This week, the global oil and gas industry is celebrating International Petroleum Week (IPW) – an “annual thought-leadership event for influencers and decision-makers from the oil and gas industry”. Pollutocrats*, here is some free thought leadership for you: stop wrecking our planet, harming its people and destroying our future prosperity.
Adam Smith perfectly described the natural outcome of such gatherings and our inability to prevent them in a democracy: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice.” Quite.
IPW will explore such progressive ideas as: oil and gas developments in the Arctic; future investment in Asia-Pacific, Iraq, Kurdistan and the eastern Mediterranean; and whether we are heading for a golden age of gas. Despite the ubiquity of climate change at the World Economic Forum in Davos and other international events recently, there’s no room on the agenda for our fragile environment or sustainability at IPW.
Present will be big oil: BP plc, Chevron Corporation, ExxonMobil Corporation, Royal Dutch Shell plc, Total SA and ConocoPhillips Company. These are not the biggest oil and gas companies in the world, which are the state-owned national oil companies (NOC) of Saudi Arabia, China and Russia.
However, they are the largest publicly-owned corporations, so the ones we can potentially influence through share ownership. They are also the ones you would hope have some ounce of humanity left, living in free and democratic societies as their boards do, alongside some common purpose with their fellow countrymen. Naive and idealistic, we know.
Just as a reminder, here’s a little rundown of the industry’s contribution to global environmental, social and governance affairs, courtesy of Wikipedia**.
BP has been involved in several major environmental and safety incidents. Among them were the 2005 Texas City Refinery explosion, which caused the death of 15 workers and resulted in a record-setting OSHA fine; Britain’s largest oil spill, the wreck of Torrey Canyon; and the 2006 Prudhoe Bay oil spill, the largest oil spill on Alaska’s North Slope, which resulted in a $25m civil penalty, the largest per-barrel penalty at that time for an oil spill. Source.
Chevron has been involved in several controversies and environmental and safety incidents. In 1950, then Standard Oil was convicted of criminal conspiracy for their part in the great American streetcar scandal. From 1970 to 2000 they evaded $3.25 billion in federal and state taxes through a complex petroleum pricing scheme. In 2012, a large fire due to aging equipment and lack of oversight erupted at a Chevron refinery in Richmond, California. In Ecuador, Chevron has been involved in an ongoing class action lawsuit filed by indigenous residents. Source.
ExxonMobil has been subject to numerous criticisms, including the lack of speed during its cleanup efforts after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, widely considered the number one spill worldwide in terms of damage to the environment. ExxonMobil has drawn criticism for funding organisations that are sceptical of the scientific opinion that global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Questions have been raised about the legality of the company’s foreign business practices. Critics note that ExxonMobil increasingly drills in terrains leased by dictatorships. The company has also has been the target of accusations of improperly dealing with human rights issues, influence on American foreign policy, and its impact on the future of nations. Source.
Shell has been criticised for its businesses in Africa, notably in relation to protests of the Ogoni in 1995. In 2004 Shell overstated its oil reserves, resulting in loss of confidence in the group. The presence of companies like Shell in the Niger Delta has led to extreme environmental issues in the Niger Delta. In Magdelena, Argentina, Shell was responsible for the largest oil spill that has ever occurred in freshwater in the world. A number of incidents over the years led to criticism of Shell’s health and safety record, including repeated warnings by the UK Health and Safety Executive about the poor state of the company’s North Sea platforms. In the beginning of 1996, several human rights groups brought cases to hold Shell accountable for alleged human rights violations in Nigeria. Shell announced its $4.5 billion Arctic drilling program in 2006 by using drilling rigs Kulluk and Noble Discoverer. Source.
In 1998 the Total SA Company was fined €375,000 for an oil spill that stretched 400 kilometres from La Rochelle to the western tip of Brittany. The AZF chemical plant which exploded in 2001 in Toulouse, France. On 16 January 2008, Total was required to compensate all of the victims of the pollution caused by the sinking of the ship Erika. Total is being implicated in a bribe commission scandal which is currently emerging in Malta. Despite the European Union’s sanctions against the military dictatorship Myanmar, Total is able to operate the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Burma to Thailand. On 16 December 2008, the managing director of the Italian division of Total, Lionel Levha, and ten other executives were arrested… for a corruption charge of €15m to undertake the oilfield in Basilicata on contract. In April 2010, Total was accused of bribing Iraqi officials during former dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime to secure oil supplies. Total has been a significant investor in the Iranian energy sector since 1990. Total is suspected of concealing the source of its oil imports from Iran, [where] in 2013 a case was settled that concerned charges that Total bribed an Iranian official with $60m. Source.
According to the Political Economy Research Institute, ConocoPhillips ranked 13th among US corporate producers of air pollutions. In 2003, ConocoPhillips was named as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by Green Alternative, an environmental group based in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The suit claimed that a number of foreign oil companies colluded with the Georgian government to induce authorities to approve a $3 billion pipeline without properly evaluating the environmental impact. In June 2011, ConocoPhillips China Inc, a wholly owned subsidiary of ConocoPhillips, was responsible for a series of oil spills in Bohai Bay. Source.
The charge sheet is long and goes on and on. And on. All the above ignores the industry’s not inconsiderable contribution to climate change and air pollution, with the concomitant health problems of cancer, respiratory, heart and skin disease.
It ignores the industry’s less than subtle efforts to undermine public understanding of, and confidence in, climate science. Or its considerable skill at bullying governments, bribing politicians, demanding vast tax subsidies (far, far in excess of renewable subsidies), and attempting to kill off the nascent clean energy industry.
It ignores the carbon bubble that massively overvalues these companies, threatening pensions and economies across the developed world.
It also ignores the industry’s role in encouraging the world’s wealthiest nations to fight illegal wars, overthrow fledgling democracies and prop up dictators to support commercial interests. This leads to a world living under the shadow of terrorism.
The world needs oil today. The world needs to wean itself off oil tomorrow. The world needs big oil to show a duty of care to life on Earth before it is too late. If not, we need to divest, divest, divest, while they drill, drill, drill.
Will it make a difference when the NOCs have such a large market share in the global oil and gas market? In some small way, yes. And every little helps. As for NOCs, many Middle Eastern governments see huge opportunities in solar energy and so are doubly blessed by both the fossil and solar ages. They just need to get over a few internal instabilities. China is slowly beginning to understand the importance of clean air in its smog-afflicted megacities.
Big oil, we can but applaud your evil genius. Like the backstreet drug dealer, you got us hooked on your product and liquidated any rivals, again and again. When you couldn’t get your own way legitimately, you threatened then harmed or killed those who stood against you.
Never in the history of human commerce was so much owed by so few corporations to the detriment of so many innocent people.
If only all those thousands of brilliant and decent scientists and engineers you employ had devoted their intelligence, industry and subsequent wealth to making the world a better place, rather than recklessly profiteering from its ongoing degradation.
* We owe a debt of gratitude to James Murray of BusinessGreen for this truly excellent and inspired neologism
** So sue them
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable
Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.
1. Weather stripping
If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.
Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.
Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.
2. Programmable thermostats
Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.
Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!
3. Low-flow water hardware
With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.
Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.
Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.
4. Energy efficient light bulbs
An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.
New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.
5. Installing solar panels
Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.
Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.
From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!
These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.