07.29.2021

Former Natural Gas Exec Weighs Climate Controversy: Interview Part 1.

By Ian Palmer

Global warming is not controversial, but the causes are. Kevin Kilstrom, a petroleum engineer with over 40 years of experience in the oil and gas industry, and previously Senior Vice President of Antero Resources, addresses extreme weather, greenhouse gas emissions, and Leonardo DiCaprio as part of a series of interviews with people on both sides of the unfolding climate controversy as it relates to oil and gas.   

This is Part 1 of the interview – Part 2 will come separately.

IP: In the past fifty years, have extreme weather events increased and been attributed to global warming?

KK: Extreme weather events are not worsening over time as documented by IPCC studies. Sea levels are on a slow march up, about 3 mm/year or 1 ft/century for the last 8,000 years. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, fires, other such calamities are all documented in the IPCC reports as trends that are not worsening since mid-20th century. 

A perfect example is the frequency of tornadoes. When looking at level EF1 and stronger, there is no increase from 1954 to 2014 and for level EF3 and stronger, there is actually a decline of ~40%. 

Available records show extremes in long term trends prior to human impacts, such as elevation of the Nile River for a 650-year period commencing in the 7th century, Colorado River flows for the last 1200 years from tree ring data showing a number of “mega-droughts” worse than the current drought (per National Climate Assessment of 2009).

IP: In the last 5 years the world has run headlong into statistical outliers that seem to imply a cause and effect beyond a natural cause. I’m thinking of the 30-inch flood in Louisiana in 2016, the wildfires in Australian in 2019, the recent heat wave in Canada, and now the wildfires in California and Oregon and the flooding in Germany.

KK: There have been outliers in drought records going back thousands of years and in extended flood records.  

There does seem to be a trend of increasing forest fires associated with global warming, and IPCC Special Report 15 (SR15) attributes this to increasing dryness of fuel for the western USA, and yes, warming temperatures will increase dryness of fuel supply. Other factors involved are forest management regarding fuel accumulation, and human-caused ignition which account for nearly 85% of fires (see Unsettled, pg 144).  Useful mitigation steps include better clearing of forest fuel, and education or controls on human initiated fires.

IP: The US and Australia are both emitting 17 tonnes of CO2 per capita in 2018, and Canada is only slightly less. Only 6 small countries exceed this level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per capita. Since fossil energies contribute 75% of global GHG, shouldn’t wealthy countries wind down their fossil energies?

KK: Reducing human caused GHG is probably a good thing, though there are some positive aspects to a slightly warmer climate. But even if wealthy countries reduced global emissions back to 1950 levels, where does this get the world which is emitting about 50 Gigatons (GT) per year? China now accounts for 10 GT/year while Europe and the USA combined emit approximately 11 GT/year. Likewise, India with 17% of the world’s population is on a steady upward march and now totals almost 3 GT/year. China and India along with Africa total over 51% of the world’s population and combined are steadily increasing their emissions. 

Poor countries are increasing their emissions. This is because they are on the road out of poverty and are in the transition to a higher standard of living and this is directly related to energy consumption. Who would deny the largest portion of the world’s population the right to improve their standard of living? All in all, poor countries need to improve their economies so they can afford to help make the transition to renewable energies in the future.

IP: It’s really hard for a country such as US or Australia to wind down an energy legacy that’s been so successful. And it’s quite personal for successful oil and gas companies, especially those in the US that have made the shale revolution such a success. What kinds of strategies are you thinking of to combat global warming, other than winding down production of oil and gas?

KK: For example, man has been building dikes for centuries and putting houses on stilts or building up ground levels to deal with rising waters, and we have time to do so at current slow rates of sea level rise (3 mm/year). Furthermore, the costs of doing that may be dramatically cheaper than cutting GHG emissions to some level that has not been properly justified. 

There are also existing technologies to pull GHG (which is mainly CO2) from the atmosphere and inject into the ground or into the ocean, even though they are quite expensive. Planting more trees or even plants genetically engineered to convert more CO2 are also possibilities that may reduce human-caused impacts. 

It may be possible to favorably improve albedo via alterations of the aerosol contents in the atmosphere but we don’t know if this would have unintended consequences. 

All in all, we have been able to withstand the worst of the 1C temperature rise and changing climate over the last 100 years — whether human-caused or due to some mix of human and natural causes. We should not sell ourselves short on our ability to modify human behaviors, designs, and construction to live with increased GHG loadings. For example, housing construction on the coast of Florida is already controlled from the standpoint of expected high tides and storm surges and the buildings themselves have hurricane-resistant requirements.

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Kevin Kilstrom had a 43-year career in the oil and gas industry and he still owns stock in BP, Marathon and Antero, companies that he has previously worked for. He retired as Senior Vice President of Antero Resources and Antero Midstream in late 2019 where he previously led all E&P operations, mid-stream water operations and corporate level budgeting, reserves and planning. He helped grow the companies from zero wells and production in the Appalachia region to a $15 billion enterprise value focused on development in West Virginia and southeast Ohio. He earned a BS in Engineering at Iowa State University in 1976 and an MBA from DePaul University in 1979.

This article appeared on the Forbes website at https://www.forbes.com/sites/ianpalmer/2021/07/29/former-natural-gas-exec-weighs-climate-controversy-interview-part-1/?sh=35de33212f5b

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