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Expert: Using data to reduce Houston’s oil and gas carbon footprint

"To solve the climate crisis, confidence in emissions data is crucial." Photo via Getty Images

Sustainability has been top of mind for all industries as we witness movements towards reducing carbon emissions. For instance, The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed a new rule that requires companies to disclose certain climate-related activities in their reporting on a federal level. Now, industries and cities are scrambling to ensure they have strategies in the right place.

While the data behind sustainability poses challenges across industries, it is particularly evident in oil and gas, as their role in energy transition is of the utmost importance, especially in Texas. We saw this at the COP26 summit in Glasgow last November, for example, in the effort to reduce carbon emissions on both a national and international scale and keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The event also made it clear achieving this temperature change to meet carbon neutrality by 2030 won’t be possible if organizations rely on current methods and siloed data. In short, there is a data problem associated with recent climate goals. So, what does that mean for Houston’s oil and gas industry?

Climate is a critical conversation – and tech can help

Houston has long been considered the oil and gas capital of the world, and it is now the epicenter of energy transition. You can see this commitment by the industry in the nature of the conferences as well as the investment in innovation centers.

In terms of the companies themselves, over the past two years each of the major oil and gas players have organized and grown their low carbon business units. These units are focused on bringing new ideas to the energy ecosystem. The best part is they are not working alone but joining forces to find solutions. One of the highest profile examples is ExxonMobil’s Carbon Capture and Underground Storage project (CCUS) which directly supports the Paris Agreement.

Blockchain technology is needed to improve transparency and traceability in the energy sector and backing blockchain into day-to-day business is key to identifying patterns and making decisions from the data.

The recent Blockchain for Oil and Gas conference, for instance, focused on how blockchain can help curate emissions across the ecosystem. This year has also seen several additional symposiums and meetings – such as the Ion and Greentown Houston – that focus on helping companies understand their carbon footprint.

How do we prove the data?

The importance of harmonizing data will become even more important as the SEC looks to bring structure to sustainability reporting. As a decentralized, immutable ledger where data can be inputted and shared at every point of action, blockchain works by storing information in interconnected blocks and providing a value-add for insuring carbon offsets. To access the data inside a block, users first need to communicate with it. This creates a chain of information that cannot be hacked and can be transmitted between all relevant parties throughout the supply chain. Key players can enter, view, and analyze the same data points securely and with assurance of the data’s accuracy.

Data needs to move with products throughout the supply chain to create an overall number for carbon emissions. Blockchain’s decentralization offers value to organizations and their respective industries so that higher quantities of reliable data can be shared between all parties to shine a light on the areas they need to work on, such as manufacturing operations and the offsets of buildings. Baking blockchain into day-to-day business practice is key in identifying patterns over time and making data-backed decisions.

Oil and gas are key players

Cutting emissions is not a new practice of the oil and gas industry. In fact, they’ve been cutting emissions estimates by as much as 50 percent to avoid over-reporting.

The traditional process of reporting data has also been time-consuming and prone to human error. Manually gathering data across multiple sources of information delivers no real way to trace this information across supply chains and back to the source. And human errors, even if they are accidental, pose a risk to hefty fines from regulatory agencies.

It’s a now-or-never situation. The industry will need to pivot their approaches to data gathering, sharing, and reporting to commit to emissions reduction. This need will surely accelerate the use of technologies, like blockchain, to be a part of the energy transition. While the climate challenges we face are alarming, they provide the basis we need for technological innovation and the ability to accurately report emissions to stay in compliance.

The Energy Capital of the World, for good

To solve the climate crisis, confidence in emissions data is crucial. Blockchain provides that as well as transparency and reliability, all while maintaining the highest levels of security. The technology provides assurance that the data from other smart technologies, like connected sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT), is trustworthy and accurate.

The need for good data, new technology, and corporate commitment are all key to Houston keeping its title as the energy capital of the world – based on traditional fossil fuels as well as transitioning to clean energy.

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John Chappell is the director of energy business development at BlockApps.

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Building Houston

 
 

Just after announcing an investment from United, NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc. scored a SPAC-based IPO. Photo via nextrenewables.com

It’s been a momentous month for Houston-based NEXT Renewable Fuels Inc.

On November 15, United Airlines Ventures announced an investment of up to $37.5 million in the next-generation, low-carbon fuel producing company.

Just a week later, the company revealed it’s going public through a SPAC merger with Industrial Tech Acquisitions II Inc. The deal, expected to close in the second quarter of 2023, assigns a $666 million equity value to NEXT. The publicly traded company will be named NXTCLEAN Fuels Inc.

NEXT, founded in 2016, produces low-carbon fuels from organic feedstock. The company plans to open a biofuel refinery in Port Westward, Oregon, that’s set to start production in 2026. The refinery could produce up to 50,000 barrels per day of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and other renewable fuels.

“West Coast states are demanding a clean fuels conversion of the transportation and aviation industries with aggressive targets necessitating rapid increases in clean fuel supplies,” Christopher Efird, executive chairman and CEO of NEXT, says in a news release. “[The company] is advancing toward becoming one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of clean fuels for these markets, and is investigating and pursuing potential vertical expansion into other clean fuels.”

The proposed public listing of NEXT’s stock on the Nasdaq market and United’s investment are poised to help NEXT reach its goal of becoming a leader in the clean fuel sector. United’s investment appears to be the first equity funding for NEXT.

“Right now, one of the biggest barriers to increasing supply and lowering costs of sustainable fuel is that we don’t have the infrastructure in place to transport it efficiently, but NEXT’s strategic location and assets solve that problem and provide a blueprint for future facilities that need to be built,” Michael Leskinen, president of United Airline Ventures, says in a news release.

United’s investment arm, launched in 2021, targets ventures that will complement the airline’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

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