Energy giants spent $1bn on climate lobbying

Energy giants spent $1bn on climate lobbying

Polluters, as all those big energy producers (Big Oils, OPEC members and non members alike) are labelled, appeared to be ‘undermining’ UN climate Paris agreement. In effect, Oil, Gas and Coal world giants are exploiting a lack of conflict-of-interest protection at UN climate talks to push for continued fossil fuel use despite its contribution to catastrophic climate change through expensive lobbying campaigns because as it happens these oil, gas and coal giants could stand to waste trillions in a moderate world climate change. Patrick Galey elaborates on Phys.org.

Energy giants spent $1bn on climate lobbying, PR since Paris: watchdog

By Patrick Galey
The five biggest publicly listed oil and gas majors made profits of $55 billion in 2018
The five biggest publicly listed oil and gas majors made profits of $55 billion in 2018

The five largest publicly listed oil and gas majors have spent $1 billion since the 2015 Paris climate deal on public relations or lobbying that is “overwhelmingly in conflict” with the landmark accord’s goals, a watchdog said Friday.

Despite outwardly committing to support the Paris agreement and its aim to limit global temperature rises, ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and Total spend a total of $200 million a year on efforts “to operate and expand fossil fuel operations,” according to InfluenceMap, a pro-transparency monitor.

Two of the companies—Shell and Chevron—said they rejected the watchdog’s findings.

“The fossil fuel sector has ramped up a quite strategic programme of influencing the climate agenda,” InfluenceMap Executive Director Dylan Tanner told AFP.

“It’s a continuum of activity from their lobby trade groups attacking the details of regulations, controlling them all the way up, to controlling the way the media thinks about the oil majors and climate.”

The report comes as oil and gas giants are under increasing pressure from shareholders to come clean over how greener lawmaking will impact their business models.

As planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions hit their highest levels in human history in 2018, the five companies wracked up total profits of $55 billion.

At the same time, the International Panel on Climate Change—composed of the world’s leading climate scientists—issued a call for a radical drawdown in fossil fuel use in order to hit the 1.5C (2.7 Fahrenheit) cap laid out in the Paris accord.

InfluenceMap looked at accounts, lobbying registers and communications releases since 2015, and alleged a large gap between the climate commitments companies make and the action they take.

It said all five engaged in lobbying and “narrative capture” through direct contact with lawmakers and officials, spending millions on climate branding, and by employing trade associations to represent the sector’s interests in policy discussions.

“The research reveals a trend of carefully devised campaigns of positive messaging combined with negative policy lobbying on climate change,” it said.

It added that of the more than $110 billion the five had earmarked for capital investment in 2019, just $3.6bn was given over to low-carbon schemes.

Oil companies and climate change
Forecast combined capital spending in 2019 by the major oil companies – BP, Total, Shell, Chervron, ExxonMobil – on oil and gas and low carbon projects and spending on lobbying and branding.

The report came one day after the European Parliament was urged to strip ExxonMobil lobbyists of their access, after the US giant failed to attend a hearing where expert witnesses said the oil giant has knowingly misled the public over climate change.

“How can we accept that companies spending hundreds of millions on lobbying against the EU’s goal of reaching the Paris agreement are still granted privileged access to decision makers?” said Pascoe Sabido, Corporate Europe Observatory’s climate policy researcher, who was not involved in the InfluenceMap report.

The report said Exxon alone spent $56 million a year on “climate branding” and $41 million annually on lobbying efforts.

In 2017 the company’s shareholders voted to push it to disclose what tougher emissions policies in the wake of Paris would mean for its portfolio.

US donations

With the exception of France’s Total, each oil major had largely focused climate lobbying expenditure in the US, the report said.

Chevron alone has spent more than $28 million in US political donations since 1990, according to the report.

AFP contacted all five oil and gas companies mentioned in the report for comment.

“We disagree with the assertion that Chevron has engaged in ‘climate-related branding and lobbying’ that is ‘overwhelmingly in conflict’ with the Paris Agreement,” said a Chevron spokesman.

“We are taking action to address potential climate change risks to our business and investing in technology and low carbon business opportunities that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

A spokeswoman for Shell—which the report said spends $49 million annually on climate lobbying—said it “firmly rejected” the findings.

“We are very clear about our support for the Paris Agreement, and the steps that we are taking to help meet society’s needs for more and cleaner energy,” they told AFP.

BP, ExxonMobil and Total did not provide comment to AFP.

Explore further: Money talks when trying to influence climate change legislation

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-03-energy-giants-spent-1bn-climate.html#jCp

Advertisements
Fossil-fuel Executives are Mass Murderers

Fossil-fuel Executives are Mass Murderers

It isn’t hyperbole to say that fossil-fuel executives are mass murderers. We should put them on trial for crimes against humanity.

It’s Time to Try Fossil-Fuel Executives for Crimes Against Humanity

By Kate Aronoff


Then–US secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, looks on during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on October 30, 2017 in Washington DC. Drew Angerer / Getty

The fossil-fuel industry is lawyering up.

To date, nine cities have sued the fossil industry for climate damages. California fisherman are going after oil companies for their role in warming the Pacific Ocean, a process that soaks the Dungeness crabs they harvest with a dangerous neurotoxin. Former acting New York state attorney general Barbara Underwood has opened an investigation into whether ExxonMobil has misled its shareholders about the risks it faces from climate change, a push current Attorney General Leticia James has said she is eager to keep up. Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey opened an earlier investigation into whether Exxon defrauded the public by spreading disinformation about climate change, which various courts — including the Supreme Court — have refused to block despite the company’s pleas. And in Juliana vs. U.S., young people have filed suit against the government for violating their constitutional rights by pursuing policies that intensify global warming, hitting the dense ties between Big Oil and the state.

These are welcome attempts to hold the industry responsible for its role in warming our earth. It’s time, however, to take this series of legal proceedings to the next level: we should try fossil-fuel executives for crimes against humanity.

Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Just one hundred fossil fuel producers — including privately held and state-owned companies — have been responsible for 71 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions released since 1988, emissions that have already killed at least tens of thousands of people through climate-fueled disasters worldwide.

Green New Deal advocates have been right to focus on the myriad ways that decarbonization can improve the lives of working-class Americans. But an important complement to that is holding those most responsible for the crisis fully accountable. It’s the right thing to do, and it makes clear to fossil-fuel executives that they could face consequences beyond vanishing profits.

More immediately, a push to try fossil-fuel executives for crimes against humanity could channel some much-needed populist rage at the climate’s 1 percent, and render them persona non grata in respectable society — let alone Congress or the UN, where they today enjoy broad access. Making people like Exxon CEO Darren Woods or Shell CEO Ben van Beurden well known and widely reviled would put names and faces to a problem too often discussed in the abstract. The climate fight has clear villains. It’s long past time to name and shame them.

Left unchecked, the death toll of climate change could easily creep up into the hundreds of millions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in turn unleashing chaos and suffering that’s simply impossible to project. An independent report commissioned by twenty governments in 2012 found that climate impacts are already causing an estimated four hundred thousand deaths per year.

Counting a wider range of casualties attributed to burning fossil fuels — air pollution, indoor smoke, occupational hazards, and skin cancer — that figure jumps to nearly 5 million a year. By 2030, annual climate and carbon-related deaths are expected to reach nearly 6 million. That’s the rough equivalent of one Holocaust every year, which in just a few short years could surpass the total number of people killed in World War II. All caused by the fossil-fuel industry.

Knowing full well the deadly consequences of continued drilling, the individuals at the helm of fossil-fuel companies each day choose to seek out new reserves to burn as quickly as possible to keep their shareholders happy. They use every possible tool — and they have many — to sabotage regulatory action.

That we need to instead strip fossil fuels from the global economy isn’t up for debate. Without the increasingly distant-seeming deployment of speculative, so-called negative emissions technologies, coal usage will have to decline by 97 percent, oil by 87 percent, and gas by 74 percent by 2050 for us to have a halfway decent shot at keeping warming below 1.5 degrees celsius. That’s what it will take to avert pervasive, catastrophic climate impacts that will destabilize the very foundations of society. (Keeping warming to a more dangerous 2.0 degrees celsius will require decarbonization that’s almost as abrupt.)

recent report by Oil Change International detailing the climate costs of continued drilling lays the problem out in simple terms: either we embark on a managed decline of the fossil-fuel industry, or we face economic and ecological ruin. Simply put, the business model of the fossil-fuel industry is incompatible with the continued existence of anything we might recognize as human civilization.

Barring a major course correction, that business model — and more specifically, the executives who have designed and executed it — will be responsible for untold suffering within many of our lifetimes, with the youngest and poorest among us bearing a disproportionate burden, along with people of color and residents of the Global South.

As recent research and reporting have documented, some of the world’s biggest polluters have known for decades about the deadly threat of global warming and the role their products play in fueling it. Some companies began research into climate change as early as the 1950s. These days, none can claim not to know the mortal danger posed by their ongoing extraction.

Literally a Crime Against Humanity

Technically speaking, what fossil-fuel companies do isn’t genocide. Low-lying islands and communities around the world are and will continue to be the worst hit by climate impacts.

Still, the case against the fossil-fuel industry is not that their executives are targeting specific “national, ethnical, racial, or religious” groups for annihilation, per the Rome Statute, which enumerates the various types of human rights abuses that can be heard before the International Criminal Court. Rather, the fossil industry’s behavior constitutes a Crime Against Humanity in the classical sense: “a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack,” including murder and extermination. Unlike genocide, the UN clarifies, in the case of crimes against humanity,

it is not necessary to prove that there is an overall specific intent. It suffices for there to be a simple intent to commit any of the acts listed…The perpetrator must also act with knowledge of the attack against the civilian population and that his/her action is part of that attack.

Fossil-fuel executives may not have intended to destroy the world as we know it. And climate change may not look like the kinds of attacks we’re used to. But they’ve known what their industry is doing to the planet for a long time, and the effects are likely to be still more brutal if the causes are allowed to continue.

Read more in the original document.

2018 Divestment Year in Review

2018 Divestment Year in Review

From school children to individuals, companies, and corporations, the global fossil fuel divestment movement has challenged the right of the fossil fuel industry to damage the environment. By divesting from fossil fuels, we are requiring polluters to take responsibility for their products and hitting them where it hurts the most — their stock values and investor dividends. In this “CleanTechnica 2018 Divestment Year in Review,” we’ll be looking at the progress that the people-powered grassroots movement has accomplished toward shifting small and large investments away from fossil fuels and into a greener, low-carbon economy.

This #CleanTechnica Report post dated December 27th, 2018 by Carolyn Fortuna gives us a pertinent picture of worldwide trends that will no doubt amplify further in the future.

Divestment Year in Review 2018

Over 1000 institutions with managed investments worth almost $8 trillion have committed to divest from fossil fuels. Fund managers and fiduciaries are increasingly aware of the risks of climate breakdown and deciding of their own accord to divest from morally unsound and financially risky industries.

Standout 2018 Divestments

Momentum for divestment has only accelerated: pledges span 37 countries with over 65% of commitments coming from outside the US. The divestment sources now include major capital cities, mainstream banks and insurance companies, massive pension funds, faith groups, cultural, health, and educational institutions — all of which serve billions of people. 350.org outlines how 2018 trends about divestment have pointed to:

  • the exponential rate of growth in the number of institutions and total funds divested from fossil fuels companies
  • the global breakdown of divestments including numerous commitments on every continent
  • politically significant commitments such as those of the sovereign wealth funds of Ireland, Norway, and city divestments of Cape Town and New York
  • the sector breakdown of divestment actions, which demonstrates the moral leadership of the faith sector on the issue of divestment

The latest commitments propelling the campaign to over 1000 institutions that have divested include:

  • AG2R la mondiale (US$114 billions)
  • Australian Vision Super Fund (US$9 billion)
  • Brandeis University (US$997 million)

Want a full list of divestment commitments? Click here.

Recent Global Decisions that Affect Fossil Fuel Portfolios

The Paris Agreement set out aims to limit the global mean temperature increase ‘well below’ 2 °C. That goal will diminish global carbon budgets for the 21st century in order to reduce CO2 emissions. Logically, as a result, a considerable share of fossil fuels will remain underground that might have otherwise been extracted and sold at tremendous profits.

COP24 (the informal name for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) met in December, 2018 in Poland to work out and adopt a package of decisions ensuring the full implementation of the Paris Agreement, in accordance with the decisions adopted in Paris (COP21) and in Marrakesh (CMA1.1) as well as to support the implementation of national commitments.

On December 12, May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, seemed uncertain that diplomats to the COP24 would find common ground.

“When this movement started in 2012, we aimed to catalyse a truly global shift in public attitudes to the fossil fuel industry, and people’s willingness to challenge the institutions that financially support it. While diplomats at the UN climate talks are having a hard time making progress, our movement has changed how society perceives the role of fossil fuel corporations and is actively keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”

A short paper published in Nature also outlines concurrent challenges in delaying the recommendations in the Paris agreement until 2030 while complying with the 2° C target:

  • higher CO2 prices
  • a strong drop in fossil fuel prices because of the rapid reduction in demand
  • stranded assets of fossil fuel-based infrastructure
  • a strong acceleration in the required ramp-up of low-carbon technologies

By December 15, however, an all-night bargaining session concluded with a plan to reach the Paris Agreement’s goals to curb global warming, according to the New York Times. Diplomats from nearly 200 countries reached consensus on a detailed set of rules which will, ultimately, require every country in the world to follow a uniform set of standards for measuring its planet-warming emissions and tracking its climate policies. Here is the big picture of that accord.

  • Countries must accelerate plans to cut emissions ahead of another round of talks in 2020.
  • Richer countries must delineate the kinds of aid they intend to offer to help poorer nations install more clean energy or build resilience against natural disasters.
  • Countries that are struggling to meet their emissions goals can follow a new process to get back on track.

The accord should intensify the divestment effect as climate policy ambition increases and the policy implementation dates come closer.

Why Companies and Individuals are Divesting

While the divestment trend is expanding exponentially, two responses to a climate policy suggest a lag between climate action announcements and action implementations of policies to reduce CO2 emissions.

  • The “green paradox” hypothesizes that near-term CO2 emissions will rise above the ‘well below’ 2 °C baseline as fossil fuel owners frontload supply from their endowments. They’ll do so to evade the negative consequences of future fossil fuel price drops due to planned climate policies.
  • The “divestment effect” argues that near-term CO2 emissions will decrease below the baseline as investors avoid fossil fuel-based infrastructures with high emission intensities, high capital costs, and long technical lifetimes that could become stranded.

The moral argument: Countries around the world can emit up to 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming, but anything more than that level prescribes catastrophe. The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), written by the world’s leading climate scientists, have warned there are only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 C. Beyond that point, even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Burning the fossil fuel reserves that corporations now have would result in emitting 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide, according to GoFossilFree — 5 times the safe amount. Fossil fuel companies are planning to burn it all — unless we rise up to stop them with climate action policies and divestment.

Financial incentives: Fossil fuel reserves are defined as economically and technically recoverable sources of crude oil, natural gas, and thermal coal. Using analytics to maintain a persistent view on an investment portfolio, many capital investment groups are suggesting that their clients turn to Fossil Free indices, which outperformed many 2018 benchmarks that contained fossil fuels. Despite being among the top 500 wealthiest corporations, the energy sector (coal, oil, and gas) performance lagged behind the market for the last 5 years plus. The S&P 500 Fossil Fuel Free Index is designed to measure the performance of companies in the S&P 500 that do not own fossil fuel reserves.

Read more in the above mentioned #CleanTechnica Report.

Eight factors determining the price of oil

Eight factors determining the price of oil

As put by Kimberly Amadeo in her article on The Behind-the-Scenes Role of Commodities Traders,  Oil prices are controlled by traders who bid on oil futures contracts in the commodities market. That’s why oil prices change daily. It all depends on how trading went that day.

Other entities can only affect the traders’ bidding decisions. These influencers include the U.S. government and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. They don’t control the prices because traders actually set them in the markets.

The oil futures contracts are agreements to buy or sell oil at a specific date in the future for an agreed-upon price. They are executed on the floor of a commodity exchange by traders who are registered with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Commodities have been traded for more than 100 years. The CFTC has regulated them since the 1920s in the US and by equivalent institutions in every developed and / or developing country.  It is also function of the following:

The eight factors determining the price of oil

According to the September monthly report of the International Energy Agency (IEA), in August 2018, for the first time, the bar of 100 million barrels produced per day was crossed. World oil consumption represented 97.4 million barrels per day (MBJ) in 2017 (including 57 MBJ by non-OPEC countries), equivalent to 1,127 barrels or 179,000 liters per second. Also, despite the commitments of the Paris Agreement (COP21) of December 2015 (entered into force in November 2016), global awareness for the climate does not seem to reach the oil sector. A list of eight reasons that determine the current course.

  • The first reason, as noted in international reports would be a recovery of growth for 2018, but with a slowdown forecast for 2019 and 2020. Many international experts, as well as international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, foresee a possible global crisis horizon 2020/2025 in case of acceleration of protectionist measures between the US and Europe, as well as between the US and China.  Moreover, the latest report of the IEA of October 2018 warns the countries dependent on the oil revenues, due to a change in the trajectory of growth based on a new configuration of the global energy demand (Energy efficiency, renewable energies, hydrogen inlet horizon 2030 all based on the Knowledge economy) that will impact the demand for traditional hydrocarbons.
  • The second reason is respect for the quota of each member of the OPEC as decided upon in December 2016 in Vienna with notably Saudi Arabia representing 33% of OPEC’s. It is worth noting that OPEC in its entirety represents 33% of global marketing, even though the current tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia can lead to a disagreement between unsatisfied OPEC’s members.
  • The third reason is the agreement between OPEC’s Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC Russia; these two countries producing each more than 10 million barrels per day. Moreover, any different decisions from these two countries would impact the price of hydrocarbons downwards.
  • The fourth reason is the political situation in Saudi Arabia, the world not seeing yet evident in the action of the kingdom’s Crown prince, with the fear of internal political tensions, but above all the sale of 5% shares of the country’s largest company ARAMCO, to maintain its shares at a high level; sale that has been postponed.
  • The fifth reason is the tension in Kurdistan (this area producing about 500,000 barrels/day), declining Venezuelan production, socio-political tensions in Libya and Nigeria.
  • The sixth reason is the American president’s speech on the US having second thoughts on the agreement on Iran nuclear deal; with sanctions beginning to be applied on November 5th, 2018. This would certainly be mitigated by the European position that decided to set up a barter system to circumvent the transactions in Dollars, and the Chinese market or the Iranians can get paid in Yuan.
  • The seventh reason is the weakness of the Dollar in relation to the Euro.
  • The eighth reason is the decline or rise of US stocks, while not forgetting the Chinese stocks.

In the short term, the above eight reasons may influence the price of oil either upward or downward, with some factors being more predominant than others.  The Minister of Energy of Saudi Arabia reported on October 30th, 2018, under American pressure to raise its oil production to 12 million barrels per day against 10.7 million currently, to fill in for the Iranian production and in this case, it will be followed by Russia that does not want to lose market share.  In this hypothesis, the price of Brent should, except for a significant global crisis where the prize could fall below 60 Dollars, fluctuate between 65 and 75 Dollars, 70 Dollars a barrel, being the price of equilibrium in order not to penalise either the consumer countries or the producing ones.  The oil price went lower than $60 mainly as consequent to the massive entry of U.S. shale oil and gas with a production exceeding 10 million barrels/day.

In August 2018, according to the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), the US has even turned into the world’s leading producer of oil, in front of Russia and Saudi Arabia, with 10.9 million barrels per day and this production should even exceed 11.5 million barrels per day in 2019.

People’s Rebellion is the only way to fight Climate Breakdown

People’s Rebellion is the only way to fight Climate Breakdown

There seems to be some race between the USA and Europe with France’s TOTAL that recently signed with Algeria a contract for a polypropylene plant in the country.  There were afterwards two days of public demonstrations in different localities close to the country’s oil bases in the South. Locals were out and about shouting out their frustrations of possibly turning into passive witnesses to fracking within walking distance to their familiar and naturally unkind environment.  Far from being left behind, Exxon Mobil also signed a gas contract with SONATRACH that was immediately followed by more public anger. Far north, along the 1000 miles long shores, Italy with its oil company ENI is rumoured to most probably sign a historic agreement in Algiers that will allow it to officially win the operation of two offshore oil blocks East and West of the capital city. It looks as if the absent and dormant elites, political or business alike got together, and that people’s rebellion is the only way to fight climate breakdown.

Whether it is a legitimate offshore operation with diversification as its goal or merely a costly stunt to divert attention from the potential fracking of those ginormous pockets of shale oil in the deep Saharan south would remain to be seen.
Meanwhile in the UK, George Monbiot’s thoughts dated October 18, 2018, on the same issue of the country’s future being tossed alternatively between the capital’s plush offices and the countryside’s and villages bucolic streets.

As the fracking protesters show, a people’s rebellion is the only way to fight climate breakdown

Our politicians, under the influence of big business, have failed us. As they take the planet to the brink, it’s time for disruptive, nonviolent disobedience

It is hard to believe today, but the prevailing ethos among the educated elite was once public service. As the historian Tony Judt documented in Ill Fares the Land, the foremost ambition among graduates in the 1950s and 60s was, through government or the liberal professions, to serve their country. Their approach might have been patrician and often blinkered, but their intentions were mostly public and civic, not private and pecuniary.

Today, the notion of public service seems as quaint as a local post office. We expect those who govern us to grab what they can, permitting predatory banks and corporations to fleece the public realm, then collect their reward in the form of lucrative directorships. As the Edelman Corporation’s Trust Barometer survey reveals, trust worldwide has collapsed in all major institutions, and government is less trusted than any other.

As for the economic elite, as the consequences of their own greed and self-interest emerge, they seek, like the Roman oligarchs fleeing the collapse of the western empire, only to secure their survival against the indignant mob. An essay by the visionary author Douglas Rushkoff this summer, documenting his discussion with some of the world’s richest people, reveals that their most pressing concern is to find a refuge from climate breakdown, and economic and societal collapse. Should they move to New Zealand or Alaska? How will they pay their security guards once money is worthless? Could they upload their minds on to supercomputers? Survival Condo, the company turning former missile silos in Kansas into fortified bunkers, has so far sold every completed unit.

Most governments, like the UK, Germany, the US and Australia, push us towards the brink on behalf of their friendsTrust, the Edelman Corporation observes, “is now the deciding factor in whether a society can function”. Unfortunately, our mistrust is fully justified. Those who have destroyed belief in governments exploit its collapse, railing against a liberal elite (by which they mean people still engaged in public service) while working for the real and illiberal elite. As the political economist William Davies points out, “sovereignty” is used as a code for rejecting the very notion of governing as “a complex, modern, fact-based set of activities that requires technical expertise and permanent officials”.

Nowhere is the gulf between public and private interests more obvious than in governments’ response to the climate crisis. On Monday, UK energy minister Claire Perry announced that she had asked her advisers to produce a roadmap to a zero-carbon economy. On the same day, fracking commenced at Preston New Road in Lancashire, enabled by the permission Perry sneaked through parliament on the last day before the summer recess.

The minister has justified fracking on the grounds that it helps the country affect a “transition to a lower-carbon economy”. But fracked gas has net emissions similar to, or worse than, those released by burning coal. As we are already emerging from the coal era in the UK without any help from fracking, this is in reality a transition away from renewables and back into fossil fuels.

@GeorgeMonbiot

Read more on The Guardian

Washington unleashed Fossil-Fuel Exports and sold out on Climate

Washington unleashed Fossil-Fuel Exports and sold out on Climate

This article dated October 16, 2018 is part of a collaboration between the Center for Public Integrity, The Texas Tribune, The Associated Press and Newsy. It is in 2 parts.  Excerpts of part 2 are below with my Bolds.

How Washington unleashed fossil-fuel exports and sold out on climate

By Jie Jenny Zou

WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s keynote speech at the World Gas Conference in June opened with a marching band and ended with an exhibition by the Harlem Globetrotters. It was a spectacle befitting the industry symposium, which kicked off with a reception featuring a violinist perched on a pedestal in a 20-foot-long dress and trumpeters bearing ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips banners on their instruments.

“We’re sharing our energy bounty with the world,” Perry gushed from a stage at the Washington Convention Center. “I wish I could tell you the entire world is on board. There is still this stubborn opposition to natural gas and other fossil fuels.”

Long undervalued, natural gas was once burned off indiscriminately as an unwanted by-product of oil drilling. But the fuel’s fortunes have changed. Cooled to minus 162 degrees Celsius, natural gas condenses into a liquid marketed as a clean alternative to coal. In just three years, the U.S. has emerged as a top producer of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, selling shiploads of the commodity to countries such as China, which are seeking low-carbon energy sources to combat climate change.

Natural gas, it turns out, isn’t so great for the climate, but that hasn’t stopped America from sending its fossil fuels abroad. Since Donald Trump took office in 2017, exports of LNG and crude oil have surged, rivalling the likes of Saudi Arabia and Russia. To achieve what it calls “energy dominance,” the Trump administration has taken its cues from an unlikely source: its predecessor.

The Harlem Globetrotters put on a basketball exhibition at the World Gas Conference in Washington, D.C., on June 26, 2018. The performance followed a keynote speech by Energy Secretary Rick Perry. (Kyle Pyatt/Newsy)

 

When Perry hawked LNG and coal to India in April, he was advancing a dialogue the Department of Energy began under Barack Obama in 2014. That same month, Vice President Mike Pence pledged to work with the Japanese government to bring LNG to Asia — building on a partnership that began in 2013. Leaked administration plans for a “central institution” to promote “clean and advanced fossil fuels” abroad could combine several Obama-era initiatives.

Compared to Trump, Obama is regarded as an environmental champion. But history paints a more complicated picture. As the young senator promised “change we can believe in” during the 2008 presidential campaign, change was also sweeping American oilfields. Advances in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — a way of recovering oil and gas from tight rock called shale — created a glut. Industry responded by pitching fossil-fuel exports as a “win-win” that would benefit consumers and enhance American power. Helping to deliver the message was a coalition of White House advisers: academics such as Columbia University’s Jason Bordoff, energy gurus such as Daniel Yergin, and national-security experts such as John Deutch — all with links to firms profiting from the boom.

President Donald Trump and Energy Secretary Rick Perry at the “Unleashing American Energy” event on June 29, 2017, at U.S. Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, D.C.  (Simon Edelman/U.S. Department of Energy)

 

Leading the charge within government was then-Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist with longstanding ties to the oil and gas industry and an enthusiastic proponent of natural gas. Under his watch, the Energy Department moved swiftly to foster LNG exports in 2013 before shifting its focus to decades-old restrictions on the export of crude oil. Days after the Paris climate agreement was reached in 2015, Obama signed a budget bill to keep the federal government running; slipped inside was a provision allowing crude oil to be sold freely for the first time since 1975. The move was praised by an alliance of 16 companies, most of which are now capitalizing on an export-driven boom in the Permian Basin of West Texas and south-eastern New Mexico. By 2016, a new global market connected U.S. drilling rigs with refineries in China and LNG terminals in the United Kingdom.

What’s good for corporate profits, however, may not be good for the planet. A growing body of research suggests natural gas isn’t the climate panacea many promised it would be, with mounting concerns over its main component: methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 86 times more potent in the short term than carbon dioxide. In the race for energy supremacy, the U.S. has become not only the world’s largest natural-gas producer but also a top exporter of oil — a fuel that remains among the most harmful for the climate and public health. As energy exports climb, so too does global consumption of fossil fuels, drawing billions in infrastructure investment that — some argue — tilts the world away from renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar.

Read more of Part 2 and Part 1 of this series As oil and gas exports surge, West Texas becomes the world’s ‘extraction colony’