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Decarbonizing the Arctic: Santos' Innovative Approach to Lowering Carbon Emissions in Alaska

Published by Todd Bush on July 4, 2024

The pressure to reduce carbon emissions is forcing a major shift in the oil industry. Australian oil company Santos is taking a bold step with its new Alaskan development, the Pikka oil field, which they claim will be "climate-friendly."

ConocoPhillips' Willow project on Alaska's North Slope

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Santos in Alaska: A New Player on the North Slope

Santos, a well-established Australian oil and gas company, is entering the Alaskan scene with the Pikka project. This significant development on Alaska's North Slope holds the potential to reshape the state's oil industry.

Strategies for Decarbonization: Beyond Offsets

Santos' approach goes beyond the typical industry practice of carbon offsets, which involve investing in projects that reduce carbon elsewhere to compensate for emissions produced. Their plan incorporates two innovative strategies:

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): Santos aims to capture emissions directly from North Slope power plants and drill pads. They also plan to explore "direct air capture," a new technology that sucks carbon dioxide out of the air. The captured carbon would then be safely stored underground.

Offsets: Santos acknowledges the role of offsets in achieving net-zero emissions. They might invest in projects like reforestation or renewable energy initiatives to compensate for the emissions generated by burning the extracted oil.

Impact on Alaska's Oil Industry

Santos' commitment to decarbonization stands in contrast to the practices of established Alaskan oil companies like ConocoPhillips. This could influence future regulatory policies and public perception within the state. The potential economic benefits include job creation in new technology sectors and a more sustainable long-term future for Alaska's oil industry.

A diagram from a Santos presentation to Alaska legislators and staff earlier this year

Broader Implications for Global Carbon Reduction

Santos' strategies align with the goals of the Paris Agreement, a landmark international treaty on climate change. Their success could inspire other oil companies to adopt similar practices. However, the scalability of CCS and offsets as solutions for large-scale carbon reduction remains a question.

Challenges and Skepticism

Concerns exist regarding the cost-effectiveness and technological feasibility of CCS and direct air capture. Environmental groups criticize these technologies as a potential delay tactic for transitioning away from fossil fuels altogether. Transparency and accountability are crucial to address concerns about "greenwashing," a tactic where companies create a misleading impression of environmental responsibility.

A Promising Step Towards a Sustainable Future

Santos' innovative approach to decarbonization in Alaska represents a significant step forward. While challenges remain, their efforts hold promise for positive impacts on both local and global scales. Continued investment in research and development of these technologies is crucial for a future where the oil industry can coexist with a healthy planet.

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