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.
Four years ago, I stood in the centralized data command center of an American oil and gas company, watching a former colleague remotely adjust infrastructure at wellsites thousands of miles away because an algorithm detected a potential failure. This was the first time I personally witnessed the power of the “digital oilfield.”
Essentially, the “digital oilfield” refers to a transformative effort to bring solutions such as automation, predictive maintenance, and IoT technologies to the world’s oil and gas industry. Oilfield digitization has started to change the way decisions are made, operations are conducted, and facilities are managed across the entire oil and gas value chain. While early adopters are already employing automated and connected innovations to gain a competitive advantage, only a few are applying digitization technologies to address one of the industry’s biggest challenges: methane.
As these companies have themselves recognized, the role of natural gas in a world that can—and must—decarbonize depends on minimizing harmful emissions of methane from across oil and gas production and the natural gas value chain. But a recent comprehensive study involving dozens of leading academics and companies around the country found that U.S. methane emissions from industry are 60 percent higher than prior estimates—enough to double the climate impact of natural gas.
The day before the World Gas Conference – one of the energy industry’s largest – 10 companies competed for USD $20 million to fund solutions with the power to disrupt how methane is managed, measured, and reduced.
The money was provided by Oil and Gas Climate Investments, the billion-dollar investment fund tied to the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) – a consortium of 10 oil and gas companies sharing knowledge and resources to cut the greenhouse gas footprint of their industry.
For years, conversations at major oil and gas industry conferences focused on one thing: the shale revolution. Excitement about the surge in economical new supply of unconventionally produced oil and gas was palpable, as panelists spoke of the potential for shale to transform everything from the geopolitics of American energy supply to the price of hydrocarbons. With such an unexpected and seismic change, a supply side story carried the day, with a focus on “below ground” drivers of energy abundance.
But today, the shale revolution is simply the new normal and the conversation has changed. “Above ground” factors like increasing competition from renewables, greenhouse gas emissions, and license to operate will affect demand for natural gas for years. How industry confronts such challenges – both in the United States and internationally – will have a lot to do with industry’s longevity in putting resources to productive use in a changing world demanding cleaner energy
At last week’s World Gas Conference in Washington, DC, difficult questions swirled about whether industry has done enough to earn societal trust that natural gas has a constructive role to play in the transition to a low carbon economy. The biggest buzz of all surrounded one key issue: methane emissions, a core strategic challenge for the oil and gas industry.
I remember from experience that methane began as a niche issue years ago, mentioned by engineering and science teams, not CEOs. World Gas Conference 2018 left no doubt that those days are over, and that tackling methane must become part of business as usual. Here are four key takeaways. Read more
The oil and gas industry is at an inflection point: according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the role that natural gas can play in the future of global energy is inextricably linked to its ability to help address environmental problems.
One of these problems is methane emissions–a key focus of the World Gas Conference in Washington, D.C. this week–which represent a reputational risk to the oil and gas industry, a waste of saleable resources, and a contributor to both poor local air quality and climate change.
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.
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.