Earth Day: Investing in Climate Action through Innovation

Written by Catherine Reheis-Boyd

Each year Earth Day brings the opportunity for consumers and businesses alike to recognize the ongoing importance of sustainability and environmental stewardship in our daily lives.

This year’s Earth Day theme centers around the enormous challenge — but also the vast opportunities — of action on climate change. The energy industry shares this sense of urgency. And it’s for that exact reason that we continue to innovate creatively, persistently, inclusively, and more aggressively to create a sustainable energy future that works for everyone.

Earth Day is an important moment in time each year for education and celebration, especially on this milestone anniversary. And climate action is a theme we are taking to heart.

In more than 30 years of experience with business and industry, I’ve witnessed some incredible advancements in sustainability. But progress doesn’t just happen. Business investment in innovation is a major factor in developing a sustainable future.

The energy industry continues to innovate at an incredible pace to develop new sustainable technologies, increased efficiency and improved performance. Sustainability and innovation are intrinsically linked, and our industry has some amazing stories to tell.

One such example is the innovation that has happened around carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) – a suite of technologies that prevents large quantities of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has confirmed that CCUS is essential to mitigating climate change. CCUS can help significantly reduce carbon emissions from many sectors (oil production, refining, biofuels, cement manufacturing, power generation, agriculture, dairy, etc.).  And WSPA member companies are in the process of designing and permitting facilities to accomplish just this.

For example, California Resources Corporation (CRC) has developed a 2030 Sustainability Goal to install carbon capture on its 550 MW power plant at Elk Hills Field and further sequester 1.4 million metric tons per year within the field.  Shell recently successfully completed a one-year pilot project to separate CO2 from the exhaust gases of a biomass power plant in Vienna, Austria, capturing nearly a one ton of CO2 per day. Chevron has invested approximately $1.1 billion in CCUS projects, which, once operational, are expected to reduce GHG emissions by about 5 million metric tons per year, approximately the equivalent of 620,000 U.S. homes’ annual electricity usage.

I’m also excited to see several of our member companies continuing to invest in renewable energy technology, which has seen vast technological improvements over the last several years. ExxonMobil announced it will invest up to $100 million over 10 years to research and develop advanced lower-emissions technologies with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and National Energy Technology Laboratory. And efforts are currently underway at Marathon Petroleum Corporation to expand its renewable fuels manufacturing and blending capabilities by converting its North Dakota refinery into a renewable diesel plant, at a cost of $470 million, processing biocrude in California, and investing in bio-gasoline and bio-jet fuel R&D. Also, on the renewable fuels innovation front, Valero and its subsidiaries are currently producing renewable diesel fuel from discarded animal fats, used cooking oil and inedible corn oil to create products that meet the most stringent emission standards.

There’s a lot more work to be done, but we know an ongoing investment in sustainable innovation is critical to the action needed to fight climate change. Too often we close ourselves off to creative solutions because of political divides or differing points of view — something we can’t afford to do anymore. While we may not always agree on everything, today, on Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, we can align around an energy vision and commitment that supports our people, our plant and our shared prosperity.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd is the President of the Western States Petroleum Association and oversees the trade organization’s operations and advocacy in five states. You can follow her on Twitter @WSPAprez.

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