Just last month 13 of the world’s largest oil and gas majors—including ExxonMobil, BP and Shell —came together for a new commitment to reducing a key super pollutant. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is the second leading contributor to climate change and over 80 times more potent than carbon when leaked into the atmosphere in the short-term. What’s more surprising? The coalition’s new methane target proceeded despite an uncertain regulatory landscape in the U.S.
Last month, we had the opportunity to speak about methane and ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing with Michael Cappucci, Senior Vice President of Compliance and Sustainable Investing at Harvard Management Company (HMC). An early leader in ESG investing, HMC was the first U.S. university endowment to sign the UN-supported PRI ESG investing initiative in 2014.
HMC manages the university’s $37 billion endowment and believes ESG risks can have indirect and direct impacts on a company’s performance. Part of HMC’s work with Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) includes co-leading a group of institutional investors examining the global efforts underway to limit methane emissions and the opportunities to increase their effectiveness. As HMC’s representative to that group, Michael explains below why methane is a risk for all investors and how far the industry has come in just a few short years.
This article was originally published in Petroleum Economist.
With the corporate annual shareholder season coming to a close and the World Gas Conference around the corner, one thing is abundantly clear – investors are strengthening their stance on climate, and they want the oil and gas industry to step up and reduce methane emissions.
In an open letter in the Financial Times earlier this spring, investors overseeing more than $10.4 trillion wrote they are expecting the oil and gas industry to change how it operates and transition its operations and corporate strategy to a low-carbon economy.
In the past three years, nearly 40 methane shareholder resolutions have been filed, and it doesn’t require a crystal ball to know that more are coming. This year’s shareholder season included 11 methane issue resolutions; eight were withdrawn (meaning the companies took action on their own without a vote). Chevron shareholders generated a 45 percent vote in favor of a methane resolution, and Range Resources’ resolution passed with a majority vote, while Kinder Morgan garnered a strong 38 percent shareholder vote.
Oil and gas investor pressure is building, with 20 climate shareholder resolutions up for review at annual meetings held by publicly-traded energy companies this month. While the climate filings cover a range of issues, improved methane management is in the mix.
Last year was a breakout year for methane investor activism. ExxonMobil’s XTO Energy subsidiary business announced a reduction plan in response to a 2017 methane disclosure resolution, with onlookers expecting more change to follow this year from others. Meanwhile, a growing global network representing 36 investors and $4.2 trillion in managed assets continue to call on companies for methane reductions.
In the second-part of our interview series with Jamie Bonham, Manager of Corporate Engagement at NEI, we talk about how influential Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) shareholder resolutions, such as methane, have been in the past. We also discuss what prompts investors to file resolutions, and the potential impact on companies.
Close your eyes and think about innovation. How many of you thought about a widget – a robot, a self-driving vehicle, a sensor? I’m guessing almost all of you. How many of you thought about regulations, contracts and financing? Maybe a few at most. This is the exercise that former Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, and David Cash, former Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner, prompted at the launch of the WBUR Environmental Reporting Initiative.
With upcoming annual meetings full of shareholder resolutions calling on companies to set greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, EDF released "Taking Aim", a new paper explaining why methane targets are the next frontier for the oil and gas industry and establishing five keys for strong targets. The paper explains how companies that set targets are more likely to be successful when it comes to securing methane emission reductions. Setting targets also demonstrates to investors that corporate decision makers understand methane risk management is critical to competing in an ever-cleaner energy market.
With the Task Force for Climate-Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) framework also highlighting the importance of targets, “Taking Aim” provides some initial guidelines that can help frame what an ambitious, leading target looks like for oil and gas industry methane.
While a growing number of global oil and gas companies step up to reduce methane emissions, many operators in Canada have hesitated to take concrete action, perhaps waiting instead for federal and provincial regulations to address the issue.
EDF’s Sean Wright recently sat down with Jamie Bonham, Manager of Corporate Engagement at NEI, a Canadian investment firm based in Toronto with $6 billion in assets under management. Bonham is concerned many Canadian operators do not understand the full scope of their oil and gas methane problem, but says there is considerable opportunity for Canadian companies to exert leadership.
The demand for corporate transparency is here to stay. Just last year, 390 investors representing more than $22 trillion assets signed a letter in support of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, advocating for a unified set of recommendations for corporate climate disclosure. So as financial markets increasingly recognize Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) risks, and increasingly embrace ESG strategies, oil and gas companies failing to report on environmental risks, like methane emissions, will be at a disadvantage.
Yet despite the reputational and financial risks posed by methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, over 40 percent of oil and gas companies analyzed in a new EDF report fail to report even basic information on methane management. The report finds that the quality and quantity of methane risk management reporting has increased amongst nearly 60 percent of companies analyzed. But the overall improvement has not been enough.
Two big developments this month suggest that investor interest in climate-related financial risk is at an all-time high. The first is Climate Action 100+, a new initiative led by Ceres and 225 investors with more than $26.3 trillion in assets under management to strengthen climate-related financial disclosures among the world’s largest corporations.
As investors work to increase reporting on climate risk, methane emissions will be top of mind. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide when released to the atmosphere over a 20-year period – and is responsible for 25 percent of the warming we’re experiencing today.
That’s why the second development, this year’s Disclosing the Facts report, departed from its normal broad survey of chemical, air, water and community impact risks facing U.S. gas producers to do a deep-dive on methane reporting. (Full disclosure: I’m an acknowledged reviewer of the report.) The report is a joint effort between As You Sow, Boston Common Asset Management, and The Investor Environmental Health Network.
The report poses 13 questions that span both quantitative metrics and qualitative narrative with the aim of testing whether companies report a thorough, systematic approach to methane management. The disclosures of 28 U.S. producers are evaluated against these parameters and a company can earn one point for each of the 13 questions posed.
Four main takeaways emerge from the analysis:
Environmental Defense Fund Q&A with Tim Goodman, Director of Engagement at Hermes Investment Management
Early oil and gas industry adopters of methane management strategies and technologies are starting to see these reductions as an opportunity to gain a competitive edge.
Just last week, ExxonMobil announced a new methane reduction program for its XTO Energy subsidiary, underscoring that the industry is paying close attention to the issue.
Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is leaked and vented across the oil and gas supply chain every day as the world energy mix shifts towards greater natural gas usage, according to the International Energy Agency. The oil and gas industry wastes billions of dollars a year of methane that simultaneously acts as a climate change accelerator, harming the brand of natural gas as a cheap and clean fuel source. Methane is 84 times more powerful as a heat-trapper than carbon in its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Read more