Warming change: Oil, gas industry could help address world's climate
Oil and gas companies have a job to do when it comes to addressing global warming.
But a renowned geophysics professor who addressed a couple hundred participants at the University of Oklahoma’s energy symposium Thursday told them that job will be something most don’t expect.
“It is easy to see that carbon dioxide injection will scale up very dramatically the next few years, and my argument is: It has to,” said Mark Zoback, a member of Stanford University’s faculty who also is director of the Stanford Natural Gas Initiative.
“I see the oil industry of the future as one that is making money, but at the same time, also is in the business of injecting and storing CO2 to help meet carbonization goals and to address global warming.”
Zoback provided the opening keynote address at the energy symposium, held at the BHGE Energy Innovation Center in Oklahoma City.
The symposium’s over-arching theme was the “Great Energy Disruption,” and aimed to let participants know it's time for people to move off all-or-nothing energy choices involving coal, wind, natural gas and solar as they attempt to address global warming.
Zoback began his address by recapping tremendous advances in domestic oil and gas production brought about by the shale revolution, noting it had changed energy markets both at home and abroad.
Still, he said, recovery factors for dry gas are about 45 percent, while recovery factors for tight oil are less than 10 percent.
“We can do a lot better,” he said.
Zoback also discussed what types of energy are powering the global economy now and in the future and how that will impact the environment, noting CO2 emissions have been flat and falling in the U.S. but climbing in developing countries.
He told the audience Asia is building 300 gigawatts of new coal generating capacity now, which equals the amount of coal capacity currently operating in the U.S.
“This is a global issue, not just a local one. Economic development, as we all know, depends on affordable energy delivered as cheaply as possible,” he said. “Let us have them make the right decision as we move forward.”
He also discussed the role natural gas should play in helping to bring clean fuel to heat homes and cook in countries with emerging economies.
As for the U.S., though, he cautioned the use of natural gas could do only so much, noting that California would reduce its CO2 emissions to meet existing mandates by just 16 percent if it shut down all of its fossil fuel-powered generators and relied exclusively on solar and wind to provide its needed electricity.
“If we are going to have a chance of meeting these goals, it is going to require a lot of natural gas, better auto efficiency standards, and we are going to have to get serious about storing carbon in the subsurface,” he said.
Some CO2 injection happens in the U.S. now, but only just a fraction of what Zoback estimated would be needed to reduce average global temperatures by 2 degrees.
He estimated 3.5 billion tons of CO2 would need to be getting injected annually by 2040, which is the equivalent of about 30 billion barrels of oil (the amount of oil the world currently produces, processes, distributes and consumes annually today).
“The needed scale is pretty mind boggling,” he said.
However, he predicted the oil and gas industry could step into that role, given its existing knowledge of the subsurface, that much of the needed infrastructure already is in place and that it is creating space to store the gaseous fluid as it produces oil and natural gas from various formations.
“We have pore space in the bank,” Zoback said, “and, it could positively impact production.”
Thursday’s event also included several panel discussions covering topics on energy’s competitions for capital, customers and public sentiment, and a taped interview about energy issues with former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who worked in four presidential administrations, co-founded the Climate Leadership Council and advocates for a revenue-neutral carbon tax.