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All new oil and gas fields should be banned
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All new oil and gas fields should be banned

Wind turbines in a field


As a professor of gephysics, I have spent 36+ years teaching young geologists how look for oil and other natural resources. But now I believe it’s time to stop fossil-fuel exploration and halt the development of all new oil and gas fields. We cannot safely set fire to all the fuel we’ve already found, so why look for more?

BP’s annual energy review for 2021 estimates that the world has discovered 1.7 trillion barrels of oil, 188 trillion cubic metres of gas and nearly three trillion tonnes of coal that are commercially extractable – but that has not yet been actually extracted.

Based on the carbon content of these fuels and the expected effects, my calculations emissions on temperatures, suggest that emissions from using those barrels of oil alone would raise global temperatures by almost 0.6°C. Using the natural gas would add another 0.2°C. And as for the coal, burning it all would raise temperatures by a further 2°C.

The conclusion seems obvious: if you are serious about limiting global heating (already at) 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels) to “well below 2°C” – as specified by the Paris Agreement on climate change – we can only burn a small fraction of our known fossil fuel reserves.

Others have reached the same conclusion. A recent, more detailed analysis in Nature similarly concluded that to reach global climate targets, most planned fossil fuel extraction projects can’t go ahead. In May, the International Energy Agency (IEA), explicitly stated that it was not possible to continue with planned fossil fuel extraction projects. calledworldwide end to all new oil and gas fields and new coal mines and extension mines.

This idea is being taken seriously by some countries. France, Ireland, New Zealand and Costa Rica have all placed orders. partial or complete bansThey can also provide information about fossil fuel exploration within their jurisdictions.

Wind turbines in a field
The world must move away from oil-and-gas production and towards renewable energy.
Christian Haugen/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Danemark and Costa Rica went further, launching the initiative. Beyond Oil And GasTo encourage more countries to adopt similar bans, the UN climate conference COP26 will be an alliance. Wales was not the first to sign up for the alliance, but it was later added. England nor ScotlandIt is likely that you will join soon. However, this could change depending upon recommendations to be offered by the UK government’s climate change committee early in 2022.

Money is important

Surprisingly, the end of new oil and gas fields could be in sight financial interestsList of fossil fuel companies Costs of developing and exploring for a new field billionsthousands of pounds: Money that could have been saved by not investing on fields that may never be utilized due to climate concerns. Limiting oil and gas supply helps maintain oil and gasoline prices and the value of existing oil fields.

However, the price of fossil fuels will continue to fall as more capacity is added. This is despite climate change efforts likely to reduce fossil fuel demand. This would not only harm oil company profits but also encourage fossil fuel usage, making it even more difficult to meet climate targets.

A halt to the development of new oil fields could also be in the best interests of countries that depend on fossil fuels for their income. According to the IEA, if we stop field development now, most oil and gas would still end-up coming from. oil-exporting nationsLike Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

However, this message isn’t being listened to by most in the fossil fuel industry. Although I believe that the oil industry is preparing to transition to a low carbon future, much faster than most environmentalists give it credit for, current plans for this “energy transition” towards renewable energy still include exploration and development of new fields.

Carbon capture

The reason for continued exploration is that carbon capture and storageTechniques (CCS) are a way to capture carbon dioxide and safely bury it underground. This can help to reduce the emission from fossil fuel burning.

A satellite image of the North Sea
North Sea is home to many successful carbon capture and storage projects.
European Space Agency/Flickr, CC BY-ND

CCS is a proven tool that can decarbonize the world. And it’s already doing so. One example is the North Sea, which has one successful projectSince 1996, CCS has been burying carbon dioxide at a rate one kilometre beneath the seafloor at the rate that a million tonnes per annum. CCS is unlikely, however, to be widespread enough to ignore the fact that we have far greater fossil fuel reserves than can be safely burned.

Plans for keeping climate change to 1.5°C targets generally include CCSIt is a small part of many approaches, however. For example, the IEA’s scheme to achieve net zero emissionsBy 2050, carbon dioxide must be captured and buried at a staggering rate of 7.8 gigatonnes per year. This would still only allow us an additional 1% in oil reserves each annual.

Further exploration and development is also justified. This could mean that less climate-friendly areas could be closed to make way for newer, more efficient fields that produce fewer greenhouse gases per barrel of fuel. This is not convincing.

We’re already seeing owners of prematurely closed coal-fired power stations demanding compensationThese closure plans are difficult to negotiate and costly to implement for lost earnings. Compensating oil-field investors is going to be more difficult and more costly. It would be better for the planet and people if there weren’t any further investments.


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