Standard Lithium retaining operatorship, while Equinor will support through its core competencies, like subsurface and project execution capabilities. Photo via Equinor.com

A Norwegian international energy company has entered into a deal to take a 45-percent share in two lithium project companies in Southwest Arkansas and East Texas.

Equinor, which has its U.S. headquarters in Houston, has reached an agreement with Vancouver, Canada-based Standard Lithium Ltd. to make the acquisition. Standard Lithium retaining operatorship, while Equinor will support through its core competencies, like subsurface and project execution capabilities.

“Sustainably produced lithium can be an enabler in the energy transition, and we believe it can become an attractive business. This investment is an option with limited upfront financial commitment. We can utilise core technologies from oil and gas in a complementary partnership to mature these projects towards a possible final investment decision,” says Morten Halleraker, senior vice president for New Business and Investments in Technology, Digital and Innovation at Equinor, in a news release.

Standard Lithium retains the other 55 percent of the projects. Per the deal, will pay $30 million in past costs net to the acquired interest. The company also agreed to carry Standard Lithium's capex of $33 million "to progress the assets towards a possible final investment decision," per the release. Additionally, Equinor will make milestone payments of up to $70 million in aggregate to Standard Lithium should a final investment decision be taken.

Lithium is regarded as important to the energy transition due to its use in battery storage, including in electric vehicles. Direct Lithium Extraction, or DLE, produces the mineral from subsurface reservoirs. New technologies have the potential to improve this production method while lowering the environmental footprint.

Earlier this month, Houston-based International Battery Metals, whose technology offers an eco-friendly way to extract lithium compounds from brine, announced that it's installing what it’s billing as the world’s first commercial modular direct-lithium extraction plant located at US Magnesium’s operations outside Salt Lake City. The plant is expected to go online later this year.

bp is now using Baker Hughes emissions abatement technology, flare.IQ, to quantify methane emissions from its flares. Photo via Canva

Baker Hughes, bp team up on flare emissions monitoring tech

partnerships

Two energy companies with Houston headquarters are collaborating on flare emissions monitoring.

According to a news release, bp is now using Baker Hughes emissions abatement technology, flare.IQ, to quantify "methane emissions from its flares, a new application for the upstream oil and gas sector." The statement goes on to explain that the industry doesn't have a to methane emission quantifying, and that bp ad Baker Hughes has facilitated a large, full-scale series of studies on the technology.

Now, bp is utilizing 65 flares across seven regions to reduce emissions.

“bp’s transformation is underway, turning strategy into action through delivery of our targets and aims. We don’t have all the answers, and we certainly can’t do this on our own," Fawaz Bitar, bp senior vice president of Health Safety Environment & Carbon, says in the release. "Through our long-standing partnership with Baker Hughes, we have progressed technology and implemented methane quantification for oil and gas flares, helping us to achieve the first milestone of our Aim 4. We continue to look at opportunities like this, where we can collaborate across the industry to find solutions to our biggest challenges."

The flare.IQ technology is a part of Baker Hughes’ Panametrics product line portfolio, and it builds on 40 years of ultrasonic flare metering technology experience. The advanced analytics platform provides operators with real-time, decision-making data.

“Our collaboration with bp is an important landmark and a further illustration that technology is a key enabler for addressing the energy trilemma of security, sustainability and affordability,” Ganesh Ramaswamy, executive vice president of Industrial & Energy Technology at Baker Hughes, says in the release. “As a leader in developing climate technology solutions, such as our flare.IQ emissions monitoring and abatement technology, cooperations like the one we have with bp are key to testing and validating in the field solutions that can enable operators to achieve emissions reduction goals efficiently and economically.”

The research outfit says North America leads global AI growth in oil and gas, with Houston playing a pivotal role. Image via Shutterstock

Houston rises as emerging hub for $6B global AI in oil and gas industry, per new report

by the numbers

Houston is emerging as a hub for the development of artificial intelligence in the oil and gas industry — a global market projected to be worth nearly $6 billion by 2028.

This fresh insight comes from a report recently published by ResearchAndMarkets.com. The research outfit says North America leads global AI growth in oil and gas, with Houston playing a pivotal role.

“With AI-driven innovation at its core, the oil and gas industry is set to undergo a profound transformation, impacting everything from reservoir optimization to asset management and energy consumption strategies — setting a new standard for the future of the sector,” says ResearchAndMarkets.com.

The research company predicts the value of the AI sector in oil and gas will rise from an estimated $3.2 billion in 2023 and $3.62 billion in 2024 to $5.8 billion by 2028. The report divides AI into three categories: software, hardware, and hybrids.

As cited in the report, trends that are sparking the explosion of AI in oil and gas include:

  • Stepped-up use of data
  • Higher demand for energy efficiency and sustainability
  • Automation of repetitive tasks
  • Optimization of exploration and drilling
  • Enhancement of safety

“The oil and gas industry’s ongoing digitization is a significant driver behind … AI in the oil and gas market. Rapid adoption of AI technology among oilfield operators and service providers serves as a catalyst, fostering market growth,” says ResearchAndMarkets.com.

The report mentions the Open AI Energy Initiative as one of the drivers of increased adoption of AI in oil and gas. Baker Hughes, C3 AI, Microsoft, and Shell introduced the initiative in February 2021. The initiative enables energy operators, service providers, and vendors to create sharable AI technology for the oil and gas industry.

Baker Hughes and C3 AI jointly market AI offerings for the oil and gas industry.

Aside from Baker Hughes, Microsoft, and Shell, other companies with a significant Houston presence that are cited in the AI report include:

  • Accenture
  • BP
  • Emerson Electric
  • Google
  • Halliburton
  • Honeywell
  • Saudi Aramco
  • Schlumberger
  • TechnipFMC
  • Weatherford International
  • Wood

Major AI-related trends that the report envisions in the oil and gas sector include the:

  • Digital twins for asset modeling
  • Autonomous robotics
  • Advanced analytics for reservoir management
  • Cognitive computing for decision-making
  • Remote monitoring and control systems

“The digitization trend within the oil and gas sector significantly propels the AI in oil and gas market,” says the report.

———

This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Shell’s Savion subsidiary, which the energy giant acquired in 2021, plans to sell about one-fourth of its solar generation and storage assets. Photo via shell.us

Shell shrinks renewable portfolio yet again with latest divestment

sunsetting solar?

In a move aimed at focusing more on its oil and gas business, Houston-based Shell USA continues to scale back its wind and solar energy portfolio.

The Reuters news service reported February 29 that Shell’s Savion subsidiary, which the energy giant acquired in 2021, plans to sell about one-fourth of its solar generation and storage assets. These assets represent as much as 10.6 gigawatts of generation and storage capacity.

This development follows the completion in early February of deals for Kansas City, Missouri-based Savion to sell its 50 percent stake in a solar energy project in Ohio and for Houston-based Shell Wind Energy to sell its 60 percent stake in a wind farm in Texas.

The buyer of the Texas and Ohio assets was London-based investment manager InfraRed Capital Partners. Shell says it’ll manage both projects.

On its website, Savion says it has solar generation and storage projects underway totaling 38.1 gigawatts of capacity. Meanwhile, it has completed projects offering another 2.3 gigawatts of capacity.

During an investor presentation last June, Shell CEO Wael Sawan indicated that, for now, the company would put more of an emphasis on higher-profit oil and gas production and less of an emphasis on lower-profit renewable energy generation.

“It is critical that the world avoids dismantling the current energy system faster than we are able to build the clean energy system of the future. Oil and gas will continue to play a crucial role in the energy system for a long time to come, with demand reducing only gradually over time,” said Sawan, adding that “continued investment in oil and gas is critical to ensure a balanced energy transition.”

Sawan rose to the top post at Shell in January 2023, replacing Ben van Beurden. Sawan previously was Shell’s director of integrated gas, and renewables and energy solutions.

Reflecting Shell’s shifting priorities under Sawan’s leadership, the company’s spending in its renewables and energy solutions division fell 23 percent in 2023 compared with previous year, according to a Reuters analysis.

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.

__

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 lands on the wrong end of national pollution report

big yikes

Houston just made a list that no one wants it to be on.

Data compiled by the National Public Utilities Council ranks Houston as the 15th most polluted city in the U.S. No other Texas city appears in the ranking. Three California cities — Bakersfield, Visalia, and Fresno — took the top three spots.

The ranking considers a city’s average volume of fine particulate matter in the air per year. Fine particulate matter (formally known as PM2.5) includes soot, soil dust, and sulphates.

The council based its ranking on the average annual concentration of PM2.5 as measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air, known as µg/m3. The ranking lists Houston’s average annual µg/m3 as 11.4. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a top µg/m3 of 5, while the American Lung Association sets 9 µg/m as an average annual guideline.

A report released in 2024 by Smart Survey found that the Houston area had just 38 days of good air quality the previous year.

“Most of Houston’s air pollution comes from industrial sources and diesel engines, although sources as diverse as school buses and meat cooking also contribute to … the problem,” the nonprofit Air Alliance Houston says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says PM2.5 poses “the greatest risk to health” of any particulate matter. Among other health issues, fine particulate matter contributes to cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and chronic pulmonary disease.

Among the sources of PM2.5 are wildfires, wood-burning stoves, and coal-fired plants, according to the American Lung Association.

The WHO says air pollution causes 7 million deaths annually and may cost the global economy $18 trillion to 25 trillion by 2060. With 70 percent of the population expected to live in urban centers by mid-century, cities are at the forefront of efforts to reduce pollution, according to National Public Utilities Council.

Energy transition events roundup, 3 Houston cos. make it to global competition finals, and more things to know

Editor's note: Dive headfirst into the new week with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: a really big deal from last week, three startups make it to the finals of an Elon Musk-backed competition, and five events not to miss.

Companies to watch: 

Twenty promising climatetech companies were selected to advance to the final stage of a global competition backed by Elon Musk's foundation — and three of the finalists hail from Houston.

Vaulted Deep, Mati Carbon, and Climate Robotics secured finalists spots in XPRIZE's four-year global competition is designed to combat climate change with innovative solutions. XPRIZE Carbon Removal will offer $100 million to innovators who are creating solutions that removes carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or the oceans, and then sequester it sustainably.

The finalists — categorized into four sections: air, rocks, oceans, and land — were selected based upon their performance in three key areas: operations, sustainability, and cost. Click here to read more.

Events not to miss

Put these Houston-area energy-related events on your calendar.

  • 2nd Annual Geothermal Transition Summit for North America will take place May 21 and 22 at The Hilton Greenway Plaza. Engage in discussions on early-project development, industry policies, the synergy with the oil and gas industry, methods to enhance commerciality, and explore case studies from ground-breaking projects.Register now.
  • The Energy Drone & Robotics Summit is coming to Houston June 10 to 12. Join for the ultimate event in the world for UAVs, Robotics & Data/AI, 3D Reality Capture, Geospatial and Digital Twins focused on the business and technology in energy & industrial operations, inspections, maintenance, surveying & mapping. Register now.
  • Argus Clean Ammonia North America Conference will take place on June 12 to 14 at the Hyatt Regency Houston. Over the three days of the conference, explore the big questions many producers are facing around where demand is coming from, expect to hear perspectives from key domestic consumers as well as international demand centres for clean ammonia. Register now.
  • Join the over 150 senior energy and utilities leaders from June 17 to 18 in Houston for AI in Energy to unlock the potential of AI within your enterprise and delve into key areas for its development.Register now.
  • Energy Underground (June) is a group of professionals in the Greater Houston area that are accelerating the Energy Transition that connect monthly at The Cannon - West Houston. Register now.

Big deal: Equinor bets on lithium

Equinor, which has its U.S. headquarters in Houston, has entered into a deal to take a 45-percent share in two lithium project companies in Southwest Arkansas and East Texas. The agreement is with Vancouver, Canada-based Standard Lithium Ltd. to make the acquisition. Standard Lithium retaining operatorship, while Equinor will support through its core competencies, like subsurface and project execution capabilities.

Standard Lithium retains the other 55 percent of the projects. Per the deal, will pay $30 million in past costs net to the acquired interest. The company also agreed to carry Standard Lithium's capex of $33 million "to progress the assets towards a possible final investment decision," per the release. Additionally, Equinor will make milestone payments of up to $70 million in aggregate to Standard Lithium should a final investment decision be taken. Click here to read more.

Houston company secures $100M to fund solar projects across New York

fueling up

Houston’s Catalyze announced that it secured $100 million in financing from NY Green Bank to support a 79 megawatt portfolio of community distributed generation solar projects across the state of New York.

The loan is part of Catalyze’s increased presence in New York State with operational projects coming to Lancaster and Amherst. Catalyze’s proprietary suite of technology will bring solar development practices to the area.

Catalyze is a Houston-headquartered clean energy transition company that builds, owns, finances, and operates solar and battery storage systems. Catalyze is backed by leading energy investors EnCap Investments L.P. and Actis. NY Green Bank is a division of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

The deal aims to advance New York State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act goal of installing six gigawatts of distributed solar by 2025. This is part of a larger goal to 10 GW by 2030.

Catalyze owns two proprietary technologies in REenergyze, which is an origination-to-operations software integration platform to accelerate and scale nationwide adoption of commercial and industrial solar and storage, and SolarStrap. SolarStrap isa mounting technology to install rooftop panels.

“We are excited to leverage our extensive community solar expertise to ensure the success of NY Green Bank’s term loan supporting a community distributed generation (CDG) portfolio,” Jared Haines CEO of Catalyze, says in a news release. “CDG is one of the most effective means of making solar energy more accessible to low-to-moderate income communities, and we look forward to how this partnership will support both the goals of NY Green Bank and New York State.”