Post-Pandemic Transitioning

The ability to travel has become less restricted by COVID-19, but the world’s recovery from the pandemic remains fragile. At last month’s in-person COP26 in Glasgow, Ben-Naceur addressed potentially smooth energy transition trajectories.

President Ben-Naceur at COP26.
President Ben-Naceur at COP26.

The world’s recovery from the pandemic is still fragile. Progress has been made in global vaccinations with 7.3 billion doses administrated by early November (51% of the world’s population having received at least one dose of vaccine). However, there is a huge disparity between countries such as the UAE, which is leading with more than 98% of its population vaccinated, compared to some African countries with less than 2% coverage.

We are also seeing the emergence of a fifth wave of COVID-19 cases in the Northern Hemisphere, possibly because of the loosening of protection requirements. On the positive side, people’s mobility patterns have nearly recovered for land transportation. The International Air Transport Association, which monitors airline activity, noted a surge in travel bookings for the second half of 2022. This is a welcome relief for the airline industry, which has seen its worst crisis in more than 60 years, and recovery could be occurring before the anticipated time frame of 2025.

The ability to travel safely is a critical requirement for SPE’s larger in-person events. The 2021 Annual Technology Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) held in Dubai a few weeks ago was excellent. ATCE sessions remain available on demand, so please check some very engaging discussions/presentations.

We held a handful of hybrid events in November, including a large ADIPEC in Abu Dhabi and the first SPE Eastern Europe Subsurface Conference in Kyiv, Ukraine. Congratulations to the new Kyiv section that opened last month—great work by the volunteers, the supporting organizations, and the SPE support staff. The number of events will be increasing over the coming months, in particular the in-person part of Offshore Europe in February 2022 (the virtual conference was held in September 2021).

We also held the SPE YP Congress in November (congratulations to the Young Member Engagement Committee and the volunteers). The event attracted many YPs and students from around the world to brainstorm via “ideathon” teams about innovative solutions to make the energy industry more sustainable.

I was invited to the COP26 in Glasgow last month and had the opportunity to discuss critical aspects of the energy transition. As demonstrated by the IPCC Assessment Report 6, WG1, published in August, there are very concerning trends about the evolution of mean surface temperatures. The COP21 meeting in Paris in 2015 raised the level of ambition for action to safeguard our planet, but the Accord left some undefined clauses such as Article 6, which “aims at promoting integrated, holistic, and balanced approaches that will assist governments in implementing their National Determined Contributions through voluntary international cooperation.” A properly designated cooperation mechanism would establish a policy foundation for a global emission trading system.

The following were among my remarks at COP26 addressing potentially smooth energy transition trajectories.

  • While the oil and gas industry supplies 56% of the primary energy mix today, there were continuous (deliberate?) efforts to minimize its input to the debate. This is utterly unrealistic. The International Energy Agency’s Net-Zero Emissions scenario (with a target of less than 1.5°C warming) is clearly showing that the world needs to invest more in oil and gas than it has since the beginning of the pandemic. If it does not, we are at risk of seeing the reoccurrence of the recent “perfect storm” that witnessed a spectacular rise in the price of natural gas around the world, associated with increasing oil prices.
  • CO2 capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) and blue hydrogen (associated with natural gas and steam methane reforming) are key ingredients of a smooth (and lowest cost) energy transition. There was very little discussion about these themes. It will take at least 2 decades (if not 3) for green hydrogen to achieve prices competitive with blue hydrogen. Without these technologies, it will be very difficult to decarbonize some critical parts of the manufacturing industry.
  • Energy storage will require access to large quantities of minerals and metals. A recent report by the World Bank (2020) highlights the dependency on some classes of minerals (such as graphite, lithium, and cobalt) to meet the requirements for battery storage, alongside other materials required for renewables. Developing such sustainable materials will be key, and SPE has been working on those themes since 2009 (under the leadership of SPE President Dr. Behrooz Fattahi), when it joined forces with other professional societies (AIME, ASCE, AIChE) and was supported by the United Engineering Foundation, to hold the first forum in Lausanne, Switzerland, to discuss these critical issues. The book, Engineering Solutions for Sustainability: Materials, and Resources, co-edited by Dr. Brajendra Mishra and myself, summarized the rich discussions. The event gave impetus to the subsequent SPE initiatives on sustainability, such as the Sustainable Development Technical Section and the GAIA initiative that have been launched worldwide, thanks to the great efforts of their leadership and the enthusiastic regional/local champions.

Methane emissions were one of the major themes. SPE, in collaboration with IOGP, IPIECA, and OGCI, is holding several events to support concerted industry efforts to identify and eliminate sources of methane leaks.

The good news is that for the first time, an analysis by the International Energy Agency is showing that country pledges received as of 3 November would lead to a trajectory of emissions in line with a temperature rise of 1.8°C or less.

For Further Reading

“Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition (2020),” The World Bank. Minerals-for-Climate-Action-The-Mineral-Intensity-of-the-Clean-Energy-Transition.pdf

“Engineering Solutions for Sustainability: Materials and Resources,” B. Mishra and K. Bennaceur (2011).