For the first time, climate-related issues dominate the World Petroleum Congress. Despite the necessary course correction, one thing is clear: the traditional economic model will not change that quickly.
BMO Center, Stampede Park, Calgary, was the venue for the 24th edition of the World Petroleum Congress from 17 to 21 September, the world’s most important and largest meeting of the oil and gas industry, which brings together not only representatives of the major corporations, but also countless experts, managers and scientists.
Behind this mega-event, which has been held every three years since 1991, is the recently renamed former World Petroleum Council, which represents 95 % of the world’s oil and gas producers and thus 60 producing countries, and which is accredited as a non-governmental organisation by the United Nations.
More than 10,000 participants and about 5,000 delegates from 111 countries proudly took part in the Congress, the Canadian Organising Committee (OCAN) said after the end of September. In addition, more than 200 exhibitors had presented themselves on a good 21,000 square metres of exhibition space.
The programme was also impressive: eight plenary sessions, 23 strategy sessions, twelve ministerial sessions, 17 technical forums as well as well over 50 presentations on the Digital Poster Plaza, which had been selected from about 1,200 submitted abstracts.
The highlight of the opening ceremony, which began with a keynote address by Jonathan Wilkinson, Canadian Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, and speeches by Danielle Smith, Premier of Alberta, and Jyoti Gondek, Mayor of Calgary, was certainly the appearance of Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman Al Saud and Saudi Aramco President and CEO Amin Nasser, who was then honoured by Pedro Miras Salamanca, President of the World Petroleum Council with the prestigious WPC Dewhurst Award for outstanding service to the oil and gas industry. Other industry leaders such as ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods and Repsol CEO Josu Jon Imaz also made appearances at other events.
At first glance, all this sounds like a familiar agenda from the Council’s 90 years of existence. But this impression is deceptive: the wind has also changed for the classic oil and gas industry. This year, for example, Denis Painchaud, President and CEO of the Canadian section of the WPC, pointed out that “the main interest of the conference is directed towards climate-specific discussions”. Rodolfo Saboia, Director of the Brazilian Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP), put it even more pointedly in a plenary session: we were “sailing in shallow water” with a tanker and needed a new course.
That this is also the view of the majority of its members can be clearly seen from the recently decided change of name from the former World Petroleum Council to WPC Energy. Consequently, this year’s World Petroleum Congress started its 24th edition with a subheading that would otherwise probably be unthinkable: “Path to net zero”.
Path to net zero – a label swindle?
From the supposedly morally superior perspective of the Europeans, this suspicion might suggest itself. But this question is not so easy to answer. Certainly, two completely different perspectives collide here.
While Michael Cohen, Chief Economist and Head of Oil and Refining at BP, emphasised in the Strategy Dialogue on the Future of Energy that 80 % of the European markets for diesel are clearly past their peak and that gas consumption in Germany, for example, has recently fallen significantly, Izwan Ismail, President and CEO of Petronas Canada, countered that 60 % of the world’s population lives in countries whose economies are currently growing and that this should not be ignored when it comes to energy.
No wonder, as Amin Nasser, CEO of Saudi Aramco, calculated in his acceptance speech at the Dewhurst Award ceremony, that oil consumption is expected to reach an unprecedented record level of 103 to 104 billion barrels per day in the second half of this year. In this context, renewable energy sources could at best cover 5 % of the energy demand. In view of the resulting immense emissions, one should by no means lose sight of the gigantic energy demand in China, which is covered by coal-fired power generation.
Carlos Travassos, Chief Engineering Technology & Innovation Officer, Petrobras, also stated unequivocally that “a stop to oil production would be out of the question simply because of social considerations” – also because he expects a further increase in oil demand.
The dimensions of the increase in energy demand in some of the countries with foreseeable sustainable economic growth are illustrated by the forecast of Nicke Widyawati, President and CEO of the Indonesian oil and gas company Pertamina, who assumes that the “energy transition” will lead to nothing more than “energy addition”.
In general, the number of high-profile representatives of upcoming economic heavyweights – above all India and Brazil – may well be seen as an indicator of a completely new consolidation of the geopolitical distribution of power. And of course, the concerns of the existing and upcoming BRICS countries are on the radar in the power centre of the industry in the Middle East.
Accordingly, many a delegate in Calgary appears self-confident: for example, Osvaldo A. Inácio, Executive Director of the Angolan Sonangol, blurts out to the Europeans: “Forget the colours of hydrogen and concentrate on CO2 reduction!” And when asked what needs to happen to accelerate the energy transformation, Dong Sub Kim, President & CEO of Korea’s National Oil Corporation, answers in his own way. “The oil industry,” he states with conviction, “will always do what it does best: Produce oil and gas with as little energy loss as possible.”
Business as usual, then? While Muhammad Al-Saggaf, President of the King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, is still hopeful in his impassioned statement that science must move humanity forward with substantial progress, the answer of most of the players sounds far more detached and can essentially be reduced to a simple denominator: emissions reduction!
Emission reduction strategies
Far from the European fixation on hydrogen, the rest of the world is discussing a wide range of possible strategies, depending on individual conditions and preconditions. Ranjit Rath, Chairman & Managing Director Oil India Limited, pointed out that the Global Biofuel Alliance (GBA) was launched at the G20 summit held shortly before in New Delhi on India’s initiative. In addition, India wants to cover 10 % of its primary energy demand with gas in the future and build about 20,000 kilometres of pipeline for this purpose. The Brazilian ANP director Saboia confidently pointed out that 80 % of his country’s electricity generation is based on renewable energy and that biofuels have covered a significant part of the fuel supply in Brazil since the late seventies. In this respect, drivers in Brazil have a smaller footprint than e-car drivers in Europe.
A project presented by Saif Al-Humaimi, process and concept engineer of Petroleum Development Oman lLC, on the topic of reducing methane emissions, in which methane is used to produce electricity, which in turn is used for bitcoin mining, illustrates how different the views on climate protection and individual related projects can be. So it will be some time before a common strategy emerges. On the one hand.
On the other hand, one field of action is clearly emerging: the focus on CO2, the main cause of the emerging climate crisis. This was visibly reflected in Calgary in the fact that an exhibition area was dedicated to the complex for a Carbon Tech Expo. Carbon Capture, (Utilisation) and Storage (CC(U)S) dominated the headlines of numerous tech sessions and discussion rounds and also ran like a red line through a large number of presentations of scientific papers on the Digital Poster Plaza, which thus became the focus of interest on several occasions.
All in all, it must be admitted that the “U” – i.e. the utilisation of CO2 in new process chains – still has a special position here. In contrast, the storage of CO2 is being discussed at the forefront and is already being practised in a surprisingly large number of cases.
For example, as Justin Riemer, CEO Emission Reduction Alberta (ERA), reported, Canada has long since completed its first CCS project, Weyburn-Midal, and is already working on the next storage facility, Wolf Midstream. Pertamina CEO Widyawati also reported that the first CCS hubs have been established in Indonesia. In Norway, Tore Loseth of Equinor summed up, more than 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 have been stored in the meantime and China, according to Guangfu Wang, Deputy President of Petroleum Exploration and production Research Institute (Sinopec), is getting ready to store 10 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030. Saudi Arabia does not want to be left behind either. For his country, the head of the department for circular carbon economy Rayed Al Harby from the Saudi Ministry of Energy affirmed, CC(U)S is at the centre of its own emission reduction strategy, which is why it wants to put a large storage field into operation by 2027 as part of the “Saudi Green Initiative”.
Energy transition in partnership with the oil multinationals?
In many regions of the world, the industry has thus embarked on the path to emission reduction, so far the good news. The ideas about how to get there, however, could hardly be more different. One thing, however, cannot be denied: Without the support of the former oil multinationals, this can hardly be achieved. Who else, as the objection is often raised in Canada, should shoulder the immense investments?
Europe and even less the USA with their gigantic Inflation Reduction Act are not necessarily suitable as a blueprint. But for their part, the corporations all too often lack a resilient business case for far-reaching commitment. It is not for nothing that Shell and other companies, as Al Harby from the Saudi Ministry of Energy pointed out in this context, have recently scaled back their engagement to some extent under pressure from investors.
The lack of regulation, it seems, leads to more or less sole dependence on considerations of economic viability with regard to investments in climate protection. This is why, according to ERA CEO Justin Riemer, it is so important for Canada to have a carbon tax, as Alberta has had since 2007.