Technology and collaboration have long been the rallying cry for tackling the challenges of the energy transition. However, optimism has now entered the conversation.

“Current conversations have been sorely lacking optimism. Optimism: the power of human creativity, imagination and ingenuity. I believe engineering innovation is a means to developing solutions towards progress,” Chevron chief executive Michael Wirth told attendees at the opening plenary of the 23rd World Petroleum Congress on Monday in Houston.

“A recognition of the prospects for the human condition has never been brighter," he said.

"Optimism is the spark of innovation, the catalyst of risk-taking the impetus of discovery.

"Optimism stirs the imagination. If we can harness this powerful force — human energy — I firmly believe we can achieve our goals.”

Darren Woods and Jeff Miller, chief executives for ExxonMobil and Halliburton respectively, joined Wirth in the conversation, sharing their views on meeting the increasing demand for oil and gas globally while balancing the need to provide those resources in a cleaner, more sustainable way.

Woods noted in his remarks that the growth of emissions-free energy is “good for society, and an objective that [ExxonMobil] supports".

However, there is a need to “strike the right balance as the world transitions to a lower energy system" and that to “continue to meet all practical scenarios, including net zero pathways, oil and natural gas will continue to play a significant role in the society".

Woods added that the scale and complexity of the challenges facing the energy industry precludes a “simple one-size-fits-all solution” and requires innovation.

“Particular solutions are needed for the carbonised sectors of our economy that account for more than 80% of the world's energy-related (carbon dioxide) emissions, heavy industry, commercial transportation and power generation. What's available today is simply not good enough,” he said.

Years of underinvestment in oil and gas along with the global effects from the Covid-19 pandemic have led to an environment of scarcity, Miller said.

"For the first time in a long time, we'll see a buyer looking for a barrel of oil as opposed to [it] looking for a buyer. That's the backdrop that frames our strategy at Halliburton."

He noted that technology advances in electric-powered hydraulic fracturing, automated drilling and the digital transformation are three ways Halliburton is helping its customers meet their energy transition objectives.

However, many of the technologies that will help industry reach the net zero goals have not yet been invented, according to Wirth.

“We can't wait for future breakthroughs to happen in our industry can play a major role in addressing this challenge today,” he said, adding that a diversity of approaches to meeting those needs are needed.

“I leave you with a challenge. Let's keep accelerating progress. We're the industry that knows how to solve the toughest problems," Wirth said.

“For more than a century, this industry has had the courage to do what's difficult. We do difficult every day. Difficult is an invitation to be great. Let's prove that to the world once again.”