Repurposing of Oil & Gas Infrastructure in Decarbonizing Energy System

As the world transition to a low-carbon economy, or a switch from one fuel source to another, or the replacement of old for new generation technologies, one of the aspect of this transition is what to do with the existing infrastructure devoted to the extraction, processing, storage and transport of fossil fuels.

How do we repurpose these assets to some “green” use? What would be the major barriers in re-purposing such assets?

Hi @SPSBadwal, @Jesse_Nyokabi and @clabeaux - We would love to hear your views on repurposing of existing oil and gas infrastructure to some “green” use. Thanks.

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A lot of benefits are resulting from the repurposing of existing hydrocarbon wells for geothermal applications. It is necessary to emphasize that all these benefits are achieved without any emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. Also it highlight the advantages for the local communities to produce a renewable energy source from the existing infrastructures, and the possibility for the companies to reduce abandonment costs.

My close friend, Petrolern’s Director of Technology Partnerships Dr. Alan J. Cohen remarks, “Sample conversion project proposals for clients in North America, Europe, and Asia have indicative costs of electricity at under 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, and less if well-abandonment costs are deducted. Projects can have internal rates of return of greater than 10 percent, representing a significant savings in electricity costs to the clients, relative to what the utility charges, and an opportunity to sell the excess electricity to others. A preliminary estimate on screening, well work-overs, and power systems design, fabrication and installation activities suggests that over 200,000 additional people could be employed in the USA alone to work on lower-temperature geothermal projects.”

This is a consideration we are doing in #African states that produces Oil & Gas

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      **Principles for consideration**

A vast proportion of existing assets in the Oil & Gas sector have reached or are reaching their late asset lifecycle stage. Greater priority needs to be given to the ways in which aging assets can be better managed – “circular economy models” – as a major factor in defining and driving successful energy transition.

Key principles that we can consider:

• Limiting negative impacts on the global economy caused by uncoordinated and untimely decommissioning and stranding of assets.

• Magnifying the benefits of supporting clean energy sources during the transition through repurposing and asset life-cycle extension.

• Correcting “profit-oriented short-termism” by maximizing dialogue between markets and governments for the definition of policies aimed at optimizing and coordinating asset life-cycle planning.

• Encouraging greater disclosure: currently, it says, there is not nearly enough information about the value of these assets that have supported fossil fuel production.

• Promoting cross-sector coordination.

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Thanks @Jesse_Nyokabi for sharing these insights. Interesting points. What do you see as the barriers to repurposing these assets.

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Repurposing infrastructure carries significant benefits in enabling energy transitions, but I’m also curious to learn from the community – what are some of the risks in pursuing such focus? to what extent can and should 20th-century infrastructure of the mass-economy transition to a new energy era?

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Hi @akb and @agval - What is your point of view on repurposing existing oil and gas infrastructure. What are the risks involved?

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Hi Shashi,
The main problem is that the current infrastructure might not be suitable for the new purpose. For example, thinking of using the current distribution lines for hydrogen will lead to costly retrofitting that if not performed adequately will lead to dangerous leaks, unwanted embrittlement, need for more pumping stations, reduction in profits and potentially dangerous situations during commissioning and decommissioning. This was an example we approached with ammonia, and the final outcome was that it was best to replace the infrastructure rather than using the existing, decaying distribution lines for natural gas.


Thanks @agval for sharing your thoughts on this discussion. Do you mean that we should not repurpose these assets and just scrap it or it could be used in a certain way for something else but not new fuels?

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This means that a profound study needs to be performed. There might be sections that can be re-used, but not all the infrastructure, that will be for sure. It will depend on the final end (or chemical) that is intended for.


Hi @Shashi
Given that one of the key factors in the climate change race is the speed that our global society will have to transform, existing infrastructure presents a potentially useful opportunity - potentially saving on cost and the time to deployment.

Existing infrastructure might be reusable in the following ways…

Extraction - could old empty fossil fuel reservoirs be used to store new “green” fuels? In the case old deep mines, they can be used to store energy using the pumped hydro-electric process.

Processing - this might be reusable to an extent, and depends on the chemistry.

Storage - potentially useful to address the need for seasonal storage of green energy/fuel (e.g. supplying energy when the sun doesn’t shine much in winter, and the wind doesn’t blow).

Transport of fossil fuels - potentially useful for shifting energy (fuel) around the to where (and when) it’s needed.

This is dependent on the clean fuels used (e.g. hydrogen, methane).

Some context for this can be seen in the Global Renewable Energy Network diagram.

PS: The barriers would become clearer during the challenge.


Thanks @akb for sharing these insights. We would further like to understand what are some of the risks involved in repurposing these assets?

Also if you feel this is an important topic for XPRIZE to focus on for their next prize, please vote for it. Thanks.

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Some of the challenges and risks might not become apparent until the testing phase of the challenge has been completed. Here’s some potential risks, but others may also exist.

Using old empty fossil fuel reservoirs to store new “green” fuels might have the following risks:

  • distant or remote reservoirs might add significant (transportation) costs
  • transporting fuel across the sea has the risk of accidents that lead to marine pollution
  • permeable reservoirs risk the pollution of underground aquifers

In the case of old deep mines for storing energy (pumped hydro-electric) this has already been demonstrated. With good practices in place the risks might be low.

Risks similar to existing processes. It might also depend on the chemical compatibility between old and new uses.

Risks similar to existing processes. However, ammonia presents significant problems if it escapes: impacting health and the environment.

Transport of fossil fuels
Risks similar to existing processes, for similar fuels. However, ammonia presents significant problems if it escapes: impacting health and the environment.


Hi @b0bbybaldi and @bernardsaw - What is your thoughts on repurposing existing oil and gas infrastructure. What are the risks involved?

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Well, first we would need to develop the appropriate regulation and mass technology solutions that would enable to repurpose of such infrastructure. One of such solutions could be Hydrogen, the risk of utilising Hydrogen heavily is the highly volatile nature of it which would require more care and safety at each step of the supply chain for delivery of the product. If such infrastructure is not properly designed or regulated it could lead to major issues involving safety infractions that might discredit the capabilities of the technology to public eyes, such as what happened with Nuclear Energy a few decades ago.