A change in primary energy supply from wood to coal around 200 years ago brought about the industrial revolution and the resultant growth of the great cities of the western world. Many argue that the world is now about to witness another change, from fossil fuels to sustainable energy – the move from black to green. However, this is not a quick change, it is a long journey and the first step is to move from burning highly polluting coal to cleaner natural gas.
Predominantly as a result of the move to lower cost natural gas, the change has already been occurring. Coal-fired power generation in the US provided 39% of electricity production in 2014, down from 53% 1997. In the European Union between 2000 and end 2013 coal consumption fell by 11%. However, the world still burns huge amounts of coal, accounting for some 30% of global fuel consumption. Even in the UK, where the industrial revolution began, on Christmas day 2014, 38% of electricity still came from burning coal.
Green activists are already beginning a campaign calling for disinvestment from the oil & gas industry in the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference. In April the Guardian Media Group announced it will divest from fossil fuel companies. Academia has joined the campaign with sit-ins underway in a number of universities.
There is a major gap between the realities of oil & gas and the public understanding of its fundamental importance to society. Few individuals realise the sheer scale and importance of the oil & gas industry, not just in the supply of fuels but also its role as a provider of a huge range of products essential to our daily lives, from plastics to pharmaceuticals, from fertilisers to house paint.
As step one of the journey to stop burning coal, the industry should be recognised as part of the solution in providing the natural gas that can enable this movement.
Adapted from press release by Joseph Green