The need for energy — safe, abundant, affordable energy — will continue to grow at a significant rate as economic prosperity spreads and the world’s population adds two billion more people by 2050.
So said Khalid A. Al-Falih, Saudi Aramco president and CEO, at the World Energy Congress (WEC) in Montreal on Sept. 13, where he emphasized the need for world industry leaders to find the optimal balance between energy access and acceptance to help meet global demand.
The WEC, which meets every three years, drew more than 5,500 delegates from more than 50 countries this year, including chief executives from the world’s largest energy producers, ministers, academics and the media. Participants shared their ideas on energy issues to help find solutions from a global perspective.
Al-Falih talked about the importance of ensuring “energy access.” “Our planet’s population will grow in the coming decades,” he said. “Consequently, we will have to meet the world’s increased energy needs and do so in a responsible manner.”
He talked about “energy poverty,” saying that industry leaders must work together to address the needs of billions of people around the world who currently have no access — or limited access — to modern forms of energy.
However, he said, in recent decades hundreds of millions have been able to enjoy a level of prosperity that was once unimaginable, but is now made possible by energy provided by the oil and gas industry.
“How should we best address the challenges of ready access to affordable energy?” he asked.
His answer: “The world will continue to rely on traditional fossil fuels for the overwhelming proportion of its energy needs for the coming decades.” In fact, these energy sources — coal, oil and natural gas — are expected to account for four out of every five units of energy that mankind will consume for the foreseeable future.
Although fossil fuels’ share in the energy mix may decline in the long run, the absolute quantities of energy coming from these sources will continue to rise as energy demand is set to increase.
Alternative sources of energy should — and must — grow to help meet that rising demand, but major challenges still exist due to technological, economic, environmental, infrastructure and consumer-acceptance issues. “So while progress is being made,” he said, “there is much work still to be done before alternatives take on a more significant share of the overall energy mix.”
The industry should also pursue promising new alternatives. “We must continue to invest in efforts to both increase access to hydrocarbons and improve their environmental performance, given the predominant role they will continue to play in meeting total global energy demand,” Al-Falih said.
He also addressed “energy acceptability.”
“While we fulfill our mandates as energy providers to the world, we also need to meet our responsibilities as stewards of the natural environment and paragons of operational excellence.” He said that there are significant opportunities to make petroleum environmentally friendly, including cleaner-burning fuel formulations, carbon capture and sequestration.
He also said that by focusing on more efficient vehicles, equipment and operating plants, the world could significantly reduce carbon emissions and output of pollutants.
Energy acceptability is not just linked to environmental protection, but also to the safety, dependability and affordability of energy supplies. Al-Falih talked about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and that the petroleum industry should emerge even more robust by absorbing the right lessons from this incident.
Commercial aviation, space exploration, nuclear power, chemicals and pharmaceuticals overcame similar catastrophes in the past and prevailed even stronger.
Saudi Aramco works to achieve a sustained balance between energy access and energy acceptability. “In terms of enhancing access to energy,” he said, “our oil reserves of about 260 billion barrels represent roughly a fifth of the world’s proven reserves. At our current production rate, these reserves are enough for more than 80 years of production.” Over time, these reserves are expected to grow by 40 percent, and oil recovery will improve, as well.
The company also has existing proven gas reserves of 276 trillion standard cubic feet, the world’s fifth-largest, and continues to expand onshore and offshore. “All of these efforts ensure that we will continue to provide vital petroleum energy to the world for generations to come,” Al-Falih said.
Acceptability issues are also on the company’s agenda, he said. “We are producing cleaner fuels from our refineries, and enhancing the environmental protection of our land, air and water resources.” He also said the company is investing in clean fuels and clean engine technologies and CO2 emission management and utilization.
Saudi Aramco is also committed to operational excellence. It is “at the top of our corporate agenda,” Al-Falih said.
This long-standing commitment to the highest performance standards includes health, safety and the environment, and investments in infrastructure, technology and surplus production capacity. Excellence on these fronts is key to ensuring corporate efficiency and productivity, but to ensure “public acceptance,” operational excellence must go beyond that to help address market stability and energy security perceptions.
In his concluding remarks, Al-Falih said that the best way for the energy industry to achieve a sustainable balance between accessibility and acceptability is to engage in “frank but constructive dialogue among all stakeholders.”
“Only by working together,” he said, “can we better understand the complex issues in play, trace the alternative energy paths the world has available for the future, assess the real potential of these alternatives over time, concurrently examine both environmental and economic imperatives, and, finally, recognize the various interests at stake in both the developing and developed worlds.”
Saudi Aramco was a major exhibitor at the WEC, and showcased a newly renovated exhibit booth featuring expanded meeting space, new furniture and a hospitality area.
Representatives from Saudi Aramco’s corporate office and its affiliates, including Aramco Services Co. and Aramco Overseas Co., staffed the exhibit booth.
Several in-booth presentations were given on Saudi Aramco’s advances in seismic imaging, its environmental protection efforts, and Research & Development Center.
(Article by Judi Ottmann)