[Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the November issue of E&P Plus. Subscribe to the digital publication here.]  

According to the Energy Progress Report 2020, an annual report that tracks progress on Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) “Affordable and Clean Energy,” 789 million people globally still lack access to electricity, and 2.8 billion people—over one-third of the global population—lack the means to cleanly and safely cook.

Additionally, the U.N. advises that lack of access to energy may hamper efforts to contain COVID-19 across many parts of the world because energy is critical to operating healthcare facilities, providing clean water and enabling communications during times of social distancing. The 2020 report shows some progress toward 2030 targets under SDG7 as well as significant work if society is to achieve universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy.

To date, even the most optimistic energy transition scenarios show that additional oil and gas E&P is required to effectively meet future demand and compensate for the ongoing decline in existing reserves. It is clear that oil and gas will continue to play a role in addressing the world’s energy needs alongside renewable sources. Why is this relevant? It is relevant because if we are to reach the goal of universal access to clean energy, then our focus needs to be both to look for and develop renewable alternatives while also decarbonizing the E&P of fossil fuels.

For oilfield services (OFS) companies, particularly those that operate in the exploration phase of the oil and gas value chain, this is central to adapting to the energy transition and ensuring they find their place in this changing landscape.

Emissions Reductions in Seismic

A needed first step for the seismic industry is setting and implementing a strategy aimed at reducing carbon emissions associated with seismic operations. We would all greatly benefit from a holistic strategy and standard for analyzing the climate impact from seismic operations, as this will lead to better planning and better decision-making. This will, in turn, reduce associated carbon footprints.

Agreeing on a carbon strategy and defining a standard for seismic operations will require collaboration from all stakeholders: acquisition companies, equipment manufacturers, ancillary service providers and seismic data consumers like TGS and oil companies. To achieve this, we need buy-in from the industry and value chain to effectively absorb the increased investments that may be a byproduct of decarbonization within the industry. This latter point remains to be tested.

In TGS’ 2019 Corporate Sustainability Report, the company reported carbon emissions from seismic operations on a project-by-project basis as well as by survey type (e.g., by separating 2D versus 3D versus ocean-bottom node versus multibeam and coring versus land acquisition and operations).

A more complete carbon analysis of seismic operations should include the ancillary activities related to, for example, crew changes as well as other elements like survey design, equipment age and technology. The inclusion of these factors is necessary to provide a more complete emissions analysis and to understand the carbon footprint. This will improve survey planning, benchmarking and decision-making. This is how we will ultimately drive change in our industry toward decarbonization.

“Enhance, reuse, recycle”

“Repair, reuse, recycle” has long been used colloquially to define the circular economy. TGS has tweaked this to be “enhance, reuse, recycle.” Businesses need to embrace this mentality and look for opportunities in all aspects of business in which to apply it sensibly.

We lose sight of the role the oil and gas industry can and will play in a low-carbon world and in providing clean energy access across the globe. If companies fail to enthuse existing and future employees, they will lose the talent, passion and energy needed to achieve the sustainable world we all want for ourselves and future generations.

Alongside efforts to decarbonize ongoing exploration activity, it is important to look for opportunities in renewable sources of energy.

A willingness to step outside comfort zones grounded by our strengths and experience will enable OFS companies to make meaningful contributions to the energy transition. By focusing both on what we can do directly to decarbonize E&P and looking for opportunities to support renewable energies, OFS companies like TGS are well positioned to evolve into the next-generation speaking partners of our clients.