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How Petroleum Companies Can Improve Environmental Sustainability

The petroleum industry is under attack. The public opinion of the oil and gas industry has been worsening over the past few years, largely due to the increase in reports highlighting environmental sustainability issues. Despite this, there are many ways that these companies can improve their practices and make a positive impact on the environment.

One example is by using alternative energy sources for power generation or transportation fuel production. Another is by reducing emissions through improved efficiency of operations like drilling rigs and pipeline construction sites, as well as greater use of natural gas-fired power plants instead of coal-fired ones. Ultimately, the petroleum industry can become more environmentally sustainable while still making money; they just need to be creative about how they do it.

Improve the efficiency of operations

The petroleum industry is the second-largest energy consumer, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the production and transportation of oil and natural gas — both domestically and internationally — account for more than 40 percent of total GHG emissions. While this may be unavoidable, there are many opportunities available to make things more efficient.

Many companies have implemented energy efficiency programs to reduce GHG emissions. For example, Baker Hughes created a best practice initiative in 2006 that has been adopted by more than 930 oil service companies around the world. In addition, ExxonMobil is installing cogeneration facilities at its refinery sites across the United States, which is expected to save hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs and prevent nearly one million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

Improve global environmental policies

Petroleum companies are also working with governments to create better environmental policies, which are designed to be sensitive to business concerns while still protecting the environment. Making these changes would allow Europe to meet the targets set out under the Kyoto Protocol, while still avoiding potentially costly government regulations.

The petroleum industry is also working with governments in other countries such as China and Japan to develop similar systems through the Asia Pacific Partnership, another voluntary partnership that brings together business, government, and non-governmental organizations to develop policies for reducing GHG emissions.

Promote sustainable practices within the oil and gas industry

engineers at a petroleum company

Petroleum companies have the responsibility of not only protecting the environment but also promoting sustainable practices within their industry. In particular, these companies can encourage greater use of natural gas, a cleaner-burning fossil fuel that produces 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and 30 percent less carbon dioxide than oil. Because abundant supplies are available domestically in many countries, this would also help reduce the industry’s dependence on imported oil.

They can also use nano-sponge technology to transform recovered hydrocarbons into useful products. The technology uses a specialized sponge to absorb hydrocarbon material. The introduction of low-energy microwaves causes a thermal effect that refines crude oil. These companies aim to use the technology in their remediation processing centers.

Implement green technologies

Oil companies are also few of the largest investors in renewable energy, with a considerable part of their annual capital expenditure going towards green energy technologies. Many have already launched projects that include solar power facilities in Africa and biofuel initiatives in Brazil. Others are developing fuel cell technology to provide long-term solutions for powering remote drilling rigs in deep water wells.

Properly dispose of produced water

While it’s clear that petroleum companies can improve their environmental sustainability, there is also one area where they will likely do more harm than good: the disposal of produced water. Residual water is brought to the surface during oil and gas production; it can contain various contaminants such as metals, inorganic salts, and natural radioactive materials.

If wastewater is not properly treated, it can contaminate groundwater supplies. In the United States alone, the EPA estimates that more than 40 billion gallons of produced water are disposed of in saltwater disposal wells every day.

Due to this problem, many states are recognizing the need to treat their produced water before disposal. The technology has become a priority for state and federal regulators, who have been testing new ways to treat this wastewater at onshore facilities. In some cases, these operators have even been charged with criminal violations because of the environmental damage they caused from improper treatment methods.

Improve public disclosure practices

Because petroleum companies can improve their environmental sustainability by becoming more transparent and disclosing relevant information to the public, they must be allowed to operate in a way that provides sufficient incentives for them to do so. This requires an approach where regulations are carefully crafted so as not to impose unnecessary burdens on the industry while still protecting society’s environmental and health interests.

Oil and gas companies can improve their environmental sustainability. By implementing green technologies, properly disposing of produced water, and promoting sustainable practices within the industry, these companies can make a positive impact on the environment.

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