May 19, 2020 - Technology

Google drops future AI oil extraction projects

Illustration of a gas nozzle filling up the Earth
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Google will no longer develop new artificial intelligence tools to help oil and gas companies extract crude, the company announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: The tech giant is breaking away from Microsoft and Amazon, both of which have also developed AI in recent years to expedite oil production and make services more efficient for companies like Chevron and GE Oil & Gas. Google's 2018 contract with Total was in place as of February, a Total spokesperson confirmed to Axios at the time.

What they're saying: Google Cloud "will not, for instance, build custom AI/ML algorithms to facilitate upstream extraction in the oil and gas industry," a Google spokesperson told Axios on Tuesday. OneZero first reported the move.

  • Yes, but: The company will honor its current contracts. The spokesperson declined to say if Google's work with Total would continue, noting that customer contracts are confidential. Total did not respond to a request for comment.
  • Google's 2019 revenue from oil and gas came out to roughly $65 million, which accounted for less than 1% of the company's total revenue in that period, the spokesperson said.
  • On renewable energy, Google says it is applying algorithms from its own data centers to improve efficiency in buildings.

Of note: Google's announcement dropped alongside a Greenpeace report released Tuesday that detailed cloud computing and AI contracts between Google, Microsoft and Amazon and oil and gas companies.

Between the lines: Microsoft and Amazon have said that working with the oil industry isn’t at odds with their climate commitments. In some cases, they're working with Big Oil on clean energy plans — like BP giving AWS renewable power.

What we're watching via Axios' Amy Harder: It's too soon to tell whether Google proves to be an outlier or an early indicator of a trend, but one thing is clear now: Environmentalists will be ramping up the pressure on other tech giants and companies in other sectors to sever ties with oil and gas firms now that they've had success with one.

Go deeper: Climate activists target Big Tech over fossil fuel work

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