Life Cycle Thinking

Life Cycle Thinking

Energy enables global economic development and human progress.

Yet, it is not always clear how best to protect the environment, conserve resources and operate compatibly with neighbors while delivering the energy needed to realize these benefits. Energy companies, including ConocoPhillips, deal with these issues on a daily basis. How can companies make the best choices for the environment and communities?

We believe in using a systematic approach to understand these often complex issues. One tool in this approach is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology – a tool to quantify environmental impacts of products and processes. Having a full understanding of product life cycle impacts allows planners to make more informed decisions regarding the environment and natural resource use. It also allows comparisons between alternative approaches and competing technologies. To conduct an LCA, a company must:

  • Define the LCA goal, scope and boundaries.
  • Develop an inventory of all products, resources and emissions entering and leaving the boundaries.  
  • Assess the benefits and impacts of products, resources and emissions leaving the boundaries.  
  • Interpret the results.

For instance, LCAs consistently find that electric power production from natural gas produces half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal when comparing total emissions across the entire life cycle, including fuel production, transportation and transformation into electric power.1 But how does liquefied natural gas (LNG) compare with coal? Applying systematic LCA methodology, the U. S. Department of Energy Technology Lab finds that LNG can provide a similar greenhouse gas reduction benefit relative to coal (up to a 45% reduction).2 

LCA methodology provides important information to company planners so that potential impacts to the environment, natural resources and communities are considered as part of ongoing operating decisions. By taking this systematic life cycle approach, we can better understand and manage our environmental footprint.

Life Cycle Analysis 

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a systematic approach for quantifying the potential environmental impacts of industrial processes and consumer products, providing us with a common method to assess process emissions and natural resource usage. 

By assessing natural resource usage and process emissions, business units can understand their individual environmental performance, their footprint relative to other oil and gas projects, and their impacts relative to competing energy sources. 

1 U. S. DOE, NETL (2011), Deutsche Bank/Worldwatch Institute (2011), IHS CERA (2011), University of Maryland (2011)

.2 U. S. DOE NETL, (2010)