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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Oilmen Are The Newest Clean Energy Entrepreneurs

Last month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its landmark 6th Assessment Report on the worldwide state of global warming and the response to changing climates and the greenhouse gas emissions that are powering that change. The report sounded a “code red for humanity” and warned in no uncertain terms that we have reached a point of no return. Humans have already irreversibly altered the climate, and it is now paramount for the global community to do everything they can to mitigate the damage and cap rising temperatures and future greenhouse gas emissions to the greatest extent possible. 

While climate scientists have been sounding the alarm bells for years and these doomsday warnings have become commonplace and can even come off as a bit trite, the urgency of the report is all too real, and it finally seems like world leaders may be ready to respond. As the novel coronavirus pandemic swept the world and disrupted global supply chains, shutting down industries, bottoming out fossil fuel demand, and slowing the flow of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, this interruption to the status quo offered a rare window of opportunity to rewrite a cleaner energy future, and some companies and countries took it. The pandemic catalyzed what is now, in many places, a concerted effort toward a clean energy transition. 

Let’s not overstate it; oil, gas, and coal are still king. And they will not be disappearing overnight. But solar and wind are getting competitive, and there is an extremely promising amount of investment in the research and development of new clean energy technologies. And some of the most inventive and innovative clean energy initiatives are coming from a surprising place: the oil and gas industry.  Related: Crude Prices Jump On Oil Sands Outages

The writing has been on the wall for a long time in the Permian Basin. The shale revolution has been waning for years, oil prices are volatile, and oil’s days are numbered. Peak oil is right around the corner, if it isn’t already happening

For many of those working in the fossil fuel industry, getting ahead of the curve and pushing to the forefront of the clean energy revolution was a no-brainer. And as these converts leave the oil fields, they’re taking oil and gas technology and know-how with them. One of the biggest burgeoning industries which promises to explode in coming years is energy storage. Renewable energies like solar and wind are variable, meaning that they depend on the weather and daylight hours, and their flow of energy to the grid is anything but steady. This means that scalable, cheap, and reliable energy storage, which can collect surplus energy in peak production times and feed it back into the grid at peak demand times, is paramount to building a future in which renewables can displace fossil fuels.

There are a million and one approaches to energy storage, from green hydrogen to the suspension of concrete blocks. But one of the more interesting ideas currently receiving a lot of investor attention is a method that, on the surface, is anathema to the clean energy sector: fracking. Houston-based Quidnet is 

pumping water underground, not to release oil and gas, but to store that water in a high-pressure environment until energy is needed, at which point the water is released, gushes to the surface, turns a turbine, and creates electricity. “Quidnet represents a new breed of Texas start-ups that are tapping into the gusher of funding now available to clean energy companies. Their payrolls are stocked with veterans of the oil and gas industry who are leveraging the drilling and geological expertise born of the fracking revolution—hinting at a promising area of job growth in Texas,” Texas Monthly reported last week. 

The green frackers are far from the only example of oil and gas workers using their know-how for the greener good. Drillers are using their cutting-edge technologies to improve geothermal energy potential, a movement being spearheaded by more Texans including Houston’s Fervo Energy. Others are using oil and gas industry methods for capturing and storing carbon in underground wells. 

“Every day I meet another oil and gas guy who is now a climate entrepreneur,” Maynard Holt, the chief executive of fracking financier Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., told Texas Monthly. “I think there is going to be an explosion of clean energy activity out of the oil and gas sector, and we’ll be stunned in the next five to seven years . . . by how many of these problems are being handled by the oil and gas industry.”

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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