Fossil fuels are here for while so let’s make them cleaner
It’s common to think oil and gas are on the way out, in the long term at least, given the need to tackle climate change. It might be surprising to hear this isn’t necessarily the case. Forecasts show we’ll be using oil and gas for many decades to come, but the good news is we can do this with much less of an impact on the environment.
Firstly, we can help the world move away from coal to natural gas which has half the emissions. That is why the real energy revolution sweeping the world isn’t solar or wind, it’s natural gas.
Global demand for natural gas is expected to grow 45 per cent by 2040 and the world population is expected to reach nine billion in that year. We are looking at an increasingly wealthy, urbanised and energy-hungry world. There is no way renewable energy can meet even half of this new demand, so it’s no surprise the world is turning to natural gas. It is affordable, abundant, relatively easy to transport and clean-burning.
Developing and exporting our natural gas reserves to places such as Asia is potentially a significant contribution that New Zealand can make to reducing global emissions and tackling climate change.
Ending new permits for offshore exploration in New Zealand has greatly reduced the chances of this happening and we now have just over 10 years of known reserves left.
What an absurd outcome it will be if we end up having to import more expensive and higher-emitting LNG (or coal) when we have our own supplies of natural gas.
The right policy tools, such as the emissions trading scheme, can help by encouraging lower-emitting sources. New technologies such as carbon capture and storage mean we can use fossil fuels while capturing the emissions and then storing them underground. This technology is already in use around the world, and people are looking into how to use it effectively in New Zealand.
We will also need to plant many more trees, through afforestation or reforestation, to offset emissions, and we are reducing the “fugitive” emissions that occur when oil and gas are produced.
Nearly every global energy forecast for the future shows a major and ongoing role for oil and gas. It will be a different role — less oil will be turned into petrol, for example.
But fossil fuels will still be very important for electricity generation, transport and industrial use as well as manufacturing everyday products and creating new, clean fuels. Dr Kate Bromfield is chairwoman of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand’s net zero committee. The report, A Changing Role: The Future of Oil and Gas in a Lower Carbon World, is available at pepanz.com/dmsdocument/92