Exxon Mobil Corp. plans to reduce the amount of natural gas it burns as waste by a quarter within two years to reduce climate-changing emissions, something long demanded by environmental groups and activist investors.
Efforts will be focussed on oil wells off the coast of West Africa, Exxon said in a statement. In that region and others, gas produced alongside crude is routinely burned because there’s no way to haul it to markets. The practice, known as flaring, has been assailed as wasteful and environmentally harmful on every continent where oil is produced.
The oil industry’s decades-old practice of flaring gas when there are no pipelines or population centers nearby has drawn the ire of climate activists and regulators. Explorers also are under increased scrutiny to curb leaks that release damaging amounts of methane into the atmosphere.
“We’re trying to deliver energy to people that need it but we’ve got to balance that with doing it in an environmentally responsible manner,” Sara Ortwein, president of Exxon’s XTO Energy shale unit, said in an telephone interview. Exxon’s efforts in west Africa, particularly Nigeria and Angola, will employ infrastructure installed and operated by other companies, Ortwein said. Saving that gas rather than flaring it should also result in higher revenues, she said.
The effort “is a step in the right direction. However, it is not enough,” said Jennifer Krill, executive director of environmental group Earthworks. “Thanks to decades of oil and gas industry lobbying against public oversight, we have no way to know if Exxon Mobil will keep its promise. We’d have to take them at their word.”
The company’s new targets build on a plan announced in September to reduce methane leaks. Emissions have dropped 2 percent in the last year, Ortwein said.
Some $34 billion of the world’s gas supply is lost each year to leaks, enough to power Africa twice over, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, a non-profit organisation. Exxon, along with Royal Dutch Shell Plc and seven other major oil companies, pledged to improve methane detecting methods and reduce leaks in November.