Naomi Boness interview

Energy Dialogues Interviews Naomi Boness, Managing Director, Natural Gas Initiative at Stanford University

The North American Gas Forum is just around the corner. In advance of the event, we spoke with NAGF speaker, Naomi Boness, Managing Director, Natural Gas Initiative at Stanford University about the dialogues that will take place this month in Washington D.C.

Dr. Boness is an experienced practitioner in the energy sector, with expertise in reservoir geophysics, environmental management, investment analysis, and strategic planning.

We are pleased to share our recent conversation with Naomi. 

ED: For those not familiar with the Stanford Natural Gas Initiative, can you please share with us some information about it as well as some of the main projects you are currently focusing on?

NB: The Stanford Natural Gas Initiative is a collaboration of more than 40 research groups at Stanford University drawn from engineering, science, policy, geopolitical, and business disciplines that work with a consortium of industry partners and other external stakeholders to generate the knowledge needed to use natural gas to its greatest social, economic, and environmental benefit. We currently have seven active focus areas: Methane Emissions and Detection; Unconventional Reservoirs; Methane Conversion to Fuels and Chemicals; Global Markets and Governance; Hydrogen Economy; Data Science; and Energy Access.

ED: In collaboration with EDF, you co-sponsored the Mobile Monitoring Challenge competition, which called for engineers and technology developers to submit proposals for mobile methane leak monitoring technology. What were some of the key takeaways?

NB: The Mobile Monitoring Challenge is a great example of how Stanford is partnering with the industry to conduct meaningful research that has immediate and practical applications. Ten promising technologies of trucks, drones and airplanes, competed for finding natural gas leaks in the first independent assessment of moving gas leak detectors at well sites.

The technologies, which are still in development, were generally effective at detecting leaks. The Mobile Monitoring Challenge was not a head-to-head competition because the technologies tested are designed to accomplish different things. One startup’s drone-based system detected 100% of leaks and had no false positives. However, the same drone had a 36% accuracy in quantifying the size of the leak. Two of the technologies are designed to quickly find big leaks. Since more than half the methane lost in natural gas production and processing comes from just 5 percent of leaks, finding and fixing these “super-emitters” is critical to reducing methane emissions.

Overall, these technologies lend themselves to rapid deployment and provide a very quick assessment of where leaks are occurring relative to conventional optical gas imaging systems. Speeding up the leak detection process allows oil and gas companies to find more leaks while spending less money.

ED: As someone who is based in one of the most technologically-driven states in the country, you are at the forefront of the impact that technology and innovation are having on the energy industry. What are some of the most revolutionary technologies currently being worked on? What are some of the challenges you see the industry facing when attempting to incorporate new technologies?

NB: The energy industry has a long history of technology and innovation that goes back way before the emergence of Silicon Valley. However, with the shale revolution and the tech boom, there is a new set of opportunities and challenges at the interface of energy and technology.

In the U.S., there are over 200,000 gas wells that have resulted in a glut of subsurface data. Challenge 1: How can we use modern tools to organize, categorize, and access that data? Implementing cloud-based solutions and data lakes with sufficient meta data is the easy answer. In my mind, the real challenge is how do we adapt the culture of an established energy workforce to really mine the benefits of data accessibility.

Our subsurface knowledge of shale reservoirs is immature, so we need to leverage the data we have to improve drilling and production efficiency. Challenge 2: Advancements in data science (including machine learning, artificial intelligence, neural networks, etc.) are critical for analyzing the enormous amount of data in a timely fashion. However, we need to ensure that these analysis tools incorporate physics-based assumptions and the existing subsurface knowledge so that the results and subsequent interpretations are realistic. So, the real challenge is actually not creating the tech itself, but bringing communities together (geoscientists, software engineers, etc.) and developing a shared vocabulary so that the tech is meaningful and reliable. The Natural Gas Initiative is one program actively facilitating the conversation between energy and tech.

ED: At this year’s North American Gas Forum, you will be moderating a panel on perspectives on global energy access and solutions to eradicating energy poverty. How can coalition-building contribute to promoting the benefits of natural gas and the role it will play in lifting people out of poverty? Are there any success stories that you can share with us?

NB: Currently, there are around a billion people without access to any energy, and a further 1.5 billion people with intermittent, unreliable energy. Additionally, 2.8 billion people are using low-grade cooking and heating fuels, with 4 million people dying annually from indoor air pollution. Since 2010 the number of people who are gaining access to energy each year is accelerating, currently at approximately 118 million people per year. However, this is more than offset by the concurrent huge population growth.

Investment has occurred at a variety of scales, from small sustainable finance initiatives through the World Bank to international oil companies investing billions of dollars in LNG plants, like the one in Mozambique that will double the country GDP. Energy poverty solutions need to focus on being affordable, scalable, cleaner, and developed through partnerships between private sector, universities, NGOs, and governments. The abundance of natural gas and the development of the international LNG market creates a huge opportunity for reducing energy poverty.

India is forecasted to soon outpace China in terms of energy demand. In 2018, India received its first shipment of LNG from Texas. In fact, 58% of United States natural gas exports in 2018 went to India, China and other Asian markets – more than double the gas sent to Asia in 2017. Infrastructure and gas pricing schemes in India remain a challenge and topic for constructive dialogue.

India is also actively promoting LPG as a clean cooking fuel alternative in an effort to improve air quality. In the financial year 2018/19, India consumed a record 24.9 million tonnes of LPG, up 53% from 5 years ago. The Ujjwala scheme, a social welfare program, launched by the government in 2016 has provided about 72 million new LPG connections to households. At the end of 2018, close to 80% of Indian households have access to LPG.

ED: The North American Gas Forum this fall will cover some of the most important challenges and opportunities the gas industry is facing today. In your opinion, what are some of these main challenges and what are some of the main steps to overcoming them? What are also some of the main opportunities?

NB: I think that the most important issue facing the gas industry today is that the benefits of natural gas have not been adequately conveyed to the general public. Climate change means that worried constituents are (rightfully) concerned about the use of fossil fuels. However, too often, coal, oil, and gas are lumped together in a general “fossil fuels” category.

The abundance of natural gas from the shale revolution represents a huge opportunity to both decarbonize and reduce energy poverty. It is well known, and has been documented in the United States, that increasing natural gas displaces coal and significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions. Outside of the United States, developing countries are faced with the hard decision of whether to use local and cheap resources such as coal or deny their populations energy access and opportunity for economic growth.

We should be leveraging renewables wherever possible, but the issue of energy storage and reliability makes 100% renewable energy systems often unfeasible at this time (both from a technology and economic perspective and depending on location). By restricting access and use of natural gas, without having the technology to provide clean alternatives, we are actually at risk of increasing carbon emissions because coal is the only viable alternative for reliability in many places.

I think the energy industry needs to adopt a more comprehensive education strategy, partnering with institutions like Stanford, to actively share the scientific data that shows the benefits of natural gas in a decarbonizing world with an ever-increasing demand for energy.

North American Gas Forum


Energy Dialogues proudly presents the 2019 North American Gas Forum, taking place in Washington D.C. this October. Featuring a cutting edge program, fabulous speaker line-up, and premium networking opportunities, NAGF is the ideal platform to share unbiased perspectives and drive solutions to the multidimensional complex that is energy. Join Naomi Boness and other prominent energy front-runners for panel discussions, round tables, networking opportunities, and commercial benefits. 

To learn more, and to reserve your spot, please visit:

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