Engage Big Oil for Lower Emissions

Engage Big Oil for Lower Emissions
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These are heady days for bashing U.S. and European multinational oil corporations while also begging OPEC to increase oil production. Talk about mixed and bizarre messages.

A better course is to embrace Big Oil in the push for lower emissions and challenge it to keep its word on bold public pledges. BP, for example, has promised to become a net-zero emissions company by 2050 and is using large-scale data analytics to get there. This includes more quickly identifying problem oil wells where immediate shutdowns should occur.

At an October 28 hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee Congressional Democrats excoriated the Chief Executive Officers of ExxonMobil, BP America, and Chevron. They were branded as akin to tobacco executives. The companies have subsequently received subpoenas to produce information about lobbying efforts and climate change going back decades.

Yet each company has long supported the Paris Climate Accord and pledged to reduce its own emissions, committing billions of dollars to do so. In fact, each of the companies has a decades-long record of cutting pollutants. Congress should focus on probing these efforts and challenging Big Oil to keep its word.

This would also save face for the Biden Administration.

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said during a November 5 CNBC interview, “The message (to OPEC) is we need to increase supply at this moment so that people will not be hurt during the winter months.”

On October 31, President Biden made a similar plea saying, “The idea that Russia and Saudi Arabia and other major producers are not going to pump more oil so people can have gasoline to get to and from work, for example, is not right.”

Given oil companies’ climate pledges, their immense scientific expertise, and the potential of data analytics to reduce emissions, there is much to be gained by working with them.

Simply put, without assistance from the oil and natural gas industries, the world will find it will be harder and it will take longer to cut emissions. In the United States, transportation, and electricity account for 54 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Those bashing the oil companies are betting that the world will be able to replace and grow its energy supplies with clean sources entirely. The data show that is a reckless bet.

Growth in worldwide energy demand. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the world is projected to need 50 percent more energy by 2050. Climate change concerns are secondary to the desires for industrial growth and modern conveniences in China, India, and many other countries throughout the world.

The world has many other huge oil companies. While U.S. and European multinational oil companies provide much of America’s oil, there are plenty more mega-producers. The state-owned oil companies for China, India, and Middle Eastern countries will be producing a lot of oil regardless of the pleas of U.S. activists. The technology and data innovations that will spur cleaner oil industry operations and cleaner burning fuels are far more likely to be initiated by western oil companies and to spread worldwide.

Gasoline powered cars will be with us for a long time. The average car in America today is 12 years old. Given that vehicle manufacturing has improved over the past decade and that nearly all cars made during that time are gasoline powered, half of America’s cars will still be gasoline powered by the late 2030s.

Strident climate activists are betting on unprecedented technological breakthroughs to reverse this trend. And some may be planning to outlaw and confiscate Americans’ gasoline powered cars. A better approach is to hedge such long-shot bets with an immediate push for cleaner fossil fuels.

It is time to unleash the scientific and engineering expertise at Big Oil and merge it with the far-ranging applications of data analytics and cloud technology. The results will be significantly lower methane emissions, more successful drilling operations, and improved refining processes, all with dramatically lower emissions.

And perhaps best of all, we will not have to beg foreign countries to hike their fossil fuel production so that Americans, especially the poor, are not hurt.


Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia. 

Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia. 


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