Saudi Aramco leads fight against methane

Saudi Aramco spends a big proportion of its research and development budget on measures to counter the environmentally damaging effects of the oil and gas business. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 06 January 2020

Saudi Aramco leads fight against methane

  • Saudi company is more efficient in both current emissions and its targets for future reduction

DUBAI: Saudi Aramco has emerged as the most effective energy company in the world at mitigating emissions of the atmospheric pollutant methane from natural gas operations, according to consulting firm Thunder Said Energy.

A research survey put Aramco, the world’s biggest listed company, at the top of a table that included all the big energy groups. 

The Saudi company was about six times more efficient than US energy giants Exxon Mobil and Chevron, in both current emissions and targets for future reduction, as a proportion of its gas production.Equinor, the state energy company of environmentally conscious Norway, ranked second in the survey.

Thunder Said’s Rob West, an expert in energy economics, said that controlling methane emissions was a crucial aspect of the move to decarbonize global energy supplies, in which gas is playing an increasingly important role. Methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2), is released in the gas production and transportation process.




Saudi Aramco became the world’s most valuable public company this year with a stock offering launch in December. (AP)

“Scaling up natural gas is the largest decarbonization opportunity on the planet. But this requires minimizing methane leaks. Exciting new technologies are emerging,” West said. Global gas demand will treble by 2050 as producers and consumers seek cleaner alternatives to coal and oil.

Aramco, the biggest oil exporter, has huge quantities of natural gas, which it has identified as a key area of expansion for domestic supply and export in the form of liquified natural gas. “We basically look at natural gas as an area for growth for the company,” Khalid Al-Dabbagh, Aramco’s chief financial officer, said in an investor call in the run-up to its successful IPO this year.

Aramco spends a big proportion of its research and development budget on measures to counter the environmentally damaging effects of the oil and gas business, including advanced technology to reduce pollutants in energy products.

Although most environmentalists have focused their attention on CO2 as the main contributor to global warming, and hence to damaging climate change, some experts regard methane as a far more serious threat.

There is far more CO2 in the atmosphere, but methane is up to 120 times more powerful as a warming agent and takes longer to leave Earth’s atmosphere. “Methane accounts for around 25 to 30 percent of all the warming occurring on the planet,” West said, while around a quarter comes from fossil fuel production.

“Mitigating methane emissions is becoming crucial for tackling net emissions.” 

While methane leaks at all stages of the natural gas production process, almost half is emitted during the upstream phase. Sensors, drones and even satellites are being increasingly used to detect these emissions. Aramco stopped “flaring” gas years ago.

“The world will need superior methods to mitigate methane. In the developed world, this will be necessary for operators wishing to demonstrate low carbon credentials, and preserve their access to customers and capital markets,” West said. “The other way for investors to lower methane emissions may be to favor companies with low methane emissions and targets to improve.”

Decoder

Methane

A much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2), methane is released in the gas production and transportation process.


Will sea, sand and social distancing make the Caribbean appealing?

Updated 9 min 20 sec ago

Will sea, sand and social distancing make the Caribbean appealing?

  • Officials want the new tourism guidelines to reassure travelers, without being off-putting

KINGSTON: A cluster of Caribbean islands are reopening this month for tourism, hoping to burnish their reputations as oases of tranquility after containing their COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing strict public health protocols.

The Caribbean, known for its palm-fringed beaches, turquoise water and colonial towns, is the most tourism-dependent region in the world. 

Antigua and Barbuda, the US Virgin Islands and St. Lucia are the first to reopen this week. Jamaica and Aruba are set to follow later in the month, with July target dates for the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.

While other tourist hotspots such as Greece aim to limit arrivals from countries with high infection rates, the first flights the Caribbean is receiving are from the United States, which has the world’s highest number of reported cases.

But local tourism officials say they have little choice. Americans accounted for almost half the Caribbean’s 31.5 million visitors last year.

“What are we going to wait for? A vaccine? Shut down the country for two years?” Antigua and Barbuda’s Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez asked.

Instead, those islands reopening will conduct health screening, including temperature checks upon arrival, and require or encourage the use of face masks in public spaces.

They are divided over whether to test — as recommended by the Caribbean Public Health Agency — because of cost, reliability and availability concerns. Without testing, asymptomatic visitors could be a risk.

Antigua and Barbuda will do a rapid coronavirus test of visitors upon arrival, said Fernandez. 

St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said it would require a certificate for a negative coronavirus test conducted up to 48 hours before departure.

It remains unclear if this would work, given tests are not widely available on demand in the US.

Concerns remain over reopenings in countries that do not require testing of arrivals, such as Jamaica.

“People should object, as should anyone who has done what they have done to flatten the curve of new cases,” said civil rights advocate Carol Narcisse, noting Jamaica has warned of a likely new rise in cases.

“Whose interest is the government really serving here?“

The coronavirus era has uprooted Caribbean carnival celebrations, nights out clubbing and resort buffets.

Still, the tourism industry hopes the mere appeal of sun, sea and the outdoors will suffice.

“Post-coronavirus, people want to get outside,” said Marc Melville, the head of Jamaica-based Chukka Tours.

Caribbean nations, which were quick to shut their borders and impose strict lockdowns as the pandemic spread, hope to market themselves as safe destinations. Antigua and Barbuda and the US Virgin Islands have respectively just one and two reported cases, officials said. St. Lucia has none.

Officials want the new tourism guidelines to reassure travelers, without being off-putting. Measures include sanitizing surfaces and social distancing in hotels, restaurants, tour operators and taxis.

Islands such as St. Lucia will pace their reopenings, keeping tourist sites closed in a first phase and allowing seated restaurant service only at resorts.

On his blog “One Mile at a Time,” travel writer Ben Schlappig wrote St. Lucia’s plan would make him feel safe: “The question becomes whether a visit would be any fun with all of these restrictions.”