Better Way - The Rise of Responsibly Sourced Natural Gas

Given everything that’s happened lately on the ESG front — with a lot more expected — it’s safe to say that while hydrocarbons will continue to play an important role in the global economy for the foreseeable future, the companies that produce, transport and process crude oil, natural gas and NGLs will need to work much harder to minimize and mitigate their impact on the environment. Traditional energy companies have been scrambling to respond to the full-court press by investors, lenders and others to rein in and offset their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition to establishing goals for slashing their GHGs, and taking steps to tighten their upstream, midstream, and downstream operations, they’ve offered and delivered “carbon-neutral” shipments of LNG, oil and LPG to overseas buyers, using “nature-based” carbon credits to offset their life-cycle emissions. Now, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog, there’s a big push by U.S. gas distributors and other buyers to shift to gas that’s been produced, gathered, processed and transported as cleanly as humanly possible.

Over the last year, concern about climate change has reached critical mass and the pressure is on the energy industry to figure out how it’s going to navigate the uncertain waters ahead. While some on the fringes are sure to disagree, it seems likely that natural gas will continue to play an important role in U.S. and global energy supply for at least the next couple of decades, and maybe longer. However, methane (CH4), the primary component of pipeline gas, may not be ideal — it not only produces carbon dioxide (CO2) when it’s consumed, it’s a very potent GHG on its own and releasing even small unburned quantities of it into the atmosphere can have deleterious effects. That said, natural gas burns much cleaner than coal, it’s abundantly available and relatively inexpensive, and, as the last couple of weeks showed, the world still needs cheap gas to fuel global economic growth (see To the Moon and Back). And, yes, as has been said many times, it’s a close-to-perfect “bridge fuel” to ease the transition from a hydrocarbon-driven world to one fueled more by wind, solar, hydrogen and other non-carbon energy sources.

A lot of people say, well, maybe natural gas needs to remain a significant part of the energy mix in its current form and also, perhaps, as a feedstock for hydrogen production — at least until the Rolling Stones, U2, and maybe even the Red Hot Chili Peppers stop touring — but the least we can do in the interim is to minimize fugitive methane emissions or offset their potential global warming effect. That view has gained traction, not just among the environmentally minded slice of the general public but among many investors and lenders, as well as increasing numbers of energy-consuming companies and energy-producing ones. The ESG movement, which we discussed in depth in our five-part Paradise blog series, is already having a profound effect, with perhaps the biggest one being the push by companies of all stripes — including energy producers, midstreamers, refiners, and their many customers — to significantly reduce their GHG emissions by 2030 and aim for net-zero emissions by mid-century or so.

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