Q&A with the head of sustainability at oilfield services company SLB

Q&A with the head of sustainability at oilfield services company SLB

Two A few years ago, SLB committed to achieving net zero emissions across its entire value chain by 2050. Sustainability Manager Katharina Beumelburg is on a mission to guide one of the world’s largest oilfield services companies toward this goal, the first promise of its kind made in the energy services industry.

An engineer by training, Beumelburg worked in robotics research after obtaining her doctorate, then at Siemens for about a decade. The German joined the SLB, formerly known as Schlumbergerin 2021 as director of strategy and sustainable development.

SLB works primarily to help extract oil and gas from the ground. It also has a digital business and a new energy division focused on geothermal energy, hydrogen, lithium, energy storage and carbon capture.

Beumelburg spoke to WSJ Pro about her plans to help SLB reach net zero, the importance of mandatory climate reporting, and how a trip to Greenland inspired her to try to do something about the change climatic.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

WSJ Pro: Where were you in December 2015 when the Paris Agreement was concluded?

Beumelbourg: I remember how relieved I felt that there was alignment around the world to limit global warming. I was leading Siemens’ green hydrogen business and my team was involved in it, but it felt more like an isolated bubble than a huge movement.

WSJ Pro: What was your green revelation?

Beumelbourg: A 2019 expedition to Greenland was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had, but also the most devastating. I was very touched by the progress made on climate change and thought I would dedicate my work to doing something about climate change.

I really don’t believe that people will radically change their lifestyle. So we will need oil and gas for a long time. That’s what made me say, “OK, maybe I can really make a difference if I’m part of the industry and push it towards decarbonization.” »

WSJ Pro: What is your favorite sustainable product that doesn’t come from your company?

Beumelbourg: Having moved to Texas, I noticed the major difference from what was completely normal in Europe when it came to reusable products. For example, these reusable cups that I can bring back Starbucks or the bags I take to the supermarket. I’m a big fan of all these little things that everyone can do.

WSJ Pro: Besides flying, what activity generates the most carbon?

Beumelbourg: I like cars and we have an electric car, but we also have a non-electric car that we offset.

WSJ Pro: What discipline would you recommend a student major in and why?

Beumelbourg: All kinds of engineering, because I think there is only one solution to sustainable development: technical innovation. We need much more efficient ways of doing things and technologies that don’t create emissions.

WSJ Pro: What have been the most important developments in sustainability over the past year?

Beumelbourg: This drive to reduce carbon emissions in the oil and gas industry represents a major shift. The other side is our portfolio of transition technologies that aim to reduce our customers’ carbon emissions. It only really started in 2019, when regulators and investors became more aggressive, and then the private sector responded and started pushing for commitments.

The Inflation Reduction Act, along with REPowerEU, are big steps forward because many of the technologies we need already exist, but the business cases don’t work. They accelerate these business cases and make them more relevant to the private sector more quickly. I really like this whole approach to encouraging innovation and progress rather than punishing the past. And we are seeing comparable regulatory developments in Australia, Japan and South Korea.

WSJ Pro: Many important sustainability developments will occur in the coming year. How important is mandatory climate reporting?

Beumelbourg: It is very important. At the start of my career, I thought that sustainability reporting was simply a lot of work and created no impact. I completely changed my point of view because this reporting creates transparency, it ensures integrity, it makes it measurable. And in business, it triggers a process where every business understands what needs to happen, what data is relevant, how can we measure our progress.

What is still a bit difficult at the moment is that there is no global standard. We currently use four, sometimes six, for different groups.

WSJ Pro: What other important sustainability themes do you see coming?

Beumelbourg: For a long time the focus has been on climate action and we need to continue because this is a very, very urgent issue. But what I see coming is nature and biodiversity.

WSJ Pro: What role can your business play in building a sustainable future?

Beumelbourg: I see our role in decarbonizing our current core, working with our customers, to reduce their Scope 1 and 2, and our Scope 3, as much as I see it in building the new energy system of the future. The new energy part could become a division potentially the same size as the current core.

WSJ Pro: What are the main obstacles that SLB faces in achieving its objectives?

Beumelbourg: In many ways, it’s not fast enough. Carbon capture and storage is the obvious short-term solution to reducing carbon emissions, one where the technology is ready and we know what to do. It has so many elements that explain why it is not faster: because partners need to understand how they work together; because the regulator and the certification process are slow; because society has to get used to it. The Inflation Reduction Act has already made a big difference: if these programs didn’t exist, this whole thing would have a completely different time horizon.

WSJ Pro: What worry keeps you up at night?

Beumelbourg: I have an 8 year old daughter and seeing the already considerable impact of climate change on the planet, it really worries me. In Davos in January, I listened to Prof. Johan Rockström, who heads the Potsdam Climate Institute. It described how the tipping points in the climate system are interconnected, how much we see the system changing now and how quickly. He said that 1.5 degrees is not a political goal, but a scientific goal: if we exceed 1.5 degrees, it will have consequences on our planet, where we have a very limited view of the connection between points. shift and what will happen next. And to be honest, it scares me.

WSJ Pro: Are there any best practices that you would like to highlight for others?

Beumelbourg: In a time of so much uncertainty and significant investment, partnership is one of the main solutions. Several companies are moving in the same direction. You share the risk. Partnerships make us faster and stronger. We have partnerships with Microsoft on certain subjects. The CCUS (carbon capture, utilization and storage) hub collaborates with Saudi Aramco and Linde. Our Scope 3 is the Scope 1 and 2 of our clients so we have the same target, which automatically puts us in contact. This is why there is a lot of openness to discuss: what can we do? What makes us faster? Who can we bring on board?

Sustainability Overview

Selection of SLB climate targets for 2030

  • -30% of Scope 3 emissions compared to 2019
  • -50% of Scope 1 & Scope 2 emissions compared to 2019 (-30% by 2025)
  • 30% of employees are women
  • Zero net emissions by 2050 in scopes 1, 2 and 3 with minimal use of offsets

SLB’s 2022 performance

  • 99,000 employees
  • Net profit of $3.4 billion
  • 36.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in total carbon footprint
  • No material emissions offset
  • Sources: Schlumberger Annual Report 2022, Schlumberger Sustainability Report 2022, S&P Capital IQ

Write to Rochelle Toplensky at rochelle.toplensky@wsj.com

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With a penchant for words, Eleon Smith began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, Smith landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, Eleon also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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