Sustainability—Learning What Matters

The perception of the petroleum industry is not currently a good one. So, if that sentiment can be measured, can it be improved? The SPE Sustainable Development Technical Section believes it can by SPE members thinking like activists yet acting like engineers. Data collection and analysis are key to determining what really matters.

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Members of SPE’s Sustainable Development Technical Section (SDTS) are deeply committed to both the environment and our industry’s remit to provide reliable energy and a large range of raw materials to the world in a safe, affordable, and sustainable manner. We are determined to sustain the environment—whatever that takes—and the industry, knowing that while it too has its problems, it has a positive influence on the world.

Whether it’s a discussion with your children, grandchildren, or skeptical relatives, or a headline in the financial pages, the perception of the petroleum industry is not currently a good one. So, if that sentiment can be measured, can it be improved? By thinking like activists, yet acting like engineers, the diverse and vibrant members of the SDTS think so.

Activists call the attention of people, often through imaginative and impactful means.

Engineers behave more like scientists—learning, thinking—but with the objective of seeing what can be done cost-effectively to solve the problems and then implementing the most attractive of the alternate solutions.

It is necessary to combine these two mindsets and talents to

1) Help people realize the human value of the petroleum industry.

2) Solve the paradox inherent to humanity’s consumption needs, balanced with achieving socioeconomic development in a manner that leaves a beneficial footprint (this is something of a BHAG*).

How Can Such Cultural Changes Be Initiated and Sustained?

We all know that unless you can measure it, it is hard to systematically improve it. Therefore, one of the key pathways of the SDTS’s Gaia Sustainability Program is dedicated to “Measuring What Matters.” Until we know what really matters for the environment, wider sustainability, and the governance of our companies and organizations, it is hard to know where to start and how to proceed.

What Matters the Most in the Near Term and the Longer Term (Post-2030)

The Measuring What Matters pathway has identified many things that matter and is acting to learn more about them through

  • A biweekly virtual discussion group (open to all members of the SDTS).
  • A series of masterclasses with an invited audience of sustainability specialists and SPE members with influence (like a mini SPE summit).
  • Helping to get the word out through a series of articles in JPT.
  • Collaborating with other technical communities and sections, including setting up a discussion group on methane emissions management with interested members of the Completions, Hydraulic Fracturing, Production and Facilities, and Management communities.
  • Sponsoring several special sessions at the 2022 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition in Houston in October.

What Else Can We Do?

Measuring matters, so collaboration with the Unmanned Systems Technical Section on measurement technologies matters (e.g., high-resolution satellites, planes, drones, ground-based edge technology); stopping methane emissions matters; water usage, reuse and disposal matters; regeneration of the environment (leaving the place in a better state than that in which we found it) matters; operational carbon footprint matters; collaboration with the CCUS Technical Section on the commoditization of carbon emissions/carbon credits matters; the exploration and production history and the future in developing countries matter; verification and regulations matter; modern governance of our organizations matters; and you and your actions matter.

What Else Do You Think Matters?

Methane emissions matter so much (remember COP26 and the Global Methane Pledge?) that SPE is fast-tracking a new technical section dedicated to Methane Emissions Measurement, Reporting, and Abatement (MEMRA), sponsored by the Completions, Data Science and Engineering Analytics, Production and Facilities, and Health, Safety, Environment, and Sustainability technical disciplines. Join the existing MEMRA Discussion Group on SPE Connect.

We Are Not Alone

Collaboration with global leaders in these areas (some of whom can be found within SPE) and partnerships with organizations that know a lot more than we do is helping to fast-track our learning and implementation strategies to tackle sustainability issues. Organizations such as the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers, Oil & Gas Climate Initiative, the Energy Institute, the American Petroleum Institute, International Organization for Standardization, Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Environmental Defense Fund, amongst many others, all have helpful resources that, along with our creativity and hard work, can help us make progress in addressing the petroleum industry’s priorities.

Data-focused organizations also have solutions we can use. The Petroleum Industry Data Exchange has an initiative called the Emissions Transparency Data Exchange to get emissions into the supply chain; Open Group’s Open Footprint is developing a comprehensive data model for emissions; and Professional Petroleum Data Management Association is defining “What is a Facility.”

At the same time, we need to ensure we can continue doing our part to lift another billion people out of energy poverty and provide them with reliable, affordable energy, and myriad products vital for agriculture, medicine, mining, manufacturing, and transportation required to sustain our world during the energy transition for decades to come.

We Are All In

The interest in the SPE Gaia Summit in Oman in March 2022 showed that sustainably is no longer a niche interest of the green fringe of the petroleum industry, but it’s a key focus of all, including the largest producers, service companies, regulators, and the institutions that finance the industry.

So, whether you’re a world-famous ESG influencer, or don’t know your Scope 1 from your Scope 2, please reach out to Alex Moody-Stuart and me on LinkedIn and get involved. Join the Gaia Sustainability LinkedIn group, the MEMRA Discussion Group on SPE Connect, and watch for the Measuring What Matters articles in JPT.

*BHAG—pronounced “bee hag.” It represents the term “big, hairy, audacious goal” as a compelling long-term goal (e.g., the Moon landing), introduced by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book, “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.”

David Shackleton co-chairs the Measuring What Matters Pathway with Alex Moody-Stuart and co-chairs the new SPE MEMRA Discussion Group with Rosa Swartwout. He is grateful for contributions to the article made by Alex Moody-Stuart, Johana Dunlop, Josh Etkind, and Bob Pearson.