Advancing Energy Transition Technologies: The Path to Net Zero

Published: 08/02/2021

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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 has established a framework to qualify Transition Technologies and quantify their environmental impact reducers. Tell us about your work and how your role has evolved during this effort.

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.

“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.”

In choosing the team, we need the engineers—but we also need the businesspeople. That is a key part of the recipe. Our people understand operations and the business application. You need people on both sides to carry out this type of effort.

Through the journey, we found this is something our employees have also been thinking about, but they’ve needed a guide to get it done. Initially, the question was, “Is it even possible to measure emissions reductions? What technologies in our current portfolio have a reduced footprint, what is a footprint, and how do we quantify it? What are the rules?” Once the teams understand those rules, then we can embed them into our engineering design. It’s been exciting to be able to share my knowledge of looking at concurrent considerations within the design process and together planning out how we build in the concept of footprint and sustainability.

As we got into the details of qualifications and calculations, as engineers, it became easy to convince ourselves that we had a fantastic solution. An effective part of the process is making sure the right people are involved and having a realistic eye on all the background assumptions that led us to the qualifications. We had to have oversight to keep people from getting carried away. The fact is that this is new to a lot of people in the company—it’s not just a methodical, qualification process, it’s also a journey. It’s a simultaneous challenge for all of us.

Summarize for us the methodology that Schlumberger is using and the approach it’s taking to quantify the emissions-reduction benefit of Transition Technologies.

Last year, we started by assessing more than 100 of our technologies, all of which were incredibly broad in nature and encompassed everything from fluids to downhole technologies to surface equipment. A fundamental consideration during development of the methodology was a consistent approach that can be applied across operations.

The first step was to define the sustainability footprint our technologies could impact and the framework with which to quantify this impact. For this, we have identified eight measurable attributes that support the United Nation’s SDGs where our technologies can make a significant impact and incorporated them into our science-based qualification and quantification framework. Finally, we’ve categorized these attributes within our Transition Technologies portfolio into themes that target our industry’s environmental challenges and concerns.

Now, technical teams within the business lines and technology development can plug into the qualification and quantification framework to analyze the impact a given technology can make. The process involves the development of a robust, peer-reviewed quantification that can be backed up scientifically and that can be clearly communicated to our customers. Furthermore, we are also embedding this quantification framework into our research and development processes for the development of new technologies. From the materials that we choose during the manufacturing process to maintenance schedules and how and where each technology is operated, how can we reduce footprint in all of those aspects for both ourselves and our customers?

My role now is evolving this program and is focused on guiding and reviewing technology impact quantification work, the development of new Transition Technologies, and setting up a design for sustainability of the future.

What challenges and concerns do Schlumberger’s Transition Technologies focus on?

Our Transition Technologies focus on five challenges, which are

  • addressing and minimizing fugitive and vented emissions
  • minimizing carbon footprint during well construction operations
  • eliminating the need for flaring or minimizing its impact where it cannot be avoided
  • full-field development solutions by promoting collaboration to drive sustainable solutions that can reduce environmental impact throughout the life of a well
  • electrification of infrastructure.

These themes aim to provide best-in-class technology for better performance no matter where our customers are in the hydrocarbon life cycle.

Karen Spenley, Schlumberger technology sustainability advisor
Karen Spenley, Schlumberger technology sustainability advisor
Article Topics
Transition Technologies