Secretary Jennifer Granholm mug shot

Secretary Jennifer Granholm

The Williston Basin Petroleum Conference had a surprise guest not listed on its official agenda on the last day, President Joe Biden’s Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Granholm said she recognized that goals like carbon neutrality are nerve-wracking to the people whose livelihoods are tied up in fossil fuels, but added that she only took the job as Energy Secretary under the condition that the Biden administration agreed it would do everything possible to bring every worker in the fossil fuel sector along.

The road ahead won’t be easy, Granholm acknowledged, but she echoed comments from North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum about not only opportunities for the state in a low-carbon world, but affirmed that the oil land gas industry will be vital to the world's energy future.

“I’m here to tell you, you will not have to do (this transition) alone,” she added. “We want to be a partner. And first, let me be clear, in our position as a global supplier of crude oi and natural gas and other forms of energy, that traditional fossill energy is going to remain important, even as we work to reduce carbon emissions. Our allies and trading partners, they’re still going to need to power their homes and businesses.”

The U.S., however, can provide tools to make that less carbon intensive, Granholm said.

“To that end, we at the Department of Energy, we’re eager to help you abate emissions in the crude oil and natural gas supply chain,” she said.

Granholm added that there will be good jobs centered around emissions abatement, from securing methane leaks to improving pipeline integrity and plugging orphaned wells.

“We’re also putting our brain power at the Department of Energy and our financial resources to work in advancing carbon capture utilization and storage on carbon dioxide removal approaches like direct air capture,” she said. “We’ve invested billions of dollars in the last two decades to develop this suite of technologies surrounding carbon nanotubes, like CCUS.”

The research will include underground carbon storage, Granholm said.

“It requires the same labor skill sets used for oil land gas exploration,” she said. “That means that today’s petroleum engineers could be suited to become tomorrow’s subsurface carbon managers.”

Granholm spoke the day prior to the conference with North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum on a telephone call. Just prior to the call, Burgum had already challenged the oil and gas industry to join the state in pursuing net carbon neutrality by 2030. North Dakota could even, potentially, become the nation's first net carbon negative state.

On the call, Burgum said he highlighted ways North Dakota could help meet the nation’s energy needs in a sustainable way, through the research and development of carbon capture, storage, and utilization technology by the oil and gas, coal and biofuel industries.

He also highlighted the state’s unique geology, which offers underground storage capacity for an estimated 250 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That's nearly 50 times the United States’ annual energy-related carbon dioxide output.

Burgum said Granholm asked about visiting North Dakota to work out ways the Biden administration can collaborate with the state to advance research into CCUS technology, underground carbon dioxide storage, and hydrogen power technology.

“We appreciate the opportunity to share with Secretary Granholm the exciting opportunities to develop and deploy CCUS technology in North Dakota to help ensure the long-term viability of our coal and oil and gas industries, as well as the importance of an all-of-the-above energy approach,” Burgum said.

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