This summer, Schlumberger formally announced its commitment to net zero by 2050. As the energy industry progresses toward short- and long-term goals, the company is working closely with its customers to improve their performance in a sustainable way while advancing the industry’s path toward decarbonization.
We interviewed Schlumberger Technology Sustainability Advisor Karen Spenley, who is inspiring the company’s quest to qualify and quantify decarbonization efforts of various technologies and services. An engineer and advocate of climate change and sustainability, Karen is creating the framework to establish a standardized measurement system that is being used to quantify the company’s Transition Technologies portfolio, which was introduced in June 2021.
Schlumberger’s Transition Technologies portfolio encompasses the products and services we offer that support the energy transition and specifically reduce our customer’s environmental footprint within the oil and gas industry. My work evolved as conversations and ideas became more open around sustainability and Schlumberger’s role in the energy transition. I collaborate with our sustainability and engineering teams. My role focuses heavily on technology—specifically the services and equipment we develop for our customers—and looking at how we understand the carbon footprint associated with our technologies.
I began advising on technology sustainability in April 2020 with a blank piece of paper to outline a plan in response to our industry’s imperative to decarbonize and reduce emissions. The goal was to ultimately create a standard method for our industry to measure reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and I came equipped with the challenge after working in various roles addressing the company’s transformation and strategy. Over the years, I recall asking my colleagues specifically about how we can embed sustainability in everything we do so that it is fundamental to driving our decisions. I had a thirst to learn this because energy is critically important for the world. In my previous position within Human Resources, I had the opportunity to participate in an Antarctica expedition with the Homeward Bound Program, which is a global network of career women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) looking to drive change for the planet—specifically through science and data-based decision making.
The role opened after I returned from Antarctica, when I was more inspired than ever to come up with solutions and encourage the organization quite significantly to look at technology and the impact it can have on climate change and sustainability. I’ve worked in parallel with a diverse team of dedicated people across the divisions looking at how we can advance our net-zero targets both internally and externally—from facilities to operations to technology. Schlumberger is the first company in upstream E&P services to commit to science-based targets in emissions reduction. A key part of our work now focuses on developing technologies to enable these targets to be met while simultaneously enabling our industry to advance quickly on the path to net zero.
Read about Schlumberger’s role in the energy transition: Le Peuch Speaks at JP Morgan Power and Renewables Conference
Environmental sustainability has been an important topic for years. What spurred your interest in this line of work both professionally and personally?
I’ve worked on sustainability projects since the mid-2000s, but the topic really piqued my interest between 2015 and 2016, around the time when the Paris Agreement was signed and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were announced. At that time, I still clearly remember asking my colleagues specifically about sustainability and how we can embed it in everything that we do. I also wanted to learn how we can make a difference and reduce the environmental impact of oil and gas operations.
My journey in this work probably began in 2006, when I took a personal development leave from Schlumberger to work on water sanitation projects in Sri Lanka. I lived in a jungle in remote Monaragala, helping the community plan water towers, pipes, and toilets because there was much illness and child mortality due to lack of clean water. This experience definitely changed my mindset. A couple of years ago, I made a video to share the experience with my colleagues. Altogether, my professional and personal travels to all seven continents have inspired my interest in this line of work.
A few years ago, I also read the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC and can vividly recall highlighting line after line noting environmental impacts—from water to biodiversity, down to our food and pathways for energy. There was so much in that report, which after reading, it really struck me: There’s a lot to do here!
Establishing a robust plan that the energy industry can follow to measure its decarbonization is an undertaking that requires people to truly believe in it, including the minds at work paving the way. What has this journey been like behind the scenes at Schlumberger?
There wasn’t a manual that we could pick up that says "This is how we do it"—not in oil and gas. It’s certainly been a journey of understanding what sustainability means for us, our customers, and our industry. We haven’t delved into this before, so there was a great hunger to get this done. A 2050 net-zero ambition is unique in our industry because of our capabilities as a technology company, as well as our culture, which is grounded in science.
Our people were naturally very receptive and positive to the idea of creating a science-based methodology to reduce GHG—not only because there’s a lot of pressure for the industry to decarbonize but partly because we are also residents of Planet Earth. Many of us are exposed to much more data and information now concerning the effects of climate change. It’s an industry imperative. The world needs it. And it’s the right thing to do. It makes sense from all perspectives. Everyone involved in the team we’ve built so far has jumped on this and brought their technical expertise, critical thinking, and enthusiasm to this challenge of our time.