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Natural Gas, Oil Innovations Shaping Future Energy Landscape, Says BP

With abundant natural gas and oil supplies, no "major" technology breakthroughs are needed to meet an estimated at 2.5 trillion boe of demand by 2050, but by applying today's best available technologies reserves could nearly double, while future technologies would add even more, BP plc said Monday in a report.

The first-ever BP Technology Outlook is a companion to the producer's annual Energy Outlook 2035 and the BP Statistical Review of World Energy (see Daily GPIJune 10Feb. 17).

"The most significant change to resource opportunities over the past 10 years has been the advent of production from shale and tight rock -- this has more than doubled total potentially accessible oil and gas in discovered reservoirs," researchers said. "In power generation, as well as increasing contributions from renewables, new opportunities such as a global shift toward natural gas, improved energy efficiency and, ultimately, carbon capture and storage technology, will help us to move toward a lower-carbon future."

Other key technology levers that have elevated energy reserves include enhanced oil recovery (EOR), the biggest contributor to increasing recoverable oil volumes, as well as subsurface imaging and digital technologies, which include sensors, robotics and supercomputers for data analysis.

"Future technology advances and new discoveries could add a further 2.7 trillion technically recoverable boe through to 2050. Given that nations are increasingly seeking to limit carbon emissions by using less energy and shifting toward lower carbon fuels, it is unlikely that all these resources will be required."

BP regularly assesses energy technology developments, both to look back to learn lessons and look forward to anticipate trends that may shape the industry, Group CEO Bob Dudley said. Issuing the technology outlook "marks the first time we have shared the outcomes of our analysis with the wider world. It sets out how technology could shape our energy landscape over the next 30 to 40 years."

The aim of the outlook "is to make a valuable contribution to the debate about how best to shape a secure, affordable and sustainable energy future." The world is not running out of energy resources, he said.

"Fossil fuels of oil, gas and coal, along with uranium, are plentiful while the alternatives of renewable energies do not deplete by definition. With existing and incremental technology advances, we have abundant and technically accessible resources to meet foreseeable global primary energy demand out to 2050 and beyond. The extent to which each fuel is used depends on many factors," including technology and policy, but also capital.

The abundant supply and fall-off in demand today have driven energy prices down and constrained funds available for investment, Dudley said. "Such price falls compel the industry to develop new technologies to reduce costs; however, the situation reminds us that energy is influenced by the interplay of many different factors."

The power sector is the biggest arena for reducing emissions, including the use of more gas-fired generation, according to BP. Technology to improve energy efficiency also often is economic. In addition, transport innovations are expected to be implemented to improve efficiencies.

BP's report made the case once again for putting an effective price on carbon. In October Dudley joined the CEOs of Royal Dutch Shell plc, Mexico's Petroleos Mexicanos and seven other global exploration chiefs to support the United Nations' drive to adopt an "effective" climate change agreement, which would favor the use of natural gas (see Daily GPIOct. 16).

"In many regions, a modest carbon price can make newbuild natural gas more competitive than existing coal, and gas is cleaner," BP said. "At higher carbon prices, wind and solar become more competitive, providing there is backup power capacity. Capturing the carbon from burning gas for power can also become economically viable."

In any case, technology development "is a long game," the researchers said. "Producers must commit to unwavering innovation through the oil and gas price cycles if they are to meet demand safely and at competitive cost through to 2050 and beyond."

Technologies likely to be the most important in the near-term are seismic imaging and EOR. In the medium-to-longer term, "we expect to see technology enable lower-carbon energy to mature and become deployed at increasing scale while the remaining hydrocarbons are used even more efficiently."

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