Bernard Looney of BP says methane leaking from gas wells is a “huge” environmental and economic problem.

The boss of one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers has called for an industry crackdown on fugitive emissions, saying it doesn’t make sense for companies to let their products escape.

Bernard Looney, BP’s head of oil and gas, said methane leaks from gas wells in Australia and around the world was a “major problem” that needed to be fixed on both economic and environmental grounds.

In a wide-ranging interview with ABC, Looney also said that investment in new oil and gas projects will be needed through 2050, even as global economies move toward carbon neutrality.

The 52-year-old said tackling what he described as the energy triad of emissions intensity, security and affordability was a complex task.

But he said the unprecedented energy crisis that erupted in 2022 showed just how high the stakes are and why governments and investors must be careful about how they manage the shift to renewables.

Bursts of flame emanate from slender tubes in a clear sky.
Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon during the first 20 years it is in the atmosphere.(AP: David Goldman)

“What you will see over time, is less demand for hydrocarbons, less investment in hydrocarbons,” Looney said.

But this is not the same as no investment.

“Oil and gas fields are declining faster than societal demand will decline.

And in that medium, you have to invest.

“You have to invest – otherwise, you end up with the problem we have today, which is you don’t have enough supply, prices are going through the roof and the consumer is affected and obviously starts to ask, ‘What are we trying to do here?'”

A massive ship dwarfs in front of one of the dozens of massive turbines on an offshore wind farm.
There are calls for BP to emulate other former oil producers who have shifted entirely to green energy.(Supplied: Southern Star)

The less you leak, the more you sell

When he rose to the top job at the world’s sixth-largest oil and gas company in 2020, Looney outlined ambitious plans to reduce carbon production at the company.

One key solution was to address the leakage of methane from BP’s production wells, a greenhouse gas far more powerful than carbon.

Looney noted that methane is a natural gas, and therefore it makes no environmental or economic sense to waste it.

“The less you leak, the more you sell, and there is an economic benefit to that in and of itself,” said the Irishman.

“It is an absolute priority for our company.

“In many parts of the world, increased regulation on methane means that there will be a cost in the regulatory system of methane leakage.”

A tall worker and hard hat stand in front of a large BP-branded tank turret.
BP is known to many Australians as a distributor and dealer of fuels.(AAP: Dan Peled)

Clean Energy Finance Director Tim Buckley, a leading advocate for renewable energy, said BP’s efforts to reduce methane emissions sound real.

Mr Buckley said the importance of preventing methane emissions should not be underestimated.

“The reason methane is so important is because it literally accounts for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions each year,” Buckley said.

“The scientific agreement is evaluated on the basis of a 100-year offer, but we have a climate emergency which means we have to really talk about methane in a 20-30 year agreement.

“Methane on this basis is 84 to 86 times worse than carbon dioxide.

“It’s the elephant in the room.”

Two people stand on top of a bush hill on a glorious day in the hinterland.
BP controls plans to build the world’s largest renewable energy project at Pilbara, WA.(ABC catalyst)

Green Australia Opportunity

Another part of the change under Looney has been BP’s shift towards cleaner technologies such as wind, hydrogen, biogas and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Earlier this year, the British company bought a controlling stake in the world’s largest green energy show – the $52 billion Asian Renewable Energy Center in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

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