From climate pariah to climate saviour? Transforming the petroleum industry

A new report from The Australia Institute explores what the petroleum industry can do to simultaneously pursue its financial interests and the interests of the global climate.

The report, written by Australian National University Emeritus Professor Andrew Hopkins, outlines four key areas where the oil and gas industry’s interests align with the global goal of reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

“Firstly, the petroleum industry should be lobbying for a price on carbon. This will impact more heavily on coal than gas and assist in bringing coal-fired power to an end, leading to a greater role for gas in the short to medium term,” said Emeritus Professor Andrew Hopkins.

“Abroad, big players such as BP and Shell see this and are actively lobbying for a price on carbon. Unfortunately the Australian gas lobby is not, focussing on the short term interests of gas processing rather than the long-term interests of their own industry.

“Secondly, parts of the world’s gas supply chains leak like a sieve. From extraction and transport to distribution and storage, huge amounts of gas escape with implications for safety and climate. Reducing these leaks is clearly in the interests of the industry and policy makers.

“Thirdly, huge amounts of greenhouse gas are being released from melting in permafrost areas, particularly in the Arctic. The petroleum industry’s great expertise in finding and extracting pockets of gas should be directed at this problem, which again will require a carbon price and other policies.

“Finally, the petroleum industry already has expertise in biofuel production. Policy makers need to encourage the development of these skills towards algae and biochar production that can work to efficiently sequester carbon in soil for long periods,” Hopkins said.

The report has been embraced by some senior figures of the Australian gas industry.

“This is a refreshing paper because it explores contributions the petroleum industry can make to solving the problem the climate change, rather than simply arguing that the industry should be shut down,” said Grant King, CEO, Origin Energy.

“Hopkins highlights a range of valuable initiatives which the petroleum industry might adopt if it decides to take climate change seriously whilst managing its decline,” said Ian Dunlop, former Shell executive and former chair of the Australian Coal Association.

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