Plugging methane leaks is "absolute priority" but BP points to another 30 years of oil and gas investments

Plugging methane leaks is “absolute priority” but BP points to another 30 years of oil and gas investments

The head of one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers has called for an industry crackdown on fugitive emissions, saying it makes no sense for companies to let their product escape.

Bernard Looney, chief executive of oil and gas group BP, said methane leaks from gas wells in Australia and around the world are a “huge problem” that needs to be addressed for economic and environmental reasons.

In an in-depth interview with the ABC, Mr. Looney also said that investments in new oil and gas projects would need to be made by 2050, even as the global economy moves towards carbon neutrality.

The 52-year-old said wrestling with what he called the energy trilemma of emissions intensity, safety and affordability was a complex task.

But he said the unprecedented energy crisis unfolding in 2022 shows how high the stakes are and why governments and investors need to be careful about how they manage the switch to renewable sources.

As a greenhouse gas, methane is far more potent than carbon in the atmosphere for the first 20 years.(PA: David Goldman)

“What you’re going to see over time is the reduction in demand for hydrocarbons and the reduction in investment in hydrocarbons,” Mr. Looney said.

“But that is not the same as not investing.

“Oil and gas fields are declining faster than societal demand will be declining.

“And you have to invest in this middle.

“You have to invest – otherwise you have the problem we have today, where you don’t have enough supply, prices are going through the roof and the consumer is affected and obviously they’re like, ‘What are we trying? here?'”

A huge ship is dwarfed by one of dozens of massive turbines at an offshore wind farm.
There are calls for BP to emulate other ex-oil producers who have gone full green energy.(Included in delivery: Southern Star)

“The less you lick, the more you sell”

As he rose to the top spot of the world’s sixth largest oil and gas company in 2020, Mr. Looney outlined ambitious plans to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

A key element has been addressing the release of methane from BP’s production wells, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon.

Mr. Looney noted that methane is natural gas and therefore it makes no ecological or economic sense to waste it.

“The less you lick, the more you sell and that in itself has an economic advantage,” said the Irishman.

“This is an absolute priority for our company.

“In many parts of the world, increasing regulation of methane means there will be costs to the regulatory system from methane leaks.”

A worker wearing high-visibility protection and a hard hat stands in front of a large container tower with the BP logo.
BP is best known to many Australians as a fuel distributor and retailer.(PA: Dan Peled)

Clean Energy Finance director Tim Buckley, a prominent renewable energy advocate, said BP’s efforts to limit its methane emissions seemed genuine.

Mr Buckley said the importance of avoiding methane emissions should not be underestimated.

“The reason methane is so important is that it accounts for literally a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions each year,” Buckley said.

“Scientific meetings are judged on a 100-year perspective, but we have a climate emergency, which means we really should be talking about methane at a 20-30 year meeting.

“Methane is 84 to 86 times worse than carbon dioxide on that basis.

“It’s the elephant in the room.”

On a glorious day in the outback, two people are standing on a bushy hillside.
BP is steering plans to build the world’s largest renewable energy project in Pilbara, WA.(ABC catalyst)

Australia’s Green Opportunity

Another part of the restructuring under Mr. Looney was BP’s move to cleaner technologies such as wind, hydrogen, biogas and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Earlier this year, the British company bought a majority stake in the world’s largest green energy proposal – the $52 billion Asian renewable energy hub in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

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