Adnoc Faces Questions on Sustainability

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With the oil-rich United Arab Emirates hosting the COP28 climate summit later this year, its decarbonization activities and goals have inevitably come under closer international scrutiny. Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (Adnoc), which produces almost all of the Opec member's oil and gas, will likely be judged harshly, particularly after CEO Sultan al-Jaber was appointed the UAE's COP28 president. The move has infuriated climate activists despite al-Jaber's significant clean energy experience. Adnoc has set net zero targets for Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions (operational) by 2050 — in line with the UAE's overall ambitions. But how will it get there? And will it be enough to silence the critics? Among the national oil companies (NOCs) in Opec, Adnoc may be furthest along with its energy transition strategy. It has begun implementing a wide-ranging 2030 sustainability strategy, which will help it demonstrate that it is taking more immediate action on decarbonization. This involves investing $15 billion in landmark decarbonization projects, including carbon capture and storage (CCS), electrification, new CO2 absorption technologies and outlays in clean energies, including hydrogen and renewables schemes. Among Adnoc's concrete 2030 targets is a reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 25%, which includes a 0.15% methane intensity target. It also eyes a 500% increase in CCS capacity at the Al-Reyadah project in Abu Dhabi to 5 million tons per year. In another potentially promising carbon capture initiative, Adnoc — in partnership with Muscat-based 44.01 — last week launched a pilot to air capture and inject CO2 in peridotite rock formations underground in the emirate of Fujairah, where it would naturally mineralize.

Adnoc took a major step towards decarbonizing its operations early last year when it began to source up to 100% of its grid electricity from solar and nuclear power produced in the emirate — the first major oil and gas company to do so. Work on linking its offshore operations to the onshore power network to reduce offshore emissions is presently under way. Adnoc has also highlighted its long-standing policy of zero routine gas flaring and the lower carbon intensity of its crudes, including its flagship Murban grade, which it says is less than half the industry's average.

The initiatives and goals position Adnoc at the heart of the global oil and gas industry’s wider stance on the transition. This position largely centers around increased engagement on the climate issue, an accelerated adaptation and/or evolution of the existing business model through reduced operational emissions, and increased spending on complementary clean technologies. Critically, the strategy does not represent a transformation away from Adnoc's core oil and gas focus — and therefore remains a major concern among climate activists. With COP set to kick off Nov. 30, Adnoc — just as the entire UAE — will be keen on showing that fossil fuels and renewables can and must work together in decarbonizing the global energy system. Producers argue that without utilizing all available energy solutions, global energy security and affordability will be at risk during the transition period.

Mideast NOCs have always played a delicate balancing act as they approach the energy transition — and it's even more delicate these days. Companies like Adnoc, Saudi Aramco and QatarEnergy are keeping one eye toward decarbonizing and the other eye on maintaining — and even increasing — fossil fuel production to meet continued buoyant demand for hydrocarbons. Last year's energy crisis and mounting geopolitical concerns have added new layers as Gulf producers walk this tightrope. But without commitments to address Scope 3 (end-use) emissions, they are likely to face continued criticism from climate activists. Mideast Gulf producers argue their lower-cost, lower-carbon hydrocarbon resources are best positioned to meet future demand even as the global decarbonization drive accelerates. At the same time, decarbonization is key for producers to preserve market share given consumer emissions goals. Boston Consulting Group in a report last year argued that Mideast NOCs' cost positions and Scope 1 and 2 carbon intensities are both "among the most favorable in the world, meaning they are in the best position to stay in business" through the transition.

ESG, CO2 Emissions, Carbon Capture (CCS)
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