There is a bookshelf in my office reserved for works of clean energy prophecy that are only a decade old but that now seem more out of date than Baden Powell’s 1908 Scouting for Boys. It includes The End of Oil and The Last Oil Shock. This shelf serves as my reality-check shrine. I mean no disrespect to the authors. Many shared their dreams, encouraged partly by the energy majors’ enthusiasm for, and invest- ment in, wind, solar and biofuels. It seemed that some in the hydrocarbon establishment were ready to participate in their own overthrow. Very few of us foresaw the transformational impact of shale gas or the considerable progress of enhanced oil recovery and unconventional oil. A decade on, most of the major energy corporate venturers’ clean energy ardour has cooled. New and established venturers are focusing on technology that meets the need of their core oil and gas businesses. But that does not mean clean-tech is off their radar. On the contrary, if you have superior clean water technology, the corporate venturing units of oil and gas majors are keen to hear from you. Their water needs are growing considerably as they move into more water-scarce regions, they expand into unconventional resources such as shale gas and oil sands, which are much more water intensive, and new regulations are introduced on the treatment of waste water. Sandra Eager, BP Ventures technology manager, says: “Our venturing is driven by the need for technology access. It is not just about financial returns, though they should also be good.” Eager, who spent last year consulting widely within the company before writing what is referred to internally as its “water investment thesis”, adds: “Seven key areas have been identified. Recycling and reuse is top because regulation is going to get tighter. But EOR [enhanced oil recovery – using water and chemicals to recover less- accessible oil] is equal top, which explains our interest in desalination technologies. Low salinity water is much more effective in EOR.” At the time of writing, BP Ventures has a water treat- ment company in due diligence, a “healthy pipeline” of other investment opportunities, and is prepared to invest across all stages, including seed. New venturing units set up over the past two years by Statoil, Saudi Aramco and Shell also have an express interest in water. The venture teams at Total, Cenovus and Chevron have been around slightly longer and have made water technology investments. High-efficiency desalination technologies, such as…
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Big energy dips toes in oily waters
Jun 10, 2013 • Tom Whitehouse
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