Opinion: We should harness oil companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Hugh Helferty published an opinion article in The Hill outlining how governments could harness the innovative capacity and financial resources of oil and gas companies to address climate change.

From the article:

Over 80 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions come from burning oil and natural gas. Global GHG emissions from the manufacture and use of oil and gas sold by just the two largest U.S.-based companies, Chevron and ExxonMobil, total 1.4 billion tons — equivalent to one-quarter of all U.S. emissions. Clearly, oil companies have a major role to play in reducing emissions. Fortunately, they are exceptionally capable at developing and deploying the technologies that are needed to tackle this problem. What is needed is the regulatory driver to make it happen.

Let’s look at a historical example: 50 years ago, pollution from cars was a major health issue in U.S. cities. Los Angeles was blanketed with smog. Deaths from emphysema in New York City had increased 500 percent. The first Earth Day was held in 1970 and citizens were demanding action. In response, Congress passed the Clean Air Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed.

The EPA established a standard requiring dramatically lower tailpipe emissions starting with 1975 model year cars. This spurred rapid innovation. The auto companies developed and installed catalytic converters to reduce emissions, but they needed unleaded gasoline for them to work. The major oil companies developed, produced and distributed unleaded gasoline to meet the demand.

Later, the EPA followed a similar path to further reduce vehicle emissions, requiring the removal of sulfur from gasoline and diesel fuel. Once again, the oil industry spent billions of dollars on research, developing processes and building facilities to produce the low sulfur fuels. As a result of these actions, air quality today is much better than it was 50 years ago even though the number of miles driven has increased threefold.

A similar regulatory approach can be used to drive oil companies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Failure to offset emissions by sequestering an equivalent amount of carbon should result initially in financial penalties — and ultimately in loss of the right to produce U.S. oil and gas. Given that the U.S. is the world’s largest oil and gas producing country, companies will have a strong incentive to comply.

Read the full article here.

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