April 2021 /// Vol 242 No. 4

Columns

Executive viewpoint

Solution development for a sustainable future

Dr. David Horsup, ChampionX

As the energy transition picks up pace, the oil and gas industry is accelerating sustainability strategies. This drive is underlined by global initiatives, such as The Paris Agreement, accelerating our collective path toward a net zero future.

The year 2020 marked a radical cultural shift. Accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic and low oil prices, the industry has never been so focused on evaluating carbon footprints and driving more energy-efficient operations.

Several elements are key to the sector building a sustainable future, and this creates a unique new lens for us to look through at solution development.

Calculating carbon footsteps. To successfully reduce its carbon footprint, a business must have an accurate picture of its total impact before devising a plan to improve.

ChampionX’s chemical technologies business provides chemical solutions to engineering problems in the upstream market. There are three major contributors to the carbon footprint of the finished product. One stems from suppliers and the raw materials that are purchased. Then, there are the complex manufacturing processes in which the raw materials are converted into final products. Finally, the products are delivered to a client’s facility, which also contributes to the overall carbon count.

By fully understanding which elements add to a product’s carbon footprint, from the outset to the end-user, we can start to work out how to not just reduce this, but also to innovate solutions that significantly lower it. Calculating each carbon footstep gives transparency and clarity for customers. This step-by-step carbon-counting journey is now more commonly requested, as businesses look to gain a greater understanding of their environmental impact.

Adopting a sustainable culture. While the industry can measure its carbon footprint and adopt technology to deliver greater energy efficiencies, a cultural shift is essential to accelerate this change. Only when attitudes change, can a real energy transformation happen.

Sustainability must be embedded into day-to-day operations and not just be a message from the C-suite. There is often a degree of uncertainty around the future of the industry. So, it’s important that the people in the sector understand their role in the transition, and that their skills are transferable and highly valuable.

The next generation of workers also needs to be considered and informed of the sector’s role in the energy mix and its drive toward net zero. Already, we are seeing a change in how the younger generation views the industry, with environmental efforts high on their agenda. We must ensure that we are attracting and retaining high-calibre talent and providing them with fulfilling careers in the new energy industry.

Innovation for energy efficiency. Despite being a mature sector, oil and gas will continue to play a crucial role in meeting global energy demands and providing a sustainable source for raw materials, for many years to come. However, now more than ever, energy efficiency has become a key focus—adopting new methods to produce, deliver and use hydrocarbons in more sustainable ways.

For example, as assets around the world mature, produced water volumes continue to increase while oil production declines. In most facilities, water handling operations have a high energy demand. If an operator experiences significant water ingress, this can reduce hydrocarbon production, negatively impacting overall asset efficiency.

However, application of advanced chemical technologies into high water-producing zones can dramatically reduce the water volume coming to the surface. Looking at the results through a sustainability lens, we see that the impact is significantly larger than it appears on the surface. By significantly reducing water production, the energy required to produce and separate the water is reduced dramatically, which significantly reduces carbon emissions.

Embracing digital technology. Digital technology is intrinsically linked with creating a more sustainable future and can help to significantly reduce CO2 emissions across operations. The “race to be second” is a common phrase and an inherent behaviour in the industry. Many businesses are reluctant to implement novel digital technologies, fearing potentially costly consequences if unsuccessful. However, time has run out for unnecessary reticence.

Digital applications are essential to creating more energy-efficient operations. Therefore, the industry must be willing and eager to adopt new ways of working. We are always eager to shout out about successes, but often, more is to be learned from those that are unsuccessful. By having more open dialogue about these, we can further our collective understanding and accelerate solution development and adoption across the industry.

Driving net zero ambitions. Opportunities for impactful new discoveries surface when today’s challenges are reframed through a sustainability lens. Helping to sustainably meet the world’s growing energy needs will require a more holistic approach to innovation. It will demand combining chemical, digital and equipment technologies with deep scientific expertise to improve operational efficiencies and minimise waste.

Through creating a more transparent, agile and caring team, we are empowering our workers today to take action, and deliver a more energy-efficient and sustainable future for the next generation.

We have important work to do, to lead the low-carbon transition our industry needs. This is the decade of action. By embracing the challenge and leveraging meaningful partnerships across the industry, we can, together, achieve net zero.

The Authors ///

Dr. David Horsup has been Vice President, External Technology & Strategy, at ChampionX since January 2020. He holds a Ph.D. in Emulsion and Surfactant Science and a BS degree in chemistry from The University of Hull, United Kingdom. He has 28 years of experience in the energy industry and has held various senior technical roles in chemical technology, most recently leading the global Research, Development and Engineering operation.

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