Plugging methane leaks is a 'top priority', but BP reports another 30 years of oil and gas investment

Plugging methane leaks is a ‘top priority’, but BP reports another 30 years of oil and gas investment

The head of one of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers has called for an industry crackdown on fugitive emissions, saying it doesn’t make sense for companies to let their product leak out.

Bernard Looney, the boss of oil and gas supermajor BP, said methane leaks from gas wells in Australia and around the world were a “huge problem” that needed to be addressed for economic and environmental reasons.

In a wide-ranging interview with the ABC, Mr Looney also said there should be investment in new oil and gas projects through 2050, even as global economies move towards carbon neutrality.

The 52-year-old said tackling what he described as the energy trilemma of emissions intensity, security and affordability was a complex task.

But he said the unprecedented energy crisis that unfolded in 2022 showed how high the stakes were and why governments and investors needed to be careful about how they handled the switch to renewable sources.

Bursts of flame emanate from thin pipes into a clear sky.
Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon during its first 20 years in the atmosphere.(PA: David Goldman)

“What you’ll see over time is a reduction in demand for hydrocarbons, a reduction in investment in hydrocarbons,” Looney said.

“But it’s not the same as no investment.

“Oil and gas deposits are declining faster than the decline in societal demand will.

“And in this environment, you have to invest.

“You have to invest – otherwise you end up with the problem we have today, which is you don’t have enough supply, prices skyrocket and the consumer is affected and starts obviously to ask, ‘What are we trying to do here?

A huge ship is dwarfed by one of dozens of massive turbines at an offshore wind farm.
BP is being asked to emulate other former oil producers who have gone completely green.(Provided: Southern Star)

“The less you leak, the more you sell”

Upon assuming the top job at the world’s sixth largest oil and gas company in 2020, Mr Looney outlined ambitious plans to reduce the company’s carbon output.

A key element was tackling leaks from BP’s producing methane wells, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon.

Mr Looney noted that methane was natural gas and therefore made no environmental or economic sense to waste it.

“The less you leak, the more you sell, and there’s an economic benefit to that in itself,” said the Irish national.

“This is a top priority for our business.

“In many parts of the world, increasing methane regulation means there will be a cost in the regulatory system for methane leaks.”

A worker in high visibility and a helmet stands in front of a large BP branded tank tower.
BP is best known to many Australians as a fuel distributor and retailer.(PA: Dan Peled)

Clean Energy Finance director Tim Buckley, a prominent renewable energy advocate, said BP’s efforts to limit its methane emissions seemed genuine.

Mr Buckley said the importance of preventing methane emissions should not be underestimated.

“The reason methane is so important is that it literally accounts for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions every year,” Buckley said.

“Scientific convention is rated on a 100-year vision, but we have a climate emergency, which means we really should be talking about methane on a 20-30-year convention.

“Methane on this basis is 84 to 86 times worse than carbon dioxide.

“It’s the elephant in the room.”

Two people stand on top of a shrubby hill on a glorious day in the backcountry.
BP is controlling plans for the world’s largest renewable energy project in Pilbara, Washington.(ABC Catalyst)

Australia’s Green Opportunity

Another part of the upheaval under Mr Looney has been BP’s shift to cleaner technologies such as wind, hydrogen, biogas and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Earlier this year, the British company bought a majority stake in the world’s largest green energy proposition – the $52 billion Asian Renewable Energy Hub in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

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