Leading national oil companies in the Middle East are increasingly aiming to reduce their carbon footprints as the energy transition gathers pace, while continuing to invest heavily in expanding their oil and gas production capacities.

Opec kingpin Saudi Aramco plans to scale up its oil production capacity to 13 million barrels per day from its current 12 million bpd in the coming years, while Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) is planning to boost its crude output capacity to 5 million bpd from 4 million bpd by 2030.

Qatar is spending massively to regain its crown as the world's largest liquefied natural gas exporter by boosting its production capacity by almost two-thirds to 126 million tonnes per anuum over the next five years.

While the state-owned giants have announced their intentions to build up hydrogen infrastructure, tap solar resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ramp up their carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) programmes, industry experts are still concerned about their long-term emission targets, as compared to European operators.

As the energy transition gains momentum globally, the Middle East players are increasingly under pressure from investors and climate change campaigners to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and come up with clear pathways towards a net zero goal.

While a few Middle East producers have recently announced long-term net zero goals, others say they are preparing for a low-carbon future.

Saudi Aramco recently became the region's first national oil company to come up with a net zero target, aiming to achieve net zero Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions across its wholly owned and operated assets by 2050.

Aramco, which is also expanding its oil and gas production capacity in a bid to maintain its global market share, said it plans to disclose further details on its net zero goals in its forthcoming sustainability report, to be issued in the second quarter of 2022.

Saudi Arabia also recently unveiled its ambition to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2060.

Diversifications

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the Saudi Green Initiative Forum in October that the country aims to achieve the target “through the carbon circular economy approach, in line with its development plans and enabling its economic diversification”.

The Saudi de facto ruler said the first package launched by the country to develop its green economy would involve more than 700 billion riyals ($187 billion) worth of investments, in line with the nation’s Vision 2030 programme.

He said Saudi Arabia plans to reduce carbon emissions by 278 million tpa by 2030, more than doubling its previous targeted emissions reduction.

Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman said the country aims to reach its target while "taking into account that this will not have an adverse financial or economic impact on oil exports”.

Prince Abdulaziz said Saudi Arabia is making significant efforts to scale up the share of gas and renewable energy in its energy mix to 50% each by 2030.

The country is also betting big on the production of blue hydrogen and plans to use a significant portion of gas from its $110 billion Jafurah unconventional gas scheme to produce blue hydrogen.

Saudi Arabia aims to emerge as a leading global hydrogen player and plans to produce and export about 4 million tonnes of hydrogen by 2030, Prince Abdulaziz said recently.

The United Arab Emirates was the first Gulf nation to reveal a long-term net zero plan, with aims to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

“The UAE net zero initiative will provide us with precision and boost our efforts to accelerate the energy transition,” the Department of Energy of Abu Dhabi said in October.

Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum said the UAE would invest almost $165 billion in clean energy by 2050.

Experts believe the UAE’s net zero ambitions could ultimately be challenging, given the country’s continued heavy investment in fossil fuels.

However, unlike Saudi Aramco, emirati state-owned Adnoc is yet to come up with a similar net zero goal.

Robin Mills, a regional energy expert and chief executive of Dubai-based consultancy Qamar Energy, said the national oil companies' net zero ambitions are more likely to be dictated at a national, rather than board level.

However, he added that the companies “are concentrating on developing their core business and making it more robust to the energy transition, while extending the core into closely related areas, notably carbon capture, blue hydrogen/ammonia, and petrochemicals”.

Commitments

Rystad Energy vice president Middle East upstream analysis Aditya Saraswat said the UAE’s 2050 net zero pledge aligns the emirates with global commitments to keep average temperature rises below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Saraswat expects Adnoc to continue to invest in oil and gas, though its Scope 3 emissions, generated by end-users burning the fossil fuels overseas, are unlikely to be included in the UAE’s net zero target.

However, hydrogen can seriously help cut Scope 3 emissions and is taking an increasing role in the regional companies' low carbon plans, with both Adnoc and Aramco recently selling cargoes of ammonia created with blue hydrogen to Japan.

Adnoc has made several announcements throughout the year aimed at expanding its presence in the hydrogen market and driving billions of dollars-worth of investments into clean and low carbon energy solutions.

An Adnoc spokesperson told Upstream that “hydrogen and its carrier fuels, such as blue ammonia, provide a real opportunity to accelerate the broader energy transition”, and the company is well placed to capitalise on this opportunity.

Adnoc claims it will decrease the intensity of its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030, as it also looks to expand its CCUS capacity by 500% by that time.

The company has also embarked on a high-voltage, direct current subsea power transmission project that is expected to reduce the overall carbon footprint of its offshore production facilities by up to 30%.

Hydrogen can seriously help cut Scope 3 emissions and is taking an increasing role in the regional companies' low carbon plans, with both Adnoc and Aramco recently selling cargoes of ammonia created with blue hydrogen to Japan.

Scaling up renewable sources

Renewables are expected play a key role in reducing emissions in the Middle East.

To help feed the region's rising electricity demands, Arabia and the UAE are constructing several utility-scale solar power projects, including the world's largest photovoltaic plant in Abu Dhabi.

Saudi Aramco recently made its first investment in a $907 million solar photovoltaic plant project at Sudair, which is likely to have a capacity of around 1.5 gigawatts.

“This and other projects are integral to the country’s (Saudi Arabia’s) renewables target of installing 28 GW by 2023 and 59 GW by 2030,” said Rystad Energy's Middle East upstream analysis vice president Aditya Saraswat.