Changing Our Mindset on Methane

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Climate change is accelerating even as awareness of the need to combat it grows. In the long run, a comprehensive response must include significant transformation of the sectors that underpin the global economy — from energy to transportation to agriculture. Momentum on these fronts is clear, but it could take decades to reap the benefits. By contrast, there is one lever the world could pull much more quickly: cutting methane emissions.

Methane, which leaves the atmosphere faster than carbon dioxide but packs a bigger warming punch, is responsible for 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the start of the Industrial Revolution, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). It’s now so prominent in the climate discussion that more than 100 national governments have signed up to the Global Methane Pledge.

All this is shining a spotlight on oil and gas production, which in 2021 was responsible for about 22% of global man-made methane emissions. Although IEA data show that methane emissions from the energy sector lagged overall growth in energy use last year, they still grew by about 5%.

Thinking Bigger

I strongly believe that we, the oil and gas industry, need to radically change our mindset on methane, moving from incremental change to an all-in approach. We need to think bigger than percentage reductions and focus on getting to zero methane.

I know that our industry is capable of it. At the many conferences I attend, methane is always on the agenda. We have made significant strides forward in our ability to detect, measure and abate emissions by investing in and using cutting-edge technology. We even know how to make methane mitigation cost-effective.

The question is, dare we aim for zero methane emissions? Will we change our mindset from defensive to proactive? Can we turn incremental change into comprehensive action?

I see an analogy here with our mindset about safety. We need to start treating methane emissions as seriously as the oil and gas industry already treats safety. If you’ve ever had even a passing involvement in our sector, you’ll understand what a huge statement that is.

A safety-first mindset has, quite rightly, become part of our organizations' DNA: I have been in many meetings at corporate headquarters that started with a safety briefing! This is the level of ambition we need, with everyone — from senior management to the newest trainee —- working together on the problem.

You may think this sounds unrealistic. It is not.

Industry Initiative

At CERAWeek 2022, the CEOs from 12 of the largest oil and gas companies launched and endorsed the Aiming for Zero Methane Emissions initiative. The companies agreed that virtually all methane emissions from the industry can and should be avoided — and they will strive to reach near zero by 2030.

These CEOs endorsed a mindset change that treats methane emissions as seriously as the oil and gas industry treats safety. The initiative has already attracted the signature of QatarEnergy and a wide range of supportive organizations.

These are not just words. Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) members have already proven that tackling methane emissions is possible. Member companies reduced their aggregate absolute methane emissions by more than 30% in the past five years, putting in place measures to achieve our upstream methane intensity target.

OGCI Climate Investments has invested in a suite of technologies that improve monitoring, measurement and mitigation. OGCI is also working with a wide range of partners to leverage new technologies that can transform the way we tackle methane emissions.

Collective Efforts

Together, the OGCI member companies account for almost 30% of global operated oil and gas production. This gives them heft in the battle against methane emissions, but they cannot solve the problem on their own.

That’s why the initiative is open to signatories from all oil and gas companies, as well as to supporters who can help them eliminate their methane footprint.

Aiming for Zero is not a formal organization; signatories do not have to pay membership fees, and there are no enforcement mechanisms. Signatories set their own strategies, benchmarks, reporting standards and timetables to meet the methane emissions reduction goal.

By joining the initiative, signatories are making a public statement of intent and should be able to demonstrate to stakeholders that they are making progress toward achieving the zero-emissions ambition. The point is to recognize that the time for incremental change has passed. We need a mindset shift based on the belief that virtually all methane emissions from the industry can and should be avoided.

Bjørn Otto Sverdrup is chair of the Executive Committee of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI). Prior to this appointment in 2021, he was Equinor’s senior vice president for corporate sustainability and part of the leadership team overseeing strategy and M&A. The views expressed in this article are those of the author.

Methane Emissions
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