A GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS, volatile oil prices and a seemingly unquenchable thirst for energy that spans the world are transforming the way companies worldwide look at sustainability. But energy firms in particular are in for some major shifts.
“Things are changing in many new dimensions right now, which means you need project management that's capable of driving change,” says Trude Sundset, vice president for environment and climate at StatoilHydro. “You have to be willing to try new things. It's not possible to develop new technologies if you're not willing to try them out in a real project. You have to take risks and be open-minded.”
A technologist by training, Ms. Sundset was the energy major's chief scientist when the innovative environmental technology carbon capture and storage went into operation in the North Sea in the 1990s. Since then, she has been at the forefront of projects that have reduced carbon emissions (per fuel equivalent) in the North Sea to about one-third of the levels found in other oil- and gas-producing regions.
“We expect that in most markets around the world—and it's already the case in some—emissions will eventually carry a price tag.”
StatoilHydro had little choice. And Ms. Sundset says all industries will eventually be forced to factor in the costs of emitting carbon dioxide when calculating the bottom line.
“We expect that in most markets around the world—and it's already the case in some—emissions will eventually carry a price tag,” she says. “The challenge will be to make the right predictions on how much carbon dioxide will cost in the long term. It's not much different than predicting the price of oil. It's just a new market mechanism and it's evolving quickly.”
Yet the search for new energy resources is not without risks—both to ecosystems and company reputations. The oil sands in Alberta, Canada are estimated to hold the world's largest oil reserves outside of Saudi Arabia, for example. But StatoilHydro's projects in the environmentally fragile area have proven controversial.
Still, Ms. Sundset remains confident the necessary balancing act between securing new energy and protecting the environment is possible with the right mix of technology and experience.
“There's a lot of opposition to drilling in oil sands and it is challenging. The world needs more energy but the energy sources you find are getting more and more difficult to exploit and bring to the market,” she says. “But if you really want to find solutions to improve the environmental impact then you can develop the right technology. I'm optimistic about the challenges we are facing.”—Tom Sullivan