Energy, Environment, and Social Development: Circular Economy: A Sustainability Innovation and Solution for Oil, Gas, and Petrochemical Industries
- Sami Alnuaim (2019 SPE President)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- May 2019
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 10 - 12
- 2019. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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There is no doubt that the world today consumes materials in all domains more than needed, possibly double or even triple what it needs. As a result, part of our world’s natural resources end up polluting the land and sea with a growing trail of waste. Sustainability requires being more efficient—conserving, recycling, and reusing to minimize the impact of everything we do. The developed world must no longer tolerate the buildup of mountains of waste while other places in the world, especially in underdeveloped countries, lack access to energy, food, clean water, and clean air.
The world’s population is projected to increase to 9 billion by 2040, adding 1.7 billion people in 20 years (85 million every year). Sustaining current levels of consumption while population grows that fast will be challenging. Most of the population growth will be in underdeveloped countries, with almost half in Africa, a continent with the highest levels of energy poverty and the lowest economic growth. In 2017, the population of Africa was roughly equivalent to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s designated developed countries (each about 17% of the world’s population), but in terms of gross domestic product, the developed countries accounted for 63% of the world, and Africa only 3%. As these countries grow and develop, they will be challenged to overcome the vast disparity and bring energy to their expanding population.
As the oil and gas industry works to make our operations more sustainable, we can adopt the mindset of a “circular economy.” The circular economy is an alternative to the traditional linear economy (i.e., make, use, and dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each product service life. The circular economy keeps goods in use as long as possible through recycling and reuse, thereby decreasing the need for raw materials. This, in turn, reduces carbon intensity and our carbon footprint.
Recycling used materials and plastics instead of disposing or burning them as waste is one important way to make better use of valuable resources, and create a new economy through new business opportunities. There are opportunities throughout our value chain from upstream to downstream to deploy new models of energy conservation. We are already making significant progress in recycling and reusing produced and flowback water. But where else can we reuse the fluids, materials, and equipment that go into supplying the world with oil and natural gas? Can we reach a certain target (%) for incorporating circular economy concepts across our industry? I believe that there are numerous opportunities for which a positive business case exists.
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