With energy comes wealth and with wealth comes prosperity! No one can doubt the veracity of this conclusion. But most of the times we forget to scrutinize the “energy” which generates that wealth and societal well-being. For a developing nation state like Pakistan, good infrastructure and plentiful energy are very necessary ingredients to grow and stabilize its economy. A friend in need is a friend indeed. China, the all time friend of Pakistan, showed the act of friendship in April 2015, when President Xi Jinping visited the country to oversee the signing of agreements aimed at building $46 billion (now worth $62 billion) China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a part of his One Belt One Road initiative between Pakistan’s Gwadar Port on Arabian Sea and China’s western region of Xinjiang. This multibillion-dollars project is intended to develop Pakistan’s infrastructure, transportation and very importantly will help the country alleviate chronic energy crisis. The mega project has been declared “a game changer” for Pakistan by its government, but I think that it has been failed in properly analyzing the costs and benefits of the project. There isn’t only a huge monetary cost associated with the economic corridor which Pakistan will bear- as it has to pay back the principal amount of loan with interest, that China is providing her in the name of CPEC, but will also incur hefty environmental cost .
A big portion of total cost of CPEC, nearly $33 billion will be invested in the energy sector of the country. Pakistan’s average demand of electricity (according to the International Energy Agency) is around 19000 MW, while its generation capacity is around 15000 MW, that is, a total energy deficit of 4000 MW. According to IEA’s prediction, by 2025 Pakistan’s per day average electricity demand would reach as high as 45000 MW. To help Pakistan getting out of this serious energy crisis, the multi-billion-dollar economic corridor has numerous power plant projects. Most of the energy which will be generated under CPEC will be from coal fired power plants. $5.6 billion worth of coal power projects are expected to be completed by 2019 in CPEC’s “Early Harvest” projects, but what about the environment?
There are certain compounds (mainly in the form of gas) which trap heat energy in the earth’s atmosphere, keeping the earth’s surface warmer than it would be if they were not present. Such compounds are termed as greenhouse gases. Ability of these compounds to trap heat energy is what causes greenhouse effect. Sun is the main source of heat energy on earth. Greenhouse gases allow sunlight, shortwave radiations, to pass through the atmosphere freely, where some of it gets absorbed by the earth’s surface and the remaining bounces back out towards the space in the form of heat. A portion of this is then trapped by the greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere. It is the shape of these compounds which allow them to trap and then re-emit the heat towards the ground which increases the temperature of the globe. Natural greenhouse effect maintains the temperature of the earth and makes it suitable for the life to exist. It shows that basically these gases have a great role in making the life possible on the earth – without them the average temperature on the earth would be -18 °C! But they become a source of great trouble when their concentration in the atmosphere grows to the level where they cause century-scale rise in temperature of the earth’s climate system, also known as global warming, and as a result of it we observe rise in sea level because of the melting of glaciers and ice caps, extreme weather events like cyclones, droughts and floods, increase in the rate of evaporation which causes extreme rainfalls and snow events around the globe and much more.
You may think what this explanation has to do with Pakistan, CPEC, coal and energy. The biggest problem associated with burning coal is that it releases a number of pollutants and airborne toxins which contribute to climate change and negatively affect human health. Carbon dioxide which is the major output of coal combustion is a forcing greenhouse gas! We call it forcing because it takes many years to leave the atmosphere. Methane also comes in the same category. It is not a by-product of coal combustion but is formed as part of the process of coal formation. Thus it gets released from the coal seam and surrounding disturbed rock strata when coal is mined. China Pakistan Economic Corridor, as I already have mentioned, includes majority of coal-fired power plant projects and with that it also includes project under which 1.57 billion tons of lignite coal will be extracted (3.8 billion tons per annum in first phase as “Early Harvest” stage of the economic corridor) from the allocated area of Block II in Tharparkar.
Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), a joint venture company with the Government of Sindh, Engro Powergen and Affiliates namely, Thal Ltd. (House of Habib), Hub Power Company, Habib Bank Limited, China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) and State Power International Mendong (SPIM) will be responsible for the extraction of this coal which will be utilized by a mine-mouth power plant (a part of CPEC) having sub-critical power generation technology (emits approx. ≥880g CO2/kWh :Adapted from IEA, Technology Roadmaps, High-efficiency low-emissions coal-fired power generation, 2012) which is being established by Engro Powergen Limited, a Joint Venture Company of Engro Powergen, China Machinery and Engineering Company, Habib Bank Limited and Liberty Mills Limited. Commercial operation date for phase one of both Projects is expected to take place by mid – 2019.
There are total 7 coal-fired power plant projects under “Early Harvest” stage of CPEC. Out of these seven, 2 are currently operational, namely Coal-fired Power Plants at Port Qasim Karachi with generation capacity of 1320 MW and Sahiwal Coal Fired Power Plant with generation capacity of 1320 MW . Both are based on super critical technology which is efficient Up to 42%, emits 800-880g CO2/kWh and consumes 340-380g of coal per kWh. Other then these 2 plants 5 are either under construction or still need approval.
Engro Thar Block II 2×330MW Coal fired Power Plant (already discussed in paragraphs above), TEL 1×330MW Mine Mouth Lignite Fired Power Project at Thar Block-II and ThalNova 1×330MW Mine Mouth Lignite Fired Power Project at Thar Block-II which are collectively classified as Thar Block- II Coal Power Projects is currently under construction. This power station will use sub-critical power generation technology.
Sino Sindh Resources Limited (SSRL) Thar Coal Block-I Mine Mouth Power Plant (under-construction) , with generation capacity of 1320 MW will also have sub-critical power generation technology which is in general efficient up to 38% , emits ≥880g CO2 (Carbon dioxide) per kWh and consumes ≥380g of coal per kWh. These figures are same for all coal-fired power plants which use sub-critical technology. 6.5 million tons of coal per annum will be extracted from Block I of Thar coal mine. Never-ending hunger of coal!
China Power Hub Generation Company 1,320MW Coal-Fired Power Plant in Hub, Balochistan (needs approval of the provincial government of Balochistan) will have super-critical technology installed which is efficient Up to 42%, emits 800-880g CO2/kWh and consumes 340-380g of coal per kWh. Again, these figures are same for all coal-fired power plants based on super critical technology. Thar Mine Mouth Oracle Power Plant, with generation capacity of 1320 MW was elevated to the priority list of projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in June 2017 but is still in pre-permit development stage.
It is crystal clear that Pakistan’s romance with coal has no place for the environment. Seven priority coal-fired power projects, out of which two are currently operational and very soon all will together be polluting the environment with tons of carbon dioxide being emitted. Furthermore, coal extraction from Thar coal mines block I and II will pump bulk of methane into the atmosphere and altogether both power generation and mining projects will contribute to increased greenhouse effect in Pakistan. It shows that the environmental cost of the economic corridor is much more than its economic gains. Indeed a bitter truth. Most shocking part of the story is that China itself is putting more focus on renewable energy resources for its electricity demands but pushing Pakistan towards a fossil-fuel dominant energy structure. In 2017, China eliminated or suspended 65 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity which exceeded the national target of 50 gigawatts! The country has vowed to improve its notorious air pollution and upgrade its coal based energy structure by reducing coal consumption and boosting clean energy use.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have accelerated to an unprecedented level. The report indicates that in 21st century the global average temperature is likely to increase by 0.3°C to 1.7°C for their lowest emissions scenario, and 2.6°C to 4.8°C for business as usual carbon intense emissions. According to the report, to limit the global average temperature by 2°C, global GHG emission must have to be curtailed by 40 to 70 percent. High rate of carbon dioxide and methane emission from coal combustion and mining is posing a greater risk to the climate of Pakistan than ever before. Greenhouse gas inventory of Pakistan for the year 2011-12 show that the total carbon dioxide emission was 369 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) . 45.9% of the total CO2 emission was contributed by energy sector, 44.8% from agriculture and livestock sector, 3.9% by industrial procedures and 2.6% from forestry sector. The situation is alarming! 90.7 % of the total emission bulk comes from energy and agricultural sector.
Now that you know greenhouse gases traps heat energy and when they re-emits it back toward the surface of the earth, results in the increase in average temperature, which we also called greenhouse effect. This effect is very prominent in Pakistan. According to the Asian Development Bank’s 2014 report, namely “Assessing the Cost of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia – Manila”, in the last century, warming trend of 0.57°C in the annual mean temperature was observed from 1901 to 2000 in Pakistan. From 1961 to 2007, an increase of 0.47°C, which was more accelerated, observed. According to the 2009 Technical Report by Pakistan Meteorological Department, winters got more affected as the average winter temperature for increased from 0.52°C to 1.12°C (province to province variation) . Highest increase in winter temperature was observed in the province of Balochistan. From 1960 to 2007, the average annual temperature in Pakistan got increased by 0.87°C (max) and 0.48°C (min) . The fact that winter temperature is increasing in all four provinces of Pakistan and that mean annual temperature showed an increasing trend, that is, increased by 0.57°C in 20th century makes it clear that greenhouse effect is very prominent in Pakistan and don’t forget to take into account the accelerated trend of warming, a rise of 0.47°C, from 1961 to 2007. Increasing winter temperature means more summer (warm days).
According to the Global Change Impact Studies Centre’s 2005 Final Technical Report for APN CAPaBLE Project , the annual and seasonal trends in the average annual temperature in different climatic zones of Pakistan from the year 1951 to 2000 are as follows : A) the average annual temperature has been increasing in most parts of the country. B) all the regions show an increasing trend for the pre-monsoon summer months (April-May). C) The Balochistan Plateau is getting hotter in all the seasons.
Increasing temperature affects water cycle in negative ways. A warmer climate means more evaporation from land (soil moisture) and water bodies (rivers, lakes, sea and oceans), thus it results in a rise in moisture holding capacity of the atmosphere, and when a storm passes through a warmer region holding more water, we witness heavy rainfall (an atmosphere with more moisture can produce more intense precipitations events, which is exactly what has been observed). For each degree rise in temperature, the moisture holding capacity of air goes up by 7%. Heavy precipitation doesn’t mean an increase in total rainfall over a season or over a year. This simply indicates a decrease in moderate rainfall, thus an increase in the length of dry periods. Moisture holding capacity of the atmosphere increases with increasing temperature but it doesn’t mean that increased moisture will fall evenly all over the country; rather some zones will see more extreme rainfalls while other areas will see less due to shifting weather patterns and other factors. Most immediate impact of heavy rainfall is the prospect of flooding. According to the statistics mentioned in Asian Development Bank’s 2013 report, namely, “Indus Basin Floods: Mechanism, Impacts and Management. Manila” , the super flood of 2010 in Pakistan, alone resulted in over 1,600 casualties. Furthermore, it inundated an area of 38,600 square kilometers and caused damage worth USD 10 billion! In addition to flooding, intense rainfall also increases the risk of landslides. When above-normal downpour increases the water table and saturates the ground, it results unstable slopes, causing a landslide. According to 2014 “Climate Change and Infrastructure, Urban Systems, and Vulnerabilities: Technical Report for the US Department of Energy in Support of the National Climate Assessment. Island Press”, heavy rainfall-induced landslides in mountainous urban centers have been observed in Pakistan.
Global Change Impact Studies Centre’s 2005 Final Technical Report for APN CAPaBLE Project says that annual precipitation has been increased by 61 mm in Pakistan from 1901 to 2007. Monsoon rains increased by 22.6 mm and winter precipitation got raised by 20.8 mm. The report summarized that annual precipitation has generally been increasing except coastal areas.
With increase in global temperature, it is observed that oceans are expanding (thermal expansion) and glaciers are melting, thus it results in global mean sea level rise. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) says that global mean sea level rose to 0.19 meter over the period of 1901-2010. Sea level rise for Pakistan is estimated at 1.1 millimeter per year from 1856 to 2000 along the coast of Karachi (Arabian Sea coast). (Source: The Impact of Sea Level Rise on Pakistan’s Coastal Zones – In a Climate Change Scenario. 2nd International Maritime Conference at Bahria University, Karachi). According to IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report (AR5), mean sea level rise of 0.2 – 0.6 meter will be observed by the end of 21st century. Of course it will affect low-lying coastal areas of Karachi. Inundation of low-lying coastal areas, destruction of mangrove forests and reduction in fish and shrimp productivity (mangroves are breeding grounds for fishes and shrimps).
Let us now see the effects of climate change due to increased greenhouse effect (because of greenhouse gases emission, especially carbon dioxide and methane from coal-fired power plants and coal mining under CPEC respectively) on different sectors of Pakistan. Because of increase in annual mean temperature and precipitation, agriculture sector will be affected the most. Pakistan’s economy is agro-based, and it contributes 21% to the total GDP of the country. According to a report produced by World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan, by 2040, a rise in temperature (0.5°C to 2°C), agricultural productivity will decrease by 8-10 percent.(Source: A. Dehlavi et al. 2015. Climate Change Adaptation in the Indus Ecoregion: A Microeconometric Study of the Determinants, Impacts, and Cost Effectiveness of Adaptation Strategies. Islamabad: World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan). A study has shown that there will be a 6% decrease in wheat yield and 15 to 18% decrease in the yield of basmati rice will be observed across the country (except northern areas) by 2080. (Source: M. M. Iqbal et al. 2009. Climate Change Aspersions on Food Security of Pakistan. Science Vision. 15 (1). Islamabad.)
Due to increased greenhouse effect, increased recession of Hindu Kush- Karakoram- Himalayan (HKH) glaciers is observed. This will affect river flows in Indus River System. As Himalayan glaciers will be melting for next 50 years, water flow will raise in Indus River, but after that, because of no glacier reservoirs, flow will decrease substantially by 30 to 40 percent over the next 50 years. (Source: K. Hewitt. 2005. The Karakoram Anomaly? Glacier Expansion and the ‘Elevation Effect’, Karakoram Himalaya. Inner Asia. Mountain Research and Development: Special Issue – Climate Change in Mountains. 25 (4).). This variation won’t just affect the availability of water in upper and lower Indus but will also hit Pakistan’s overall agricultural sector. Increasing number of floods due to increase in heavy precipitation in the form of rain because of greenhouse effect, results in high sediment inflows in artificial water reservoirs (dams) and therefore reduces storage capacity.
Greenhouse gases emission from coal-fired power plants and coal mines, which are and will increase greenhouse effect (increase temperature) will affect the energy sector as well. Hotter temperatures will increase energy demands (increase in air-conditioning requirements) in summers and as a result more dirty energy from coal will be generated and thus more greenhouse gases emission. Himalayan glaciers are melting because of high annual mean temperature, which will reduce the availability of water for hydropower generation. Floods as a result of heavy precipitation will damage power plant infrastructure. Increased atmospheric temperature increases the temperature of water bodies. Nuclear and coal-fired power plants use water for cooling purpose. Not so cool water won’t be effective for cooling purpose, thus the efficiency of these plants get reduced.
System of transportation also gets affected by greenhouse effect. Heavy precipitation events cause flooding. Because of old infrastructure of road railways and airports extreme weather events affect their quality. Landslides (as discussed before) affect mountainous transportation.
Mining of coal in Thar Block II by SECMC (Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company- as discussed above), is done by open pit mining procedure because the coal is buried inside layers of ground water . Therefore, the water has to be pumped out of the mines and then it has to be stored somewhere. SECMC has planned to build an effluent disposal reservoir (near Gorano village) in which this waste water will be stored for two and a half years (or more). In 2016, people living in this area protested to stop the construction of reservoir. The waste water will contain Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) , the quantity of which is around 5000 ppm, which is much higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) standards, that sets the maximum contaminant level for TDS at 1000 ppm. People of Gorano village are worried about the seepage from this reservoir, that will possibly damage the quality of the underground water which is being used by them for drinking, farming and other daily life purposes. Furthermore, coal mines puncture and drain groundwater reservoirs in its vicinity and thereby depriving communities living around from the precious natural resource – water! Before burning coal, it is washed to clean it from impurities. This wastewater, full of harmful toxins has to be disposed off somewhere. In Pakistan where no one cares about following rules and regulations, this water could end up being disposed in nearby lakes and rivers. On one hand it makes the water undrinkable and on the other, destroys fresh water habitat.
Combustion of coal not only pollutes air with carbon dioxide, but also with other harmful pollutants, which negatively affect human health. Mercury emissions from coal fired power plants damage nervous, digestive and immune system in human beings. 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury deposited on a 25-acre lake can make fish unsafe to eat. Sulfur dioxide (SO2), which is produced when sulfur in coal reacts with oxygen, when reacts with other molecules in atmosphere it produces acidic particulates. When these particulates are inhaled they can cause asthma and bronchitis. Sulfur dioxide is also responsible for acid rain! These plants also emits nitrous oxides (NOx), which when inhaled can cause irritation of lung tissues and make the inhaler susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases like pneumonia and influenza.
Coal ash, which is the by-product of coal combustion and contains concentrated heavy metals, including many known carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals, is either buried underground or stored in open reservoirs. During heavy precipitation event, this highly toxic ash mixes with water that runs off into nearby fresh water bodies and pollutes them.
So what is the ultimate purpose of CPEC? At such hefty environmental cost, all that economic prosperity becomes meaningless. You are digging in the land of Thar for coal and at the same time depriving the communities living there of fresh water! Because of greenhouse effect, Himalayan glaciers are melting which is affecting water flow in Indus river system has been affected, crop yields are reducing, people are dying from extreme weather events like floods, droughts and heat waves, coastal land is inundating due to sea level rise, transport infrastructure is being destroyed by heavy precipitation and people are inhaling polluted air and drinking water full of carcinogenic and neurotoxic pollutants because we want energy form coal! World is progressing. Countries, including China are reducing their fossil fuel energy infrastructure and boosting the use of renewable energy resources. Protecting climate is necessary. For Pakistan burning coal for energy is like firing your own house for some heat! Stop it! Stop burning coal!
- K. A. Mir and M. Ijaz. 2015. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory of Pakistan for the Year 2011–2012. GCISC-PR-19. Islamabad: Global Change Impact Studies Centre (GCISC).
- M. Ahmed and S. Suphachalasai. 2014. Assessing the Cost of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia. Manila: Asian Development Bank.
- Global Change Impact Studies Centre. 2005. Final Technical Report for APN CAPaBLE Project. Islamabad. http://www.gcisc.org.pk/2005-CRP01-CMY-Khan_CAPaBLE_FinalReport.pdf
- Q. Z. Chaudhry et al. 2009. Climate Change Indicators of Pakistan. Technical Report. No. 22.Islamabad: Pakistan Meteorological Department.
- T. J. Wilbanks and S. Fernandez. 2014. Climate Change and Infrastructure, Urban Systems, and Vulnerabilities: Technical Report for the US Department of Energy in Support of the National Climate Assessment. Island Press.
- Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. 2011. Climate Risk and Adaptation Country Profile. Washington DC: World Bank.
- Dehlavi et al. 2015. Climate Change Adaptation in the Indus Ecoregion: A Microeconometric Study of the Determinants, Impacts, and Cost Effectiveness of Adaptation Strategies. Islamabad: World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Pakistan.)
- M. M. Iqbal et al. 2009. Climate Change Aspersions on Food Security of Pakistan. Science Vision. 15 (1). Islamabad.)
- K. Hewitt. 2005. The Karakoram Anomaly? Glacier Expansion and the ‘Elevation Effect’, Karakoram Himalaya. Inner Asia. Mountain Research and Development: Special Issue – Climate Change in Mountains. 25 (4).
Gender equality for an inclusive energy transition
Women represent 32% of workers in renewables, a new survey and analysis conducted by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reveals. This compares to 22% reported in traditional energy industries like oil and gas and over 48% in global labor force participation. IRENA’s report Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective highlights significant opportunities for a greater gender balance in the global energy transformation. Based on responses from nearly 1500 participants in 144 countries, this new study is one of the largest surveys conducted on gender in renewable energy to date. It was presented to IRENA Members during a Special Evening Event at the 9th Assembly taking place in Abu Dhabi from 11-13 January 2019.
The global energy landscape is witnessing a rapid and wide-ranging change driven by an unprecedented growth of renewables. This transformation enables an array of social and economic benefits, including growing employment. IRENA estimates that the number of jobs in the sector could increase from 10.3 million in 2017 to nearly 29 million in 2050. The renewable energy sector offers diverse career opportunities along the value chain, requiring different skill sets and talents. The greater participation of women would allow this rapidly growing sector to draw on untapped female talents while ensuring the socially fair distribution of socio-economic opportunities of the global energy transformation.
Adopting a gender perspective to renewables development is important to ensure that women’s skills and views are part of the growing industry, participants in the survey recommend. Responses show that 75% of women, but only 40% of men, perceive the existence of barriers to women’s entry and advancement in the sector. The survey shows a similar gap about wage equity along gender lines: 60% of male respondents assume pay equity between women and men versus only 29% of female respondents. “Woman are often offered positions and say no because they believe they cannot do it”, said María Fernanda Suárez, Energy Minister of Colombia, encouraging woman to be bold. “We tell employers to employ women,” agreed Habiba Ali, CEO of Sosai Renewable Energies in Nigeria, “and we tell woman to stand up and say: I can do it.” Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, confirmed, “Gender equality is about social attitude. If this doesn’t change, nothing will move on”. Full support to gender equality in business by Harish Hande, Co-Founder of Selco India, “the fact that we are talking about gender in 2019 is shameful.”
Greater gender diversity brings substantial co-benefits, the survey finds. Mainstreaming gender perspectives, adopting gender-sensitive policies and tailoring training and skills development can help increase women’s engagement and ensure that women’s perspectives are fully articulated. Speaking at the Evening event, Gauri Singh from the Public Health & Family Welfare Department at the Renewable Energy Corporation in Madhya Pradesh agreed, calling on communities to empower woman. “We need clear and equal rules”, added Gabriela Cuevas Barron, Senator from Mexico and President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). “We have to set up an ecosystem that allows woman to combine the professional with family life.”
Women bring new perspectives to the workplace and improve collaboration, while increasing the number of qualified women in an organisation’s leadership yields better performance overall. In the context of energy access, engaging women as active agents in deploying off-grid renewable energy solutions is known to improve sustainability and maximise the socio-economic benefits. “We don’t achieve our sustainable energy for all agenda if we don’t advance on gender balance”, Sheila Oparaocha, International Coordinator and Programme Manager at ENERGIA Hivos reminded, suggesting to “start building the business case.”
IRENA’s survey reveals that modern energy access reduces drudgery, improves well-being and frees up time for women and girls to seek an education and engage in income-generating activities. Women are ideally placed to lead and support the delivery of off-grid energy solutions, especially in view of their role as primary energy users within the household and their social networks. Actively engaging women in deploying off-grid renewable energy solutions requires a particular focus on training and skills development, followed by access to finance and mainstreaming gender in energy access programmes, according to the survey respondents. The socio-economic dividends of gender mainstreaming are immense; with several examples covered in the report suggesting improvements in women’s self-perception and empowerment within the community.
During the evening’s panel discussion, Kudakwashe Ndhlukula, Executive Director from the Southern Africa Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency added that “from a renewables-side, we traditionally see women as victims. Now, we focus on ensuring that the benefits are shared equally.” Shawn Tupper, Associate Deputy Minister from Natural Resources Canada confirmed that new and 160th Member of IRENA intends to advance the gender agenda Internationally together with its partner.
While the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development specifically dedicates one goal to gender equality, detailed information related to gender equality in the renewable energy sector remains sparse. Renewable Energy: A Gender Perspective aims to contribute to filling this knowledge gap. Findings from the survey offer a glimpse into the current status of women’s participation in the sector and provide insights on what measures are needed, and by whom, to “engender” the energy transition.
Winners, losers and unintended consequences in the outlook for oil product demand
Debates about the future of oil tend to focus on total demand: how long it might continue to grow, when it might peak, and so on. But digging deeper into the prospects for individual oil products reveals a rich variety of stories of growth and decline that are also of great significance for the overall oil outlook.
Global oil consumption has been on an almost unbroken rising trend for decades, but there have already been divergent trends for individual oil products. Demand for heavy fuel oil, for example, has been declining since the 1980s, while the pace of demand growth for lighter products – such as ethane, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and naphtha – has been almost triple that of total oil demand.
In the World Energy Outlook’s New Policies Scenario, heavy fuel oil is set to face another blow when the International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s regulation on the sulfur content of bunker fuels comes into effect from 2020. Gasoline demand also peaks in the late 2020s as efficiency improvements, fuel switching and electrification weigh on oil demand for cars. But there are sectors where efficiency improvements or electrification are less effective in curbing oil demand, most notably the petrochemical sector.
As a result, demand for ethane, LPG and naphtha (mainly used as petrochemical feedstocks) continues to grow much faster than total oil demand in the New Policies Scenario. Robust growth in these lighter products (also known as the “top of the barrel”) means that their share of total oil consumption rises from 19% today to 23% in 2040. In contrast, the share of gasoline and heavy fuel oil declines from 33% to 28%. Refiners have coped with divergent trends for different oil products in the past, but the pace and extent of the changes envisaged in the New Policies Scenario still pose a significant test.
In the Sustainable Development Scenario, which provides an integrated strategy to meet Paris climate targets, achieve energy access, and significantly improve air quality, the share of “top of the barrel” products grows to an even greater extent. Oil demand in cars drops significantly; consumption for other transport modes – trucks, ships and aviation – also declines; but use in the petrochemical sector remains robust due to strong demand growth for chemical products in developing economies.
These changes engender a major shift in the composition of oil product demand. Demand for gasoline and diesel falls by some 50% and 35% respectively between today and 2040. Demand for kerosene and fuel oil also falls. By contrast, demand for ethane, naphtha and LPG grows by around 25%. LPG is also key in this scenario to tackle the negative health impacts associated with the traditional use of solid biomass as a cooking fuel in many developing countries. As a result, the share of lighter products rises to over 30% by 2040 in the Sustainable Development Scenario, which poses an unprecedented challenge for refiners.
Refiners are used to coping with changing demand patterns. In the past, these efforts were mainly focused on reducing heavier yields and increasing the output of gasoline and middle distillates (diesel and kerosene). The challenge in the Sustainable Development Scenario comes from a different angle: to increase the yield of lighter products and reduce the output of traditional refined products such as gasoline and diesel. Growth in the availability of natural gas liquids (NGLs) and lighter crude oil eases some of the pressure on refiners, at least in the near term. However, production of NGLs and of tight oil are both projected to fall back post-2025, while demand for lighter products continues to increase.
The mismatch between refinery configurations and product demand in the Sustainable Development Scenario would increase the incentives for refiners to deepen integration with petrochemical operations, and thereby boost the direct production of chemical products relative to transportation fuels. There are various technological pathways to increase chemical product yields beyond the levels that a refinery can typically produce (less than 10%).
Several Asian refineries have aromatics units attached to a refinery; high-severity fluid catalytic cracking technologies are being explored; while companies in China are building integrated petrochemical and refining facilities that aim to have chemical yields of around 40%. There are even more ambitious schemes being pursued in the Middle East to bypass refining operations and produce chemicals directly from crude oil.
Implications for the refining industry
The changes in product demand could also have profound implications for the business model of the refining industry. Today, refiners typically earn most of their profit from selling road transport fuels such as gasoline and diesel. Prices for petrochemical feedstocks – the main sources of demand growth – often trend lower than crude oil prices. The significant reduction in road transport fuel demand may therefore challenge this traditional pattern.
In theory, foregone profits in one area would be compensated by higher prices for products in high demand such as naphtha and LPG. While it is conceivable for the prices of these products to increase to some degree, it is hard to envisage a rise that fully compensates for the reduction in road transport fuels sales. The current interest in petrochemical integration reflects a desire to hedge against this risk by seeking out new business lines and revenue streams.
Implications for the energy transition
The IMO sulfur regulation is expected to increase demand for diesel and reduce that for high-sulfur fuel oil (HSFO) around 2020. This raises the prospect of a spike in diesel prices and a drop in HSFO prices, which could have broader economic ramifications beyond oil product markets. The regulation may provide an illustration of how changes in product demand can send ripples through the refining industry and then through the wider energy system.
Our projections highlight other possible mismatches between products demanded and refinery configurations, causing spikes or slumps in the price of individual oil products. While policy makers need to try to minimise the potential impacts of price spikes on energy consumers, they would also need to be attentive to the unintended influences of price slumps.
For example, if policy action were concentrated narrowly on the passenger car segment while other sectors – such as trucks, aviation, shipping and petrochemicals – were left relatively untouched, it would be difficult to avoid a glut of gasoline on the market once demand started to fall back. Efforts to curb oil use in passenger cars would therefore face much stronger headwinds because cheap gasoline would make efficiency improvements and electrification more difficult and expensive.
Avoiding such rebound effects would require removing fossil fuel subsidies or putting in place an offsetting tax or duty that maintains end-user prices at higher levels. Anticipating and mitigating these feedbacks from the supply side needs to be a central element of the discussion about orderly energy transitions.
Could tight oil go global?
Authors: Tim Gould and Christophe McGlade*
Tight oil production is today a largely US phenomenon. From less than 0.5 mb/d in 2010, production has surged to around 6 mb/d in 2018 and this growth shows little sign of slowing down any time soon. In the most recent World Energy Outlook, tight oil output continues to rise until well into the 2020s in the New Policies Scenario, reaching more than 9 mb/d. As a result, the United States reinforces its position as the world’s largest oil producer, accounting for almost one in every five barrels of production by 2025; it also become a net oil exporter.
This dramatic turnaround in fortunes has had profound implications for energy markets, and the consequences are also being felt beyond energy, for example in the renaissance of the US petrochemical industry. This example has also led many other countries to ask whether they too could experience a shale revolution.
So, what are the prospects for tight oil going global?
One key issue with tight oil production is the sheer number of wells that are needed to reach material levels of production. Production from an individual tight oil well declines very rapidly after it has been completed. If the rate of drilling drops, production is likely to follow suit shortly after. For example, in 2017, around 8 500 tight oil wells were completed in the United States and nearly 70% of these were needed simply to compensate for declines at existing wells. If no new wells had been completed after the end of 2017, we estimate that tight crude oil production would have fallen by around 1.8 mb/d within 12 months and by a further 0.6 mb/d in the next year.
The eternal tussle between innovation and depletion
A critical determinant of future production is having a sizeable resource potential. In theory, there are major tight oil resources in multiple countries. The latest assessment estimates that there are around 350 billion tight oil barrels that are technically recoverable outside the United States (triple the amount in the United States).
However, estimates of resource potential are subject to a huge degree of uncertainty. In some cases, this results in major upward revisions and in other cases to substantial downward revisions. For example, a recent reassessment by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) of the Permian shale play indicated that there were around 20 billion barrels more technically recoverable tight crude oil resources than was previously thought.
In our modelling, increases in the estimated US tight oil resource potential translate into higher projected production levels. For example, tight oil resources in the WEO-2018 (at about 115 billion barrels) are around 10% greater than in the WEO-2017, and production in 2025 is around 0.9 mb/d higher as a result.
Many observers expect further upward revisions in US resource estimates in the coming years. These should not be taken for granted, but they would be necessary to meet oil demand in the New Policies Scenario if the US shale industry is to compensate for a continued shortage of new conventional projects elsewhere.
In the end, as the United States has demonstrated, the only way to prove whether a resource is technically or economically producible is through drilling. A huge theoretical resource potential is no real indication that a shale industry can be successfully developed.
Tight oil is a relatively new production technique and many of the increases in resources in the United States have stemmed from technological progress. Yet even with continued innovation in the New Policies Scenario many of the most productive areas in the United States start to show signs of depletion by the mid-2020s (with the recoverable resource potential that we assume).
This means the average well drilled in 2025 is less productive than today and so a larger number of wells need to be completed to maintain or increase production. We estimate that achieving more than 9 mb/d tight crude oil production in the New Policies Scenario in the United States would require around 20 000 new wells to be drilled and completed in 2025. Thereafter, with our current estimate for recoverable resources, production starts to fall gradually.
How does the success of US shale affect prospects elsewhere?
The knowledge and expertise gained in the United States can clearly be of value in developing tight oil resources in other parts of the world. But, perhaps ironically, one reason for the lack of take-off of shale production (for both oil and gas) to date has been the degree of success in the United States. US tight oil was a central reason for the drop in the oil price in 2014 (and again in recent months), which dimmed the economics of similar production elsewhere.
The US shale sector has also absorbed a large portion of the attention and capital spending of international companies that could have otherwise invested elsewhere. Outside the United States, shale remains a relatively high-cost, poorly-understood resource that poses challenges stretching from access to land and availability of water to bureaucratic hurdles. A critical mass of activity and learning is necessary to generate economies of scale and bring down breakeven prices. But getting the momentum going for this is tough.
To date, only a limited number of countries have achieved some success with tight oil production. Canada produces around 0.4 mb/d tight oil and initial drilling in Argentina has been promising and suggested that resources could be large. Production there stands at around 50 kb/d today. Results have been less promising elsewhere, China, South Africa, and Ukraine all experimented with tight oil, for example, but production targets have been lowered or drilling abandoned altogether.
Despite these near-term difficulties, the New Policies Scenario does eventually see some spread in tight oil. Projected growth is most apparent in Argentina, Canada, Russia and Mexico, and there are also increases in Australia, China and the United Arab Emirates. By 2040, there is more than 3.5 mb/d of tight oil production from areas outside the United States. Crucially, the upturn in tight oil production does not really occur until after production in the United States reaches its peak of production.
As it becomes more difficult for companies to find commercial resources to develop, this encourages them to seek out opportunities elsewhere. There is, of course, a high degree of uncertainty in these projections. Developments could take off sooner if ongoing drilling activity is particularly successful (in Argentina for example), but could also be delayed if the oil price is suppressed for extended periods.
What if the world accelerated a transition away from hydrocarbons? Lower oil demand and prices in our Sustainable Development Scenario would pose a challenge to both the established shale industry in the United States and the more nascent industry elsewhere. Yet tight oil is also arguably a logical choice for many companies faced with uncertainty about the future. Decline rates are high and so there is less need for a long-term outlook on demand and prices. Operators need just enough market visibility to know when to increase or throttle back on drilling. Tight oil is also generally a relatively light crude oil that is well suited to provide the kinds of products in most demand in the Sustainable Development Scenario.
So, an accelerated energy transition would not necessarily constrain tight oil production as much as other types of resources. But, as we have emphasised in previous WEO analysis, prospects in individual jurisdictions also depend on the way that social and environmental concerns are addressed, as the scale and intensity of shale development can have major implications for local communities, land use and water resources, as well as for emissions.
In the world depicted in the Sustainable Development Scenario, there is likely to be even greater attention placed on these aspects. The prospects for tight oil going global depend not just on what is available below the surface, but also on how effectively and credibly these ‘above-ground’ issues are managed.
*Christophe McGlade, WEO energy analyst
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