Natural Gas Can Play a Role in Bringing About a Clean Energy-Fueled Economy

By Jon Mainwaring

Rigzone has noticed recently that several key figures in the global oil and gas industry are pushing the idea that natural gas can play a significant role in bringing about a world that is largely dependent on renewable energy sources rather than hydrocarbons.

At the recent International Petroleum Week held in London, a key address by Royal Dutch Shell plc CEO Ben van Beurden demanded that the oil and gas industry take a leading role in the fight against climate change and introduce “realism and practicality” into the debate.

Van Beurden noted that Germany, while increasing the use of renewable energy sources, actually saw a rise in carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 and 2013 as a result of the increased use of coal-powered plants. This echoes the concerns of Martin Bachmann, the executive director of German oil and gas firm Wintershall Holding GmbH, who at last summer’s ONS conference and exhibition in Stavanger described how Germany’s Energiewende (Energy Transition) dream was at risk of “turning into a nightmare” as a rapid move to intermittent and unreliable renewable energy technologies meant that coal-fired power stations were increasingly being used to fill the country’s energy gaps.

Also speaking at International Petroleum Week in mid-February was Maarten Wetselaar, executive vice president of Shell Integrated Gas, who elaborated on Shell’s view of the role that gas can play in fighting climate change. Wetselaar noted that gas is versatile in that a gas-fired plant takes much less time to start up and shut down than a coal-fired plant, meaning that a gas plant is an “ideal back-up” for other variable energy sources like solar and wind power. He also pointed out that gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, producing less than half the carbon dioxide and just 10 percent of the air pollutants that coal produces when it is burned to generate electricity.

Of course, Shell needs to make sure that its own agenda is well served; the firm turned from being an energy business whose major output was oil to a company that mainly produces gas a couple of years ago. But Rigzone has this month heard other voices from the industry note the importance of natural gas in developing a sustainable energy economy.

At GE Oil & Gas’ recent conference in Florence, Italy, we listened to new Statoil ASA CEO Eldar Saetre and Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) CEO Emilio Lozoya Austin lend their support for the views of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy – who advocated “expanded use of clean fuels like natural gas”.

The cynic in me wonders whether the energy industry is now pushing gas as a way of reducing carbon emissions because many of its plans for developing oilfields in high-cost locations have recently become defunct as a result of the recent collapse in the price of oil. But given that the International Energy Agency is predicting that by 2040 the world’s demand for energy will be 37 percent greater than it is today, it seems that hydrocarbons are still likely to form a significant proportion of the energy mix. So, it certainly makes sense to expand the use of gas rather than oil or coal if we are serious about minimizing carbon emissions.

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