Can we live without oil and gas? Should we just stop oil?
A vocal minority would say yes; we say no, because our quality of life depends on it. Without oil and gas, everything that society has come to rely upon would simply disappear. iPads, iPhones, clothes, cars, medicines, shampoo, paints, fertilisers and toys to name but a few. Life, as we all know it, simply would not exist.
Many are aware that oil and gas allow us to heat our homes and offices, cook food and get from A to B. But how many are aware that oil and gas are also essential raw materials to the chemical industry? And that the chemical industry uses the molecules found in gas to make the wide range of products that underpin modern society?
We can not live without gas and oil. It is an essential part of our daily lives and is likely to remain so for decades to come, even as we transition to net zero by 2050.
Can we live without oil and gas?
FOSSIL fuels are feeling the heat like never before. Protests across the world are getting noisier with the likes of Just Stop Oil warning that new gas and oil will ‘hasten the collapse of human civilisation’. They paint a frightening scenario. But INEOS – one of the many companies targeted due to its reliance on gas and oil – believes education is the key to changing mindsets.
INEOS Energy’s executive chairman, Brian Gilvary, said there needed to be an open and honest debate with the public about energy, particularly around gas and oil.
“Today, oil and gas serves a need,” he said. “And the world can't live without it, frankly, tomorrow.
“If we just stopped oil and turned off new developments of oil and gas, we would leave big swathes of the world in energy poverty. That’s what the world needs to know.
“It’s not about turning oil and gas off. It’s about decarbonising it, otherwise there is no hope of us keeping temperatures well below two degrees.”
The chemical and oil and gas industries are inextricably linked.
INEOS, which runs its own oil and gas business, also uses huge amounts of oil and gas to run its chemical manufacturing plants.
That can change, and it is changing with INEOS investing millions to source its energy from wind and solar farms.
But the chemical industry also uses gas and oil as a raw material, turning the likes of ethane gas into ethylene – the building block for everything from clothing and medicines to electronics and cars.
“It’s not possible to replace it all with bio-based,” said Greet Van Eetvelde, INEOS’ global head of climate, energy and innovation. “It’s not possible to replace it all with renewables.”
Many of INEOS’ products, which are made from gas and oil, are also used to build wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable technologies.
“We’re a company that makes so many things,” she said. “We’re everywhere. You will not see the INEOS name on your toothpaste, but it’s in there. If you have a headache, even aspirin.
“These protesters, who glue themselves to the walls, need the chemicals in the glue. If you want to dissolve that glue, it’s solvent from the chemical industry too. That’s the absurdity of things.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, INEOS was deemed an essential industry and became part of the fabric that kept society running. Not only face masks but it was even essential for the production of the vaccine.
Tom Crotty, INEOS Group’s communications director, said demand for INEOS’ health and hygiene products was unprecedented.
“We had never experienced anything like it,” he said. Production was ramped up at INEOS' sites to cope with the global demand for chemicals to slow the spread of the disease and help treat those infected.
It diverted resources away from non-essential work at sites in America, mainland Europe and the UK to keep the flow of essential chemicals to those making vital medical materials, disinfectants and equipment.
And it built three new hand sanitiser plants within 10 days to directly produce, bottle and distribute millions of bottles a month of hand sanitiser to hospitals free of charge.
INEOS is not blind to the massive challenges that are facing the world.
But there is huge optimism in the business.
“I think this fourth energy transition is going to be the most exciting of them all,” said Brian, who joined INEOS after being tempted out of retirement.
“We are seeing technologies advance at such a rate that I think we will one day see energy sources interlinked with each other.”
The former BP finance director said one of the big issues was that very few governments around the world had joined-up integrated energy policies.
“China does because it is a big buyer of energy and doesn’t have the same energy resources that others have,” he said. “That is why they are developing wind farms as well as firing up old coal plants.
“They recognise that they need energy across the mix and they recognise it's going to take solutions based on all energy sources.”
He said that was also the reason China’s net zero target was 2060 – not 2050.
Brian said what the world needed to do was tackle the CO2 – the gas widely blamed for climate change.
“You can grow an oil business provided you have a viable carbon capture business alongside it,” he said.
INEOS now does.
Earlier this year, it launched the world's first cross boarder off shore carbon capture project in Denmark.
Project Greensand is a world first and, once fully operational, could be able to permanently store up to eight million tonnes of CO2 under the seabed every year.
But INEOS’ ambitions don’t end there.
It is investing heavily in the circular economy to ensure its products are recyclable so that plastic can be made from plastic instead of hydrocarbons.
And it has created a new business to help build an economy fuelled by hydrogen, which produces zero emissions when used as a fuel.
“We cannot flick a switch and do all this overnight,” said INEOS Chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe. “It requires investment and it all takes time.”
Elfie Méchaussie, who studied chemical engineering, is a carbon and environment specialist at INEOS O&P Europe’s business in Switzerland.
“INEOS has a role to play, and by working on the inside, this is where I can make a difference,” she said.
She is part of INEOS’ young climate and energy network group, which has been tasked with finding answers to some of the biggest challenges facing mankind.
It’s a daunting brief, but INEOS’ yCEN members are excited at the difference they can make.
“That’s why I work for a petrochemical company,” she said.
We need an open and honest debate with the public about energy because oil and gas serve a need- Brian Gilvary
The world depends on oil and gas – and will do for many decades to come.
To INEOS, oil and gas are valuable raw materials.
Materials we use to make essential products that touch every aspect of modern day life.
The question is: can society function without them?