Oil industry touts $81B in carbon-cutting efforts

The oil and gas industry’s largest trade group on Tuesday touted the sector’s investments in cleaning up greenhouse gas emissions, saying energy companies are doing more than the federal government to rein in the climate pollution.

According to a new study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, U.S. oil and natural gas companies spent $81 billion on greenhouse gas technologies from 2000 and 2012. During the same time period, the federal government invested $80 billion in carbon-cutting technology, and $91 billion was spent by all other industries combined.

API President Jack Gerard said the numbers reveal the “often unheralded” work by oil and gas companies to rein in carbon dioxide emissions.

“Between 2000 and 2012, America’s oil and natural gas companies invested more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the federal government and almost as much as all other industries combined,” Gerard said.

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Gerard also credited the oil and gas industry’s spending on efficiency, alternative energy and other technology with helping to further the decline in overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, emissions were 13 percent below the 2005 level, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Many analysts have attributed the drop in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to the nation’s economic decline, falling gasoline consumption and other factors.

To be sure, the bulk of the investments categorized in the 57-page report by T2 and Associates are not altruistic — and are part of what the industry would be doing anyway. For instance, in some cases, the report folds in the boom in harvesting natural gas from dense rock formations, which is good for energy companies’ bottom lines. (Adding shale gas development to the overall investment total puts U.S. oil and gas companies’ greenhouse gas mitigation investments at $165 billion, instead of the more narrowly calculated $81 billion sum).

The report describes shale gas production as a carbon mitigation effort since the fossil fuel produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions when burned for power than coal, though opinions are mixed about the extent of those benefits.

“As a greenhouse gas emission reduction technology, shale gas increases the supply of natural gas to the North American market that may substitute for coal, and to a lesser extent for petroleum fuels,” the report says.

During the 12-year period covered by the report, the oil and gas industry spent some $44.9 billion on advanced end-use technologies, including carbon capture and storage initiatives.

But the biggest industry investment has come in areas that advance the substitution of cleaner power and fuel sources for dirtier ones, primarily through natural gas extraction.

Outside the oil and gas sector, big investments in cutting greenhouse gases came from the automotive industry, agricultural sector, electric utilities and renewable fuels producers, the report says.

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Gerard said he doesn’t want the climate contributions of the oil and gas industry to get short shrift in environmental and economic policy debates.

It’s important not to ignore “the reality of what our industry has done on this question,” he said, adding that it was important “to remind folks of the contribution that we continue to make.”

“We are energy companies, and our primary energy is oil and gas, . . . but we should never forget the ongoing investments being made to find that next great breakthrough,” he said. “We continue to improve our own emissions profile at the same time we are providing more and more energy for the nation and public.”

One big challenge for energy companies is reining in fugitive emissions of methane tied to oil and gas production, both at the wellhead and further downstream. In his climate change plan, President Barack Obama says this is a major goal. During a visit to North Dakota in August, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said she saw evidence energy companies are working aggressively to pare greenhouse gas emissions ahead of federal regulations on the practice.

2013 T2 GHG Report