Workshop on Sustainability of the Hydrocarbon Value Chain in Mexico

By John Beath

May 20


During the week of May 15th 2018, Mexico held a workshop to develop a strategy for conducting research on the sustainability of its hydrocarbon value chain and I was honored to serve as an invited delegate to the Life Cycle Assessment Thematic Track.  The conference sponsors were:  Stanford University Precourt Institute for Energy, Institutu Mexicano del Petroleo, Secretarta de Energia (Mexico)

The purpose of this event was to guide Mexico’s efforts to adapt to its recently realigned petroleum production and refining resources (no longer a national oil company alone).  More specifically, it is seeking to address the challenge imposed by growing its production of oil and gas while upholding its agreement to honor the Paris Accord for carbon emissions reduction.

As an American, the opportunity to participate in a gathering to determine what a nation should do to address sustainability was inspiring, especially since the US government has taken such a dramatic turn away from this kind of thinking related to sustainability recently.  At the core, this gathering of more than 100 technical experts from the Mexico, the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia brought us together to create something likely never produced before – a plan for developing the knowledge needed to guide a country from no clear policy into best practices.  Those who participated got their ideas heard and learned from the experiences of their colleagues.  Just getting to see how such an undertaking could be organized and executed was enlightening.

There are many challenges as Mexico grows its oil and gas economy, including that the landscape will be changing as it does.  The picture above was provided by Dr. Megan Jobson from the University of Manchester).

The conference organizers selected five topics and divided the workshop participants into teams to address each of them.  The topics selected were:

  1. Utilization of Oil and Gas Resources
  2. Development of LCA and Eco-Efficiency Tools
  3. Efficient Use of Water
  4. Social Impacts and Co-Benefits
  5. Policy Options for Supporting Sustainability

Each team produced recommendations for national priorities and compiled a list of challenges and opportunities.  The results are being compiled into a support document that IMP will use to guide the allocation of research funding (and likely for other purposes).

I found this slide particularly striking as we contemplated what next. It shows how small a role hydrocarbon fuels have played in civilization when you look both forward and backward.

The teams definitely found it difficult to separate more general improvement recommendations from the technical issues in these themes, and the report-out included a wide variety of specific items that overlapped and extended outside of the boundaries suggested by the themes.  Taken together, this body of work probably compiles some of the best sustainability recommendations for the oil and gas and petrochemical sectors that have been compiled from a national perspective to date.

The technical experts in attendance from the US in my topic area (LCA) brought some important perspectives for consideration that sought to improve several key aspects that had not developed ideally in the US.  These were:

  • Addressing needs with a coordinated regional approach to support the growth of oil shale production (e.g., water use, infrastructure growth, social impact management)
  • Development of a national equipment-specific baseline using a standardized methodology for both carbon and water use that reflects current operations so that progress can be mapped overtime (access to site impact totals is not helpful if you don’t know what is at the site)
  • Gathering of production data along with CO2 and CH4 emissions estimates so that results could be more effectively benchmarked, validated and analyzed

I’ll provide more details as to the findings in a separate post.




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