A series of private conversations between oil industry executives, where they share their true stance on climate change, have been brought to the public eye. These meetings were secretly recorded and in them the executives contradict their public statements that methane emissions are under control.
These opinions were expressed at a June 2019 meeting organized by the Independent Petroleum Organization of America, a group that represents energy companies. Participants expressed their concern that producers were intentionally flaring too much natural gas and affecting the industry’s image. The content of these recordings, about 1 hour and 22 minutes of conversation, was published by The New York Times.
The recordings cover a wide range of subjects, including job creation, the threats posed by solar and wind energy, and federal oil and gas leases. The audio was provided by an organization focused on monitoring climate policies, which said that the meetings were recorded by an industry executive present at the time. The group refused to be identified due to fear of retaliation.
The effects of flaring
Ron Ness, head of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, was part of this discussion and seemed against the need to increase methane regulations. “We’re just flaring a tremendous amount of gas. This pesky natural gas. The value of it is very minimal,” he admitted at the meeting in Colorado Springs.
Ness said that the stricter methane regulation “is an unnecessary load”. The executive added that the industry already responsibly produced “valuable energy resources.”
A well can produce both oil and natural gas. But oil is sold at a higher price and producers use flaring as a cheap way to get rid of this product. Ness stated there is so much natural gas that some producers mainly drill looking for petroleum and have little use for the accompanying gas. Due to its high visibility, flaring is heavily criticized by the public. “Consequently, they are a huge, huge threat for the industry’s efforts to present natural gas as cleaner and climate-friendly,” Ness concluded.
Clean gas… or maybe not as much
The oil industry assures it is part of a solution to climate change, and that it aims to use natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to help step away from coal and move toward renewable energies. Methane, a main component of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas that is up to 25 times more effective than CO2 as a heat-trapping gas. Burning it instead of capturing it for subsequent use generates pollution without generating power.
Estimates indicate that about 25% of the global warming recorded since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has been the result of high levels of methane in the atmosphere.
Concerns over voters
At the meeting, the executives appeared concerned over a possible violent reaction against the oil and gas industry, particularly among young voters. They seemed apprehensive as more people become passionate about climate change.
“Young voters, female voters, Hispanic voters, really every sector except for older conservative male voters,” Ryan Flynn of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association said in the recording of the meeting, “their No. 1 issue when it comes to our industry is always going to be environmental stewardship, and concerns about what we’re doing with the environment.”
The Trump administration has proposed to eliminate federal regulations to methane. This initiative generates controversy over who has the authority to regulate methane. Opinions are divided between the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The role of the oil industry
A small group of 100 companies are responsible for 70% of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to a report prepared by Carbon Majors and part of the Climate Accountability Institute. The report highlights the impact of several oil majors, including ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron. In this sense, it assures that “a relatively small group of fossil fuel producers can be the key for a global shift in carbon emissions.”
Not all is bad
However, “oil and gas firms are becoming increasingly active in clean energy technology investment. They are likely to play a huge role in the push to decarbonizing the global economy, according to the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA).
“We are seeing several oi and gas companies, mostly the international oil companies, reshaping their business strategies and putting more emphasis on clean energy technology,” said Fatih Birol.
“Whether they do it because of pressure from investors or citizens or want to be part of the solution and at the same time prepare their business strategy for a different world is an open question, but many international oil and gas companies are moving in that direction,” he added.
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