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Gas ‘essential’ to the energy transition: Dudley

Hitting net-zero carbon emissions is impossible without natural gas, CCS and hydrogen, says departing BP leader

Bob Dudley used his final Oil & Money conference appearance as BP chief executive to passionately defend the role of natural gas in combating climate change. He says the fuel is under attack—not least from Extinction Rebellion protestors camped outside the event—and the industry has the responsibility to win over a sceptical public. 

Dudley, perhaps speaking more freely since announcing last week that BP upstream chief executive Bernard Looney will succeed him the end of the first quarter of next year, is concerned that “gas is being increasingly marginalised, even vilified and demonised” despite its hugely lower carbon footprint than other fossil fuels. 

“Some folks are saying that gas is incompatible with the world's climate ambitions,” he says. “Really smart people saying this. But it is a misconception… it is misleading… and actually irresponsible.” 

Gas has a vital role to play in the energy transition, says Dudley, and he “simply does not believe” the Paris goals are achievable without it, “not just during the transition, but at the destination”. 

“To exclude gas, when so much is at stake, is to take a huge and unnecessary risk”, Bob Dudley

He sees the industry having a responsibility to engage in the climate debate and debunk misconceptions. “Our industry is under intense scrutiny. We [should] welcome those heightened expectations,” says the BP chief. 

And there is an opportunity for the industry to show it “agrees that the world is not on a sustainable path and we need to move to a low carbon energy system”, as well as talk about what it is already doing and plans to do. “We must achieve a net-zero economy in the decades ahead,” says Dudley. 

Moving target

Even with a full array of energy sources “we still fall short of the world's needs”, as one-in-six people globally has no access to electricity, he continues. “The question is not just how we get to net zero. It has to be how we get to net zero while meeting the needs, eventually, of billions more people. There is no single answer.” 

To succeed, says Dudley, the world needs to use every tool at its disposal. By switching from coal to gas that the world has already cut more than 500mn t of CO2 and “to exclude gas, when so much is at stake, is to take a huge and unnecessary risk”. 

While Dudley heavily advocates renewables, he notes that “not all countries are blessed” with viable wind or solar sites and batteries are currently suitable for only short-term storage. “Gas is abundant and affordable. Gas is an efficient store of energy in a way that batteries cannot replicate now and quite possibly never will… and it is easily transported.” 

While gas has huge carbon emission benefits over other fuels, especially coal, “gas will need to be decarbonised as well”, Dudley cautions. This can be enhanced by producing carbon-neutral biogases but “gas, more broadly, will play its role through carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen—these are no longer niche products”. In preparation, “the gas distribution system must be made fully hydrogen ready,” he says. 

Political barriers

The “biggest obstacle to decarbonising gas is not technical, it is political”, with Dudley noting that, in the UK, gas heating for new houses is set to be banned by 2045 and, in the US, at least 12 large cities have banned or plan to ban gas for new buildings. 

1 in 6 people globally have no access to electricity

To remove gas from buildings and infrastructure risks “pushing the world down a single path only for us to find out too late the path falls short” of what is required, he warns. “It is an attempt to achieve the energy transition with one hand tied behind our backs.” 

Dudley makes two recommendations for the energy industry. Firstly, “it is up to us to demonstrate that decarbonised gas is not only viable…it is essential”; and secondly it needs to produce gas in a “much cleaner way”, including eliminating flaring and methane leaks. 

And he encourages all governments to regulate methane emissions across the value chain and introduce carbon pricing, which is the “most effective, powerful tool there is for decarbonising energy”.

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