The climate change discussion is percolating even in surprising places. The latest sign: the American Petroleum Institute’s recent formation of an internal task force on climate change. Reportedly the new task force’s mandate is to revisit API’s approach to this crucial issue, going into an election year and with ever greater scrutiny on fossil fuels.
It is too soon to know whether the task force will rubber stamp a business-as-usual approach defined by glossing over climate concerns and attacking policy measures, or chart a new path instead.
But if the task force is serious about a fresh look at the issue, here are three keys for the task force to consider as it ponders the future of API on climate.
Face the Facts
The oil and gas industry must be responsive to growing pressures from its investors, corporate customers, and Americans affected by oil and gas operations – from local pollution to climate change.
The historic global climate agreement reached in Paris, supported by nearly 200 countries including powerhouses like the United States and China, was also supported by a wide cross-section of American businesses – including PG&E, which as a natural gas distribution company and power generator is a user of API members’ products and a face to climate-conscious consumers.
Last April, over 400 investors representing more than $24 trillion in assets under management urged stronger leadership and more ambitious policies to lessen risk to investment and retirement savings of millions of Americans. Since then, the 2016 investor shareholder resolution season yielded a record breaking number of resolutions – 94 – addressing climate change, many levied as challenges to large oil companies.
And American public concern on global warming is reaching an eight year high, with nearly two-thirds of adults saying they worry about global warming a “great deal” or “a fair amount”, according to Gallup.
Facing all the facts, not cherry-picking them, can ground the task force’s work in today’s dynamic environment and enable an effective response in a changing world. Read more
A massive wave of market and societal forces is changing the oil and gas industry. Low commodity prices are driving out weaker players with excessive debt, and forcing those that remain to become leaner and more efficient. As climate change effects worsen and countries move to fulfill their commitments from the Paris climate agreement, public scrutiny of oil and natural gas and their impacts only intensifies.
The question is not will industry change to meet these challenges — it’s how. It’s about what opportunities can propel industry to come back stronger out of the depths of the commodity slide, as a leaner, cleaner industry standing on firm ground that it can play a meaningful role as societies work to transition to lower-carbon economies.
While natural gas remains a fact of life, and switching from coal to natural gas has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientific research has demonstrated that potent methane emissions from the oil and gas system are undermining that climate benefit. The latest U.S. inventory shows over 9 million metric tons of oil and gas methane emissions, packing the same climate impact over a 20 year timeframe as over 200 coal-fired power plants. That’s a lot of methane no matter how you slice it.
Methane standards like the rule announced today by EPA can aid industry, for three reasons: Read more
As oil and gas leaders converge on Houston for the year’s largest industry conference, CERA Week, falling oil and gas prices are understandably top of mind and a cause for concern for the industry. But there is another decline story underway in industry, one that poses a risk to the future of hydrocarbons in a carbon constrained world – a story of falling trust.
While today’s $30 oil price is disruptive in the short-term, new information on the very low level of public trust in the oil and gas industry should prompt concern from executives and investors about possible longer-term disruption to companies’ social license to operate.
The Industry’s Public Trust Problem
Recent polling conducted by KRC Research for EDF found that a mere 29 percent of Americans trust oil and gas companies to operate responsibly. Strikingly, even among Republicans, the trust rate is under 40 percent.
Digging deeper into the numbers, just 15 percent of Americans trust the oil and gas industry to be accurate in disclosing how much pollution they cause.
So what do these results mean?
They mean that a basic ingredient essential to the long-term viability of any industry – societal trust – is sorely lacking. When 197 nations agree to an ambitious framework and goal to cut greenhouse gas pollution, but very few Americans trust oil and gas operators to even disclose their pollution accurately, a collision course develops. Read more
What a difference a year can make. Even before the last weeks tick away, 2015 stands out as a remarkable and dynamic year for climate and energy in the United States.
Read on for five bold trends that are beginning to reshape our economy – and our national discourse on climate change.
1. Investments in renewables soar
I admit it: For years, I thought renewable energy was more hype than reality. I’m happy to report that recent data proves me wrong.
In just five years, solar panel prices have fallen 80 percent, and solar capacity installed worldwide grew more than six-fold. The overall cost of solar per kilowatt-hour, meanwhile, plummeted 50 percent.
For the first time in history, energy from the sun is as cheap as traditional energy in states such as Arizona, California and Texas.
The proof is in the pudding. Apple, for example, recently signed an $848-million power agreement with a solar provider – bypassing the electric grid. A deal of this magnitude shows where solar is today, and where it is headed. Read more
There is often staunch disagreement between industry and policymakers on how to address pollution. But an event last week convening business leaders, federal and state officials and other stakeholders showed that there’s at least one idea on which they can agree and work together: the feasibility of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.
Here are four perspectives shared at this event that give me hope we can solve the large, but addressable problem of methane pollution from the oil and gas industry if we take a fact-based, collaborative approach. That would be great news in itself, and powerful precedent for tackling the broader climate opportunities ahead.
Environmental regulations are not a zero sum game. Martha Rudolph, director of Environmental Programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, was on the front lines when Colorado proposed the nation’s first direct regulation of methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. At the event, she shared her state’s powerful example of unlikely allies coming together to protect climate and communities in a way that makes business sense.
Instead of tales of industry resistance, she shared a history of business and other stakeholders coming together with state policy makers to formulate and implement cost-effective regulations that will cut 100,000 tons of methane emissions – the climate equivalent of taking over 1.8 million cars off the road. Rudolph reports that the rules have not been challenged in court, and to date, her office had not heard complaints about compliance being difficult or costly . Noble, Anadarko, and Encana supported strong rules at the front end, and even the industry trade associations have rolled up their sleeves and set up trainings to ease rule implementation. Read more
Since the president announced in January a national goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry nearly in half by 2025, an outpouring of voices has supported the move. Now, EPA has proposed rules to help meet that target, and we’ve seen another wave of support – everyone from editorial boards in the heart of oil and gas country to massive investors like California’s pension funds has recognized that the rules are a manageable, commonsense means for reducing methane pollution.
The one voice that’s been silent? The companies with the opportunity to adopt the proven, cost-effective technologies and services to not only reduce pollution but also prevent the waste of the very energy resource they’re producing. Now another voice has emerged to make the case directly to these companies that it’s worth constructively engaging in the rulemaking process: the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a group of shareholders dedicated to promoting environmentally and socially responsible corporate practices.
Several shareholders from ICCR’s coalition sent letters today to dozens of energy companies in which they invest, voicing their concern about the impact of methane emissions on the climate and public health. As You Sow, BCAM, Mercy Investments, Miller Howard, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, Trillium Asset Management, and others made their case to companies whose shares they own, including some of the biggest names in the business, like Chesapeake Energy, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Kinder Morgan, and Valero.
Specifically, the investors asked the companies to file public comments on EPA’s proposed methane rules, sharing the companies’ data and experience with methane monitoring and management and providing perspective on how the methane rules can be designed to reduce emissions cost effectively. They also urged the companies to guide their powerful trade associations –which have been some of the most vocal opponents of the rules – to engage honestly and transparently in the rulemaking process. Read more
As the dog days of summer expire and football season approaches, many sports fans will anxiously scan their favorite team’s rosters for training camp injuries–finding everything from the innocuous, to the dreaded torn Achilles that already sidelined several pro players for the season’s start.
When it comes to the energy industry, methane emissions loom as the Achilles heel of natural gas. On the surface, natural gas appears to many as a star American player – abundant and cleaner burning than coal.
But unchecked methane emissions, which are 84 times more potent than CO2, undercut natural gas’ climate change performance.
This risk has grown particularly acute because the recently finalized Clean Power Plan, which targets carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, casts natural gas as part of a viable near-term strategy to win the climate game.
The spotlight on natural gas’ performance is only growing as more viewers tune in.
The difference is, while there is no sure-fire way to prevent an Achilles tear on the athletic field, we have the means at our fingertips to dramatically reduce methane emissions and help natural gas become a stronger player that puts more points on the board for the economy and climate.
New EPA methane rules announced Tuesday can be an important step if finalized in strong form, yielding four business benefits: Read more
California public school teachers. Religious charities. New York police officers and firefighters.
What do all of these groups have in common? Investors representing them — who manage $1.5 trillion in retirees, current employees’, and others assets – are standing together and calling for strong rules limiting harmful methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. This level of outpouring – from diversified investors with holdings in the oil and gas industry – represents five times the support investors expressed for methane rules last year. A trend is emerging.
The investors, including the largest retirement funds in California and New York, issued a powerful statement in support of the president’s methane proposal aimed at cutting emissions nearly in half in a decade. A centerpiece is regulation of methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas, which has over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it’s released and is responsible for 25 percent of the warming we are feeling today.
From their vantage point as long-term stakeholders, the “serious threat” methane poses to climate stability compels them, as fiduciaries, to support action to cut emissions and avoid near term threats to “infrastructure and economic harm that will weaken not only the companies we invest in, but the nation as a whole.” Market pressure like that is difficult to ignore. Read more
Pump jacks lined up in Oklahoma. (Credit: Kool Kats)
Six large European oil and gas companies recently announced a commitment to engage on climate policy, calling for a price on carbon. The now-emerging picture of their coordinated corporate talking points, however, leaves no doubt that promotion of natural gas is a core part of the group’s position.
Is this development a beneficial push to help the planet transition to a low carbon economy – or just another marketing campaign? The truth, so far, lies somewhere in between.
Here are the good, the bad and the ugly highlights of what we’ve learned over the past week and what it all means.
The good: Establishing a carbon price and cutting carbon dioxide emissions
Make no mistake about it: The world’s leading economies need to establish a price and limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and leadership from the private sector is instrumental in achieving that policy objective.
For large companies such as Shell, BP and Statoil to join forces and unequivocally state, as they now have, that a price on carbon should be a “key element” of climate policy frameworks is a refreshing boost to pre-Paris United Nations climate talks.
It is a potentially powerful validation that even some of the world’s largest corporate emitters see an upside to carbon pricing and will weigh in to make it a reality.
As to promoting natural gas a solution, it is well documented that in many cases natural gas will replace coal for power generation – a shift already underway in the United States and partly responsible for driving down carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Read more
Europe’s largest oil companies are reportedly working together on a policy strategy leading up to this year’s international climate talks in Paris. It’s nice to hear that some of the biggest players in the global oil and gas industry want to engage in solutions, but it remains to be seen if they will take the action needed to effectively tackle some of our most immediate climate threats – or to seize a major untapped opportunity.
That opportunity is methane. The highly potent greenhouse gas that’s been largely ignored until recently represents a solution for making real and immediate progress to slow warming. So will the group of oil companies sign on to tackle methane as a big part of its strategy, or are they going to ignore it?
Methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas, has over 80 times the warming power of CO2 and is responsible for 25 percent of the warming we are feeling today. That means tackling methane is an essential piece of the puzzle in making a real impact on greenhouse emissions. Read more