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Big Oil Makes Case For Natural Gas

Don't take for granted that the rest of the world understands the benefits or the abundance of natural gas, the industry was warned on Tuesday by Big Oil CEOs.

At the week-long 26th World Gas Conference in Paris, executives attempted to make the case for natural gas and they urged an end to coal. However, they acknowledged that it won't be an easy task, particularly in emerging economies.

BP plc is "helping to shape the age of gas," Group CEO Bob Dudley told delegates. "Gas provides sufficient energy; there are many decades' worth of reserves. Gas provides secure energy, whether domestic or imported, through pipelines or liquefied natural gas [LNG]. And gas provides sustainable energy as it has a huge role to play in a lower carbon world."

BP has been working to boost its gas production, which could increase to 60% of its output by 2020, Dudley said. BP economists estimate that gas should overtake oil and coal by 2035 (see Daily GPI,April 2). By 2035, LNG exports also should overtake piped gas as the dominant form of traded product (see Daily GPI,Feb. 17). However, the industry hasn't done a good job of explaining why it's a better fuel than coal, Dudley said.

"Critically, switching does not only mean switching from fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels, but from coal to gas...We know that gas is the cleanest fossil fuel. We all know that gas emits half the carbon of coal when burned to generate power. But what about the world outside? If we were to ask passers-by, I doubt they would know these facts about gas."

Dudley and the CEOs of five other oil majors -- Royal Dutch Shell plc, BG Group plc, Eni SpA, Statoil ASA and Total SA -- on Monday called for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions pricing to be enacted worldwide to realize the "full and positive impact" that gas can have (see Daily GPI,June 1).

"Because of the relative scale of coal versus renewables in today's power industry, if we were to switch just 1% of total power generation from coal-fired power plants to gas-fired ones, that would cut emissions as much as increasing renewable energy by 11%," Dudley said.

Shell now produces more gas than crude oil, but "the golden age of gas is not a given," CEO Ben van Beurden told the audience. The industry "will have to work hard to achieve it, especially since governments continue to promote the use of coal to power electricity in many countries. Along with investments, at least three things are crucial to a sustainable energy future: fewer emissions from the energy system, better energy and environmental policies, and lower costs of gas developments. The industry should work towards these goals collectively."

Failing to price CO2 emissions has allowed coal to build its share in the global energy mix alongside renewables at the expense of natural gas, the Shell CEO said. Key gas markets have "failed to create carbon pricing systems that lead to a switch from coal to gas in power generation…”

In Europe, gas-fired power plants have been mothballed or decommissioned over the last few years “because from a short-term financial perspective, coal-fired power has been cheaper than gas." The emergence of a "coal-plus-renewables energy system" has seen emissions in countries like Germany "either reducing too slowly or even going up." In Japan, "we also see generous subsidies for renewables, the removal of regulatory obstacles to coal-fired plants, and uncertainty about the future of nuclear power after Fukushima. This, and the lack of a carbon pricing mechanism, sets the stage for a coal-plus-renewables future."

These developments in major global gas markets "again show us that we cannot take it for granted that gas will play an important role in tomorrow's world," van Beurden said. "We cannot sit back and relax."

Gas is a key ally for renewables to add flexibility to changing electricity markets, top Total executives told the audience. The French oil major plans to increase LNG trading and production by 2020 and exit coal mining.

"Total is gas and gas is good," CEO Patrick Pouyanne said in Paris. By 2020, Total plans to be producing and trading around 32.5 million metric tons a year (mmty) of LNG, versus the current 18.5 mmty. Total also is chartering LNG tankers for future trading, and it has two tankers now being built.

"Together with renewable energies, it is important to promote the use of gas to replace coal," Pouyanne said. "It would contribute at a low cost to meet carbon emissions targets."

"Gas fits nicely with variable renewable energies in two ways," said Total New Energies' Arnaud Chaperon, senior vice president of prospective analysis, institutional relations and communication. "First, they fit in terms of use since, unlike solar and wind energy, gas is flexible and can be stored until it is needed. Second, they fit in terms of cost. Once installation is completed, solar and wind energy produce electricity at a set price, unlike gas, whose price fluctuates with the market. Thus, one evens out the variability of the other."

Chevron Corp., the second-largest U.S. producer, didn't sign on to the carbon emissions agreement, but it's boosting its gas market presence. The San Ramon, CA-based major has increased its gas production to around 40% of its portfolio, up from 35% about 10 years ago, and it plans to increase the market share in the years ahead, CEO John Watson told the audience. Chevron's big drive today is building massive LNG export facilities in key international markets.

The Gorgon LNG facility in Australia, today Chevron's top priority, is nearly complete, with first gas exports to Asian markets expected by midyear (see Daily GPI, Jan. 30). Wheatstone LNG, also is Australia, is more than halfway complete, with first gas exports scheduled in 2016. Chevron also has equity in Angola LNG, the Northwest Shelf and other regions, including in British Columbia. The company expects to become one of the top 10 LNG suppliers within the next five years, the CEO said.

"The Gorgon LNG facility will supply just over 15 million tons of LNG per year," Watson said. "So the world will need more than a Gorgon-sized project each year for nearly 10 years to meet projected demand." To that end, industry has to come up with "new and innovative approaches to ensure the necessary infrastructure is built."

ExxonMobil, the largest U.S. gas producer, also didn't sign on to a carbon emissions accord. However, CEO Rex Tillerson said the industry "can deliver significant environmental benefits." The unconventional gas revolution in the United States, he said, has been "instrumental in reducing CO2 and methane emissions back to 1990s levels," even with a growing economy.

Tillerson urged his European counterparts to replicate the U.S. shale boom. Beyond North America, there's been little success in extracting commercial shale gas. He said other countries should not ban hydraulic fracturing, because the technology has proven so successful in the United States.

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