Non-renewable energy industries, like gas and oil, are often considered by organizations and individuals — from consumers to national governments — to have a significant impact on the environment. And that impact isn’t viewed as a positive one.
If these companies want to salvage their reputations, they’ll need to turn to cleaner and greener forms of non-renewable energy, as well as to technologies and practices that reduce their impact on the environment.
Environmental Impacts and the Energy Industry
Of all the industries being forced to change by the international push for sustainable practices and environmental stewardship, the energy industry may be suffering the greatest impact on its public image. More and more often, companies that produce non-renewable energy — like gas and oil — are expected to be both transparent about the emissions they produce and the plans they have to reduce those emissions and become better stewards of the environment.
The costs of not keeping up with these demands could be high.
Nearly half of all oil and gas professionals fear that the industry may soon face a talent emergency — young and talented workers are becoming increasingly likely to turn down offers that come from an industry they consider to be damaging the environment.
There may also be a demand-side crunch as younger generations, who are the most likely to base purchasing decisions on the eco-friendliness of a company, look for ways to reduce their own emissions. One potential option they may look for is to support the development of renewable energy sources and avoid non-renewable energy.
If left unchecked, environmental impacts will likely make it hard for the non-renewable energy industry to attract top talent and serve younger generations.
Eco-Friendly Extraction Technology
Fortunately for this industry, new technologies have been developed that can help to both reduce the emissions gas and oil companies produce and their overall impact on the environment.
One of the most promising new technologies is carbon sequestration. This technology draws carbon dioxide out of the air, compressing it into a solid form or storing it underground, where it won’t be able to contribute to the warming of the climate. Carbon sequestration devices can make refineries and power plants carbon-neutral by offsetting the emissions that the refinery or plant normally produces.
New wastewater purification systems can be especially valuable for natural gas companies that rely on fracking fluid and produce significant amounts of wastewater that needs to be treated. With traditional water treatment technology, fracking water is particularly difficult to clean. It’s too contaminated for most water treatment plants to handle, and it is sometimes even radioactive.
However, if it is left untreated, this wastewater can easily make its way into local waterways or aquifers, polluting water and harming the local environment.
Researchers from MIT have developed a water treatment solution that they think may just solve this problem. Originally designed to desalinate water in rural villages, they found that the same technology could be applied to treat fracking wastewater. If implemented at scale, this method could significantly reduce the environmental impact of fracking.
Other solutions — like wet scrubbers, which extract pollutants from gas — can be used to reduce the levels of pollutants, sometimes including carbon dioxide, that escape into the atmosphere from refineries, power plants and other industrial sites.
While it will be difficult for oil and gas producers to get their carbon dioxide emissions to zero, they could tackle the elimination of other greenhouse gases, like methane. When fossil fuels are extracted from the earth, some methane naturally escapes to the atmosphere — where it contributes to the greenhouse gas effect even more than carbon dioxide.
By implementing policies and technologies that recover lost gas, as well as by reducing leaks from long-distance pipelines, oil and gas companies could significantly reduce the amount of methane that escapes into the atmosphere every year.
Capturing this released gas would benefit them, too — some experts estimate that the gas industry could be losing more than $30 billion in escaped methane every year.
The Future of Clean Gas and Oil
As the global push for sustainability and clean energy continues, oil and gas companies will likely need to reduce their environmental impact — or risk backlash from individuals, governments and international organizations.
Fortunately, new technologies — like carbon sequestration and improved fracking water treatment systems — have given oil and gas companies options when it comes to reducing their environmental impact.