Energy issues are more complex and interconnected than ever before, and for this reason energy has become front and center in many debates unfolding on national and international stages. This complicated mixture of issues – viewed through an energy-focused lens – can be summed up with 3 “C’s”, as described by Norwegian oil & gas company Statoil CEO Helge Lund at the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy Spring Conference which convened last week on the institution’s iconic New York City campus.
“Energy policy is economic policy,” said Lund, citing the example that Europe could lose a third of its energy-intensive exports due to increases in feedstock prices that have blunted the competitive advantage many manufacturers had previously enjoyed.
Energy policy has also become increasingly synonymous with environmental policies, Lund said. Sustainable development – a term coined about over two decades ago – is now tightly linked with how energy is used to power sustainable societies.
And security policy is also now closely tied to energy policy as well. An example of this hits close to home for Statoil, which lost 5 employees during last year’s Algerian gas plant attack, which also goes to show that security policy is no longer just a political issue, but a corporate issue for international oil companies operating in outpost locations often situated in bad global neighborhoods.
For Lund, the challenges and opportunities his company and industry face can be categorized using 3 C’s: Competiveness, Carbon and Communities.
Competitiveness – “We compete for capital and talent,” said Lund and that competition has significantly increased. “Last decade the oil price has tripled from $40 per barrel to $110/bbl, but with increased cost of capital and operating expenses, returns are now lower. In a highly-risk-based industry that is not sustainable, he said. “We have market risks, (…) and need 10% returns on investment. We need robust balance sheets in volatile markets.” The industry needs to use capital more efficiently and find smarter ways of working because if it doesn’t, “we won’t be competitive over the long term and will not be able to light and heat the world and provide transport fuel.”
Carbon – 1.3 billion people lack access to power worldwide, Lund said. The latest IPCC report says climate change is real and the National Climate Assessment released last week says extreme weather is a big problem with strong potential for infrastructure breakdown and increasing conflict. “Now is the time to support investments that spur carbon reduction,” said Lund. “In that perspective we at Statoil are strong believers in a high carbon price.” But at same time cheap coal is finding its way to Europe, he said. A high carbon price will help spur methane leakage containment and flaring reduction initiatives, he explained, and to achieve this industry and regulators must work together. He went on to discuss some of his company’s Bakken shale activity, saying Statoil is working with GE and others – in conjunction with North Dakota regulators – to capture natural gas that would otherwise be flared and use it to power drilling operations instead of diesel fuel.
Communities – With the proliferation of shale resource development, the oil & gas industry is entering new more sensitive areas than it used to, explained Lund. “When [the public’s] questions go unanswered they become concerns and can lead to conflict,” he said. People care about what we do because it matters. The product matters.”
Technology and regulation need to work together in order to sufficiently address these 3 C’s, Lund said. “There is a great future for our industry in low-carbon world.” The world needs massive amounts of new oil and gas production just to fight natural declines at existing fields, he said, and these resources will be needed to keep the global economy moving during a longer-term shift to lower- and zero-carbon emission fuels.
“Securing legitimacy requires rising to society’s expectations,” said Lund.
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