May 29, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Winners and losers in crude oil musical chairs

Animated photo illustration of a chair with oil dripping onto from above and onto the floor.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Norway is poised to win and Canada is likely to lose when it comes to oil and gas in a world tackling climate change.

Driving the news: Norway has the lowest carbon dioxide intensity per produced barrel of oil equivalent, while Canada has the highest, according to new data from consultancy Rystad Energy.

Why it matters: In a world drastically reducing heat-trapping emissions, producers with the cleanest fossil fuels relative to each other will fare best. That's because even in a 2050 future with drastically fewer emissions, society will still need oil and gas, it will just be a lot less — and cleaner.

Flashback: I likened this concept to a crude musical game of chairs in a column from September 2019.

  • The world’s oil, natural gas and coal producers are, metaphorically speaking, encircling a bunch of chairs, and as the world tightens its grip on heat-trapping emissions, the use of these fuels will drop — as will the number of chairs.

One level deeper: Not all oil and gas is the same. The producers remaining at the end will be there because they have the cleanest oil and gas. Canada, for example, relies on a heavy kind from its oil sands whose carbon intensity is high compared to other kinds.

The big picture: The U.S., as the world's biggest producer of oil and gas, is also the world's biggest overall emitter of carbon from oil and gas, Rystad found. Its intensity per barrel of oil equivalent is fifth, after Norway and three Middle Eastern countries.

Go deeper: Fossil fuels bracing for crude game musical chairs

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