Methane leaks from gas wells are ‘huge’ environmental and economic problem, says BP’s Bernard Looney

The head of one of the world’s biggest oil and gas producers has called for the industry to clamp down on fugitive emissions, saying it makes no sense for companies to let their product slip away.

Bernard Looney, the head of oil and gas supermajor BP, said methane leakage from gas wells in Australia and around the world was a “big problem” that needed to be fixed for economic and environmental reasons.

In a wide-ranging interview with ABC, Looney also said that investment in new oil and gas projects would need to be invested through 2050, even as global economies move toward carbon neutrality.

The 52-year-old said grappling with what he described as the energy trilemma of emissions intensity, security and affordability was a complex task.

But he said the unprecedented energy crisis that unfolded in 2022 showed how high was at stake and why governments and investors needed to be careful how they handled the switch to renewable sources.

Bursts of flame emanate from thin tubes into a clear sky.
Methane is much more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon during its first 20 years in the atmosphere.(AP: David Goldman)

“What you will see over time is a reduction in demand for hydrocarbons, a reduction in investment in hydrocarbons,” Looney said.

“But that’s not the same as no investment.

“Oil and gas fields are declining faster than the decline in social demand will be.

“And in that medium, you have to invest.

“You have to invest, otherwise you end up with the problem that we have today, which is you don’t have enough supply, prices skyrocket, and the consumer gets affected and obviously starts asking, ‘What are we trying to do? here?'”

A massive ship is dwarfed by one of dozens of huge turbines at an offshore wind farm.
There are calls for BP to emulate other former oil producers who have gone all-green.(Supplied: South Star)

‘The less you filter, the more you sell’

As he rose to the top job at the world’s sixth-largest oil and gas company in 2020, Looney outlined ambitious plans to reduce the company’s carbon output.

A key plank was tackling the leak of methane from BP production wells, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon.

Mr. Looney pointed out that methane was natural gas and therefore it didn’t make any environmental or economic sense to waste it.

“The less you leak, the more you sell, and that has an economic benefit in itself,” said the Irish national.

“It is an absolute priority for our company.

“In many parts of the world, increased regulation on methane means there will be a cost in the regulatory system for methane leakage.”

A worker in a high visibility hard hat and helmet stands in front of a large BP branded warehouse tower.
BP is best known to many Australians as a fuel distributor and retailer.(AAP: Dan Peled)

Clean Energy Finance Director Tim Buckley, a leading advocate of renewable energy, said BP’s efforts to limit its methane emissions appeared to be genuine.

Mr Buckley said the importance of preventing methane emissions should not be underestimated.

“The reason why methane is so important is that it literally accounts for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions every year,” Mr Buckley said.

“Scientific convention looks at a 100-year perspective, but we have a climate emergency, which means we really should be talking about methane in a 20- to 30-year convention.

“On that basis, methane is 84 to 86 times worse than carbon dioxide.

“It’s the elephant in the room.”

Two people stand atop a bush-covered knoll on a glorious day in the interior.
BP controls plans to build the world’s largest renewable energy project in the Pilbara, Western Australia.(ABC catalyst)

Australia’s green opportunity

Another part of the reorganization under Looney was BP’s shift to cleaner technologies such as electric vehicle charging infrastructure, wind, hydrogen and biogas.

Earlier this year, the British company bought a majority stake in the world’s largest green energy proposal: the $52 billion Asian Renewable Energy Hub in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

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