The controversy that dogged the climate summit shows the extent to which misinformation, politics, and outdated beliefs reign supreme — and hinder progress toward net zero, says this Texas expert. Photo by COP28 / Anthony Fleyhan

Before it even started, COP28 drew sharp condemnation from activists and left-leaning politicians who took issue with the climate conference location: the United Arab Emirates, a leading oil and gas-producing nation.

“Time to say ‘the F-words’?” CNBC asked in one headline, referring of course to “fossil fuel.” A group of US and EU lawmakers called for the removal of COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, head of the UAE’s national oil company Adnoc. And former Vice President Al Gore slammed the host nation and the summit itself, saying it was “abusing the public’s trust” because al-Jaber couldn’t be an honest broker of a climate deal.

I get it. The optics were certain to raise eyebrows and provide low-hanging fruit for critics. But the extent to which the conference became a global flash point was surprising even to the most cynical of onlookers. Finger-pointing took center stage, relegating rational discussion to the shadows. Misinformation and distrust flourished as a tired old energy transition narrative took hold — one that pits villain oil and gas against hero Renewables in an epic fight to save the planet.

At Workrise we follow data, not ideology, you’ll know that success in the energy transition is an all-of-the-above proposition. And in this regard, COP28 made progress. Reading the text of the agreement it’s clear that the delegation has adopted the view that the dominant suppliers of energy to the world — oil and gas companies — must be a part of the solution going forward, and accepted the reality that fuel sources like nuclear and natural gas must be leveraged if we are to reach our 2050 targets.

This pragmatic approach makes sense all the time, but it has particular resonance now as the industry undergoes a sea change in the form of consolidation. Nowhere is this M&A wave more keenly felt than in Texas, where the value of 2023 mergers and acquisitions in the Permian basin reached more than $100 billion after massive deals including ExxonMobil's proposed $60 billion purchase of Pioneer Natural Resources and Chevron's $53 billion acquisition of Hess. These kinds of deals will bring a seismic shift in the way the industry operates — including by enabling companies like Exxon and Chevron to find new production efficiencies, and further bake emissions reduction into their operating models.

But what becomes clear when reading the COP28 agreement is that in nearly all cases, the room was too divided to put measurable targets on the board that are enforceable. Nearly every “commitment” comes with words that provide loopholes and outs.

So what we have is a “deal” that stops short of the kind of black-and-white commitments that create accountability — a deal with language folks can live with, but that won’t meaningfully change realities on the ground. Which begs the question: Why is that, and why can’t we do more?

Two words: dogma and hostility. They are the root cause of the polarization that gripped the conference and steers the wider conversation about the energy transition worldwide. With those powerful forces holding sway, we will never get to agreements that have the teeth required to move the needle on this global challenge.

At the end of the day, it was impressive to see Al Jaber emerge from the summit with a deal of any kind, despite the fire storm that he fueled with his comments earlier in the conference.

What the world needs is leaders who are willing to put aside ideology, rely on proven facts, and grab every opportunity they have to move the chains. Just as important, those leaders need to understand the sensitivity of this topic — and how easily it becomes cannon fodder for those who seek to weaponize it. Without the right leadership, how can we hope for the general public to engage meaningfully in this debate, and to understand what their vote — whether they cast it with their wallet or at the ballot box — truly means?

So long as both sides of this debate dig in and throw stones at each other, the journey to net zero will continue to get longer and more arduous.

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Joshua Trott is chief revenue officer at Austin-based Workrise, which is a labor provider and supply chain solution for energy companies — including some in Houston.

From coal and consolidation to LNG and policy reform, here are eight predictions for the energy industry. Photo via Getty Images

8 energy industry predictions for 2024 from oil and gas experts

guest column

We hate to start with the bad news, but let’s get it out of the way. As we look to the year ahead, we see numerous challenges for the industry, from labor and geopolitics to OPEC and continued polarization in Washington. Times are complicated, and nothing looks to be getting simpler.

But there’s good news, too. Natural gas use is booming, and the production, transmission, and processing companies that move decisively here will see substantial upside. Additionally, those who diversify their businesses can get in early on new ventures and accelerate their progress — see Devon with Fervo in geothermal. Local nuclear, hydrogen, and carbon capture all represent similar opportunities.

From our vantage point working with many of the biggest operators and suppliers, we’re seeing activity that will have major ramifications for the industry in the coming year.

Here are eight predictions about what’s around the corner — the good, the bad, and the hopeful. Let’s dig in.

Prediction 1: Historic growth in natural gas demand will drive more favorable policy, which will enable more rapid development of natural gas infrastructure and pipelines.

What we’ll see: Early signals show over a 10 percent demand increase for natural gas through the end of 2025, driven largely by international factors. Supply disruptions in Europe due to Ukraine, shutdowns internationally on key nuclear projects, and efforts to move from coal to natural gas both in Europe and the developing world are all contributing factors.

Why it matters: As global demand increases, more LNG export facilities will either be upgraded or built in the United States to increase our capacity to export natural gas to markets around the world. New capital will flow to infrastructure like LNG export facilities, and then the opposite infrastructure will need to be built to take it back to liquid. We are already seeing movement on additional new projects in the US, and expect it to ramp significantly in 2024 and beyond. This demand-side pressure, coupled with the fact that natural gas has made meaningful strides on emissions, will drive a much more favorable policy posture. We believe this will enable the development of natural gas infrastructure and pipelines, and accelerated investment in combined cycle natural gas plants.

Prediction 2: Next year will be the year oil and gas starts to walk the walk when it comes to the energy transition.

What we’ll see: The year ahead will bring a more realistic approach to the energy transition from the big oil and gas companies. We expect to inch closer to consensus in the industry on the need for both improved emissions reduction andincreased diversification in order to meet the expectations of investors and secure new pathways to long-term growth.

While you may hear less about what companies are doing to drive the transition, they will actually be doing more via internal investment, consolidation in the form of M&A, andpublic/private partnerships.

Companies will also invest meaningfully in new technologies to lower their carbon footprints, and for operations of this size and scale, even incremental investments will have significant impact. Expect to see both organic and inorganic development as companies build new solutions internally and either invest in or acquire smaller companies that open up new pathways to emissions reduction, diversification, and ultimately growth.

This will result in even more mega deals as the majors and supermajors compete for a fixed number of assets (see: Chevron’s growing carbon capture interest and acquisition of Hess, Exxon’s acquisition of Pioneer, Oxy’s moves to cement its position as the industry leader in the carbon capture arena).

Why it matters: Make no mistake — we are still operating in a world where a large portion of investments in diversification and emissions reduction occupy the realm of R&D. Testing. Probing what's possible. Companies won't be broadcasting it because they don't know for sure what is going to work. But what we'll see is more of those investments coming to fruition. And while they may be a drop in the bucket for a supermajor, even a small increase in spend for the Chevrons and Exxons of the world will represent meaningful progress on the ground.

Prediction 3: The oil and gas M&A wave will drive massive consolidation on the services side of the industry.

What we’ll see: As larger oil and gas companies acquire companies to secure new assets and build pathways to future growth, consolidation of the leadership teams that manage their operations will have ripple effects. This will significantly impact decisions on which vendors continue to service the operations of the company post-integration. Because of this, the vendors they choose to work with will massively grow as they are folded into the larger company’s operations, while the others will get cut out and see demand shrink considerably.

Why it matters: The services companies who win out will buy up the smaller companies to keep up with growth. Consolidation will shift the balance of power among companies, leaving those that lose out to either drastically shrink or go out of business entirely. As companies consolidate services under their go-to strategic vendors, these same vendors will gain significant pricing leverage over their clients. And more consolidation will mean less competition on the supply side of the equation, which will further drive up costs that are already rising, according to a recent NewtonX benchmark study on the oil and gas supply chain.

Prediction 4: The oil and gas industry will continue to struggle with a broken skills transfer pipeline.

What we’ll see: The industry is experiencing a massive age-out of seasoned employees, coupled with a lack of new talent choosing a career in oil and gas, leading to skills gaps and labor shortages. This is exacerbated by the sector’s longtime reliance on an apprenticeship model. At the same time, the industry is making strides with technology, empowering individual employees to do more than ever before. But these advancements require new and different skills which won't, at least in the next 12 months, help address the root problem here. Until then, these gaps have the potential to drive increasingly unsafe labor environments.

Why it matters: More than ever, oil and gas companies will need access to trusted vendors with experienced talent and advanced technology that can handle complex projects while maintaining the highest safety standards. The industry must stay more vigilant than ever to avoid increased rates of accidents and fatalities in the field due to the continued decline in available, qualified talent. And, of course, it must develop its current employees. Just under half of the respondents in our supply chain benchmark study reported that they were “investing in employee training and development” to meet their most pressing challenges.

Prediction 5: We’ll see the dawning of a nuclear renaissance.

What we’ll see: Nuclear energy will shake off the vestiges of its battered reputation as the public and private sectors begin to see it for what it is: a safe and reliable long-term solution for sustainable power generation. Expect small nuclear modular reactors (SMNRs) at home and abroad to drive nuclear investment and innovation, alongside continued reinvestment in existing large-scale infrastructure.

Why it matters: As nuclear returns to favor, localized nuclear power will evolve in the US. The federal government is already taking more of a pro-nuclear approach, actively investing in and retooling existing plants to increase the facilities’ lifespans. And there is Congressional support on both sides of the aisle. According to a new PEW study, half of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents and two-thirds of Republicans now say they favor expanding nuclear power. Companies at the cutting edge of this sea change will begin to harness it to make hydrogen.

Prediction 6: We haven’t hit peak coal yet.

What we’ll see: Coal utilization and consumption, driven by the demand from the developing world — Africa, parts of Asia, and South America — have risen over the past 18 months. Expect this to continue. Despite the immense damage caused to the planet by the burning of coal, putting it at odds with the global goal of a sustainable future, countries lacking in sufficient power still see coal as a faster, less expensive way to provide the energy they need to grow their economies.

Why it matters: The rise of coal usage will continue to put us farther and farther behind as a planet until we can offer reliable, cost-effective, and cleaner alternatives. One alternative is natural gas power generation (which creates50 to 60 percent fewer carbon emissions than coal power generation) in the regions where it is needed most. But given how polarized the climate debate has become, only time will tell whether LNG will be accepted as a viable bridge fuel in the court of public opinion

Prediction 7: As our progress falls behind schedule relative to 2050 goals, political tensions will continue to rise.

What we’ll see: We can expect the election year in the U.S. to accelerate the ideological polarization we have endured in the oil and gas vs. Renewables debate. At the same time, the planet will slide on the emissions scoreboard due to coal usage in the developing world, lack of movement on industrial commodities like steel, and the slow march of progress on getting renewable energy sources to be viable from an investment standpoint without the aid of government subsidies.

Why it matters: This will only stoke the anger from the left, and cause the right to dig in even further as oil and gas continues to carry the global energy supply and power the global economy. And paradoxically, if you accept that coal is the single worst enemy of climate progress, the polarization we see will only limit our ability to eradicate coal from our global energy mix. Why? Because there is no cleaner, more readily available alternative to natural gas. And we need comprehensive infrastructure and energy policy reform to unleash U.S. national gas on this global crisis. That’s why we’ve made the case that comprehensive policy reform should be Washington's top domestic priority over the next 12 months. It's crucial for both the economy and our national security.

Prediction 8: The influence of OPEC will be put to the test.

What we’ll see: Production elsewhere in the world, including Canada and the US, will continue to rise, which will challenge OPEC influence. Countries will re-evaluate trade routes and trading relationships due to increased buying options, which present the opportunity to lower costs for domestic consumers, kickstart consumer spending, and increase energy security.

Why it matters: Expect more extreme business and production tactics as OPEC members strain to maintain control of global energy markets. Take note of new alliances and trade partnerships begin to form and watch rising powers make their first moves on the global energy chessboard as we start to see a new world order take shape.

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Joshua Trott and Adam Hirschfeld are executives at Austin-based Workrise, which is a labor provider and supply chain solution for energy companies — including some in Houston.

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Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

mixed reviews

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

New collaboration to build data center microgrid in Houston

coming soon

Two companies are teaming up to build a natural gas microgrid in Houston that will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

Provider of prime and backup power solutions RPower has teamed up with Houston’s ViVaVerse Solutions to build a 17-megawatt (MW) microgrid at the ViVa Center campus in Houston, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of the year.

The microgrid plans to employ ultra-low emissions and natural gas generators to deliver Resiliency-as-a-Service (RaaS), and this will connect to ViVaVerse's colocation data center operations during utility outages.

RPower will also deploy the microgrid across different ERCOT market programs, which will contribute to assist with essential capacity and ancillary services for the local grid. ERCOT has increased its use of renewable energy in recent years, but still has faced criticism for unstable conditions. The microgrids can potentially assist ERCOT, and also help cut back on emissions.

“RPower's pioneering microgrid will not only deliver essential N+1 resiliency to our data center operations but will also contribute to the local community by supplying necessary capacity during peak demand periods when the electric grid is strained,” Eduardo Morales, CEO of ViVaVerse Solutions and Morales Capital Group, says in a news release.

ViVaVerse Solutions will be converting the former Compaq Computer/HPE headquarters Campus into an innovative technology hub called the ViVa Center, which will host the High-Performance Computing Data Center, and spaces dedicated to mission critical infrastructure and technical facilities . The hub will host 200 data labs.

“We are thrilled to partner with ViVaVerse to deploy this `first of its kind' microgrid solution in the data center space,” Jeff Starcher, CEO of RPower, adds. “Our natural gas backup generation system delivers the same reliability and performance as traditional diesel systems, but with a 98 percent reduction in emissions. Further, the RPower system provides critical grid services and will respond to the volatility of renewable generation, further enabling the energy transition to a carbon free future.”