Big Oil Is Cutting Emissions. With Big Data It Will Do It Quicker.

Big Oil Is Cutting Emissions. With Big Data It Will Do It Quicker.
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The world’s largest oil and natural gas companies are sprinting to cut greenhouse gas emissions and making significant progress. By reengineering many operations through digital technology and cloud storage – Big Data – emissions will be cut sooner, and without unnecessary, drastic steps that will drive up the price of oil and gasoline, thereby imposing a de facto, regressive tax. 

The American Petroleum Institute’s March 25 announcement that it supports a price on carbon emissions adds impetus to these changes. Oil companies have already faced significant and growing pressure from Climate Action 100+, a group of 525 investors with $52 trillion in assets under management focused on “curbing emissions and strengthening climate-related financial disclosures.”

Companies have made bold pledges to cut emissions and are being watched closely by investors, policy makers and the public.

Exxon Mobil’s 2021 Energy & Carbon Summary pledges a 15-20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 from 2016 levels. This follows a 5 percent reduction from 2010 to 2019. Central to the plan is a 40-45 percent reduction in methane emissions.

BP has announced it will become carbon neutral by 2050. It is transforming into an integrated energy company as it aims to cut carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030.

Chevron is seeking to reduce its oil-related greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent from 2016-23 while also investing $1.1 billion in carbon capture projects.

A 2020 oil and gas industry survey by Ernst & Young identified two strong and related industry trends. First, 43 percent said increasing availability of Big Data analytics and insights is one of the top-three trends that will positively impact their company’s business growth. Second, 39 percent identified decarbonization and related changes pertaining to climate change as an opportunity.

More simply put, by using digital technology, oil and natural gas companies will be cleaner and more prosperous.

The oil and natural gas industries have always had large numbers of employees with expertise in engineering and the sciences. Yet, the industry has been slow to adopt data analytics, cloud computing, automation, and machine learning.

The nature of the oil and natural gas industry’s operation make it a prime candidate to benefit from widespread use of these practices.

As the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said, “Satellites, global positioning systems, remote sensing devices, and 3-D and 4-D seismic technologies make it possible to discover oil reserves while drilling fewer exploratory wells. Mobile and smaller slim hole drilling rigs reduce the size of the area that drilling activities affect.”

By better visualizing and analyzing data, the benefits to oil companies and the planet are significant and include the following.

  • Knowing where to drill for the greatest success, while avoiding unnecessary and costly disruptions to the environment, as referenced by EIA above.
  • Conducting more systematic, widespread monitoring of pipelines and other operations via sensors. By better identifying problem spots for potential spills or leaks, preventative actions and faster responses occur. 
  • Having robots do missions that are especially dangerous and/or require precision.
  • Preventing cyber attacks from bad actors, a growing and serious risk to the energy sector.

Fuller deployment of Big Data is also important as the demand for oil and gasoline will remain strong for many years.

WardsAuto reports that in 2016 the world had 1.3 billion vehicles nearly all of which were gasoline and diesel powered. Globally, the number of electric cars grew by 11 million in 2020, according to Automotive World, which is less than one percent of the 2016 total vehicle count.

And yet, billions of people in the world simply want a car, no matter how it is powered. They aspire to higher living standards and faster mobility. As in Cuba, people in many countries around the world will do whatever it takes to keep gasoline powered cars on the road.

The worldwide move to lower greenhouse gas emissions does not require major disruptions and economic hardship from an abrupt end to internal combustion vehicles and the demise of the oil industry. Big Data is the bridge to help Big Oil, and the rest of us, get to a cleaner energy future sooner, and without unnecessary economic pain. 

Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia. 


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