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Defining sustainability in the oil and gas industry

An emerging topic along the entire oil and gas value chain is the move towards sustainability. The question then arises: What is sustainability? Each company defines what sustainability means to its operations. For example, one company might look at sustainability as the need to find new chemical technologies to recycle plastics, while a different company sees sustainability as incorporating the latest digital technologies to improve plant reliability and safety.

No matter what path a company takes towards sustainability, the term is one of the crucial aspects within the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI). As each company has or is developing a somewhat different definition of what sustainability means to its operations, Hydrocarbon Processing defines “Sustainability in the HPI” as the process of managing available resources, investments and technologies to maintain and optimize operations for greater safety, reliability, efficiency and environmental and social awareness.

Sustainability was a major focus on Day 2 of Gulf Energy Information’s Women’s Global Leadership Conference. The two-day event has become the largest women’s event in the oil and gas industry that focuses on discussing the industry’s key environmental, economic, professional development and human capital issues in one setting.

John Royall, President and Chief Executive Officer, Gulf Energy Information, introduced the topic of sustainability by highlighting carbon mitigation debates in Ireland, followed by research conducted by Gulf Energy Information’s publications—Hydrocarbon Processing, Gas Processing & LNG, World Oil, Pipeline & Gas Journal and Petroleum Economist. The global survey provided an indication on the steps the industry is taking to institute and/or increase sustainable activities in organizations. According to the survey, 51% of respondents said their company has a sustainability initiative. Approximately 20% said that their company does not have a sustainability initiative but are working on establishing one.

This data shows that sustainability is a crucial topic within the oil and gas industry. The survey also showed several key technologies or issues that the oil and gas industry must improve upon. These included: Flaring, water usage, methane emissions, plastics waste/recycling, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon reduction. To help increase sustainable activities, companies and/or individuals can:

  • Make the case for the benefits of what the oil and gas industry provide to the world
  • Encourage industry organizations to make a more effective argument to the benefits the industry provides, especially to society outside the oil and gas industry
  • Get involved in initiatives to make the oil and gas industry cleaner and minimize impact.

The Day 2 panel at Gulf Energy Information’s Women’s Global Leadership Conference discusses sustainability in the oil and gas industry.

FIG. 1. The Day 2 panel at Gulf Energy Information’s Women’s Global Leadership Conference discusses sustainability in the oil and gas industry.

John Royall’s opening presentation was followed by a lively panel discussion on defining sustainability in the oil and gas industry. The panel was moderated by Charles McConnell, Executive Director, Carbon Management and Energy Sustainability, University of Houston, and the panelists included Paul Mackzum, Senior Vice President of Project Management, Energy Services, KBR; Karen Olson, Technology Director, Southwestern Energy; Paula Whitten-Doolin, Senior Counsel, North America, Neste U.S.; Lionel Ribeiro, Sustainability Manager-Onshore Assets, Equinor; Ritu Talwar, Manager, CSR and Sustainability, Enbridge (FIG. 1).

The panel focused on sustainability initiatives within their own companies, as well as how organizations are advancing operations towards more sustainable solutions. These actions include utilizing new technologies to increase sustainability (e.g., more data to ensure better water treatment and utilization) and safety—which should always be the first priority.

The panelists also agreed that sustainability is happening whether a company wants it to or not. Sustainability initiatives provide workers with a sense of pride knowing their company is a leader in leaving a drilling or plant site, a city, an industry or area better than when they arrived. These types of initiatives, when executed, need to be echoed throughout the industry. This practice will enable companies operating in the oil and gas industry a voice to showcase the good that this industry can bring not only to local communities, but to the world.

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