverty on our people, then sustainability needs to be an argument for fossil fuels. However, with this comes a responsibility that the sector must take seriously. The Climate Action Plan is an existential threat to the industry. However, denial of the truths for the need for change will not contend with this threat. Instead, the sector needs to take responsibility for a solution that makes hydrocarbons a viable and sustainable solution to our energy needs.
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