Recognizing Sustainability Excellence in Oil and Gas

The term sustainability is widely used. Unfortunately, when applied to hydrocarbon energy sources, it is often mentioned in a negative way. Too often, the focus is on reducing the use of hydrocarbon fuels, or measuring the emissions resulting from burning of hydrocarbon products.

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The term sustainability is widely used. Unfortunately, when applied to hydrocarbon energy sources, it is often mentioned in a negative way. Too often, the focus is on reducing the use of hydrocarbon fuels, or measuring the emissions resulting from burning of hydrocarbon products. This unbalanced approach ignores key aspects of sustainability—aspects where the oil and gas industry makes significant positive contributions. A sustainable world is one in which everyone has enough to eat, access to energy, educational and social opportunities, health and safety, and so much more.

If a key goal of sustainability is improving people’s lives, then the three key ways to support that goal are a strong economy, a healthy environment, and social development. Our industry has a very positive story to tell in each of those pillars. Instead of participating in the discussion around who or what is to blame for the world’s ills, we can show leadership in talking about what we have done, are doing, and will continue to do to improve people’s lives through our operations.

The world economy will continue to run on oil and natural gas for decades to come. The companies in our industry make enormous investments to ensure that we can meet growing world energy demand. According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Investment 2018, the oil and gas industry invested more than $2 trillion in the past 4 years to achieve a reliable supply of energy, despite the downturn and reduction of oil prices during the same period. Technology has allowed us to unlock shale resources around the world, develop smaller deposits economically, and find resources in new areas. Continued innovation will help us get more oil and gas from known reservoirs. Far from being a dying industry, our technical success will continue to feed the growing global economy.

At the same time, our industry has helped to relieve energy poverty. The IEA reports that an additional 120 million people around the world gained access to electricity in 2017. As a result, the total number of people without electricity access fell below 1 billion for the first time ever. The availability of natural gas for power generation has been an important factor in this achievement.

No industry is without impact. Our industry has been innovating ways to reduce our environmental footprint and enhance safety for years, and we continue to invest in technologies to do even better. Through industry organizations such as the International Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) we are able to share best practices and report our successes. IOGP recently reported an exponential decline in fatal accidents in the oil and gas industry, even as activity rose significantly around the globe.

These are just few high-level examples of the ways companies in our industry are contributing to a more sustainable world, which requires energy and a strong economy. I encourage all SPE members and their companies to become active in documenting and sharing our positive contributions across the full spectrum of a sustainable world. Here are a few things that SPE is doing to help the industry in its sustainability journey:

Collaboration with other organizations. On 19 November, I had the honor of representing the SPE Board and sign Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with IOGP and IPIECA (the Global Oil and Gas Industry Association for Environmental and Social Issues). These MOU call for an expansion of cooperation and sharing between our organizations. I also met with the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) strategy director and the IEA executive director to discuss how we might work together in the furthering of our ambition to play our role in meeting humanity’s need for energy while preserving the health of the planet.

Expansion of sustainability programming/activities. SPE launched a Sustainable Development Technical Section in 2012, and it now has more than 1,500 active members. As more members get involved we are expanding programming at conferences, adding webinars, and more opportunities for you to get involved and learn more about sustainability.

Launch of sustainability award. Nominations are now open for the inaugural SPE award covering sustainability and stewardship. The types of actions that can be recognized through this award cover all aspects of sustainability (see sidebar). This award will be presented in 2019 at the international level. I encourage all companies, organizations, and associations to nominate individuals for this award and join us in Calgary to recognize such achievement during the 2019 ATCE.  

I have full confidence in our industry to be responsible—not only in meeting global energy demand, but to do so in a very sustainable manner. Our operations can have significant positive impact on economic growth, social development, and environmental protection. We can do it together. We can share our positives with the world and demonstrate our leadership in these areas. Let us begin our exciting journey toward a more sustainable world.

Stewardship in the Oil and Gas Industry Award

This award, to be presented for the first time in 2019, recognizes the outstanding efforts in the upstream oil and gas industry in promoting and adopting the concepts of sustainable development. The award will encompass:

Environmental stewardship. Reporting on the industry’s adherence to best-in-class environmental standards and practices and the positive impact of such implementation. This can include most of the effort currently made by the oil and gas industry to protect the environment such as zero-flare strategy, oil-to-gas in power generation, energy efficiency, carbon capture, carbon sequestration, methane leak detection, and the use of renewables in the upstream oil and gas industry.

Quantifying economic/social impacts. Quantifying the direct and indirect impact of the upstream oil and gas industry on the global economy, human life style, and social life. This should include the data capture, quantification, tracking, and reporting in underdeveloped, developing, and developed countries.

Developing metrics. Meeting the needs of stakeholders in the upstream oil and gas industry by development of sustainable development metrics that provide fit-for-decision content for internal stakeholders to better integrate sustainability factors in their business performance.

Developing policies/best practices. Policies and best practices that cover the upstream oil and gas life cycle, environment, safety, and security including introducing new policies regarding best-in-class environmental practices, low emission policies, and incentives.

Innovation and technology. Examples that engage SPE members and excite them to brainstorm about new business models, second-life applications of oil and gas infrastructure, technologies to optimize and extend the life of oil and gas, understanding the subsurface, methane emissions management, etc.

Technology advances. Upstream technology breakthroughs that promote sustainability, the environment, and public quality of life.

Sustainable stewardship. Examples of breakthrough upstream oil and gas industry technologies and techniques that improve the quality of the environment.

Linking operations to sustainable development goals. Actions to promote upstream oil and gas operations that result in a sustainable climate, a robust global economy, and quality human life style and social life, as inspired by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

If you know an SPE member that merits recognition in one or more of these areas, submit a nomination. See for more information.