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 This year’s shareholder season included 11 methane issue resolutions; eight were withdrawn (meaning the companies took action on their own without a vote).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.
At Chevron’s annual general meeting last week, a shareholder resolution calling on the company to improve its methane management and disclosure received a 45% vote. This strong vote follows a majority vote at Range Resources, where 50.3% of voting shareholders supported a similar methane disclosure resolution (up from just 20% in 2013). Oil and gas industry shareholders are sending a powerful message– methane is a material risk that companies must manage to compete in a capital- and climate-constrained world.
Such resolutions are effective at driving change, even for non-majority votes like the 38% of shareholders at Kinder Morgan who supported a methane resolution. For example, last year ExxonMobil’s methane resolution received a 39% vote, and the company responded with a new methane emissions production program, which now includes a quantitative methane reduction target.
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.
When I worked on the trading floor at Goldman Sachs, one of the major services we provided our corporate clients was risk management. Sitting on the commodity desk, we bought and sold financial products that allowed the world’s biggest consumers and producers to manage their exposure to the often fluctuating price of natural resources like aluminum, crude oil, and natural gas. Companies take action to manage this price risk in order to provide long-term stability for the company and its investors.
Now as a member of the EDF+Business team, I focus on a different kind of risk: climate risk. And just like financial risk, it needs to be managed for the long-term benefit of all stakeholders involved.
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