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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Big Tech is making splash with its aggressive carbon reduction goals, but some of its employees and climate activists are criticizing Google, Microsoft and Amazon for nonetheless partnering with fossil fuel companies to use artificial intelligence to find hidden hydrocarbons and bring them to market.

Why it matters: Big oil companies are some of the richest, most resourceful enterprises in the world. They collect multiple terabytes of data daily but don't have the capacity to analyze and efficiently utilize that volume of facts without AI.

The big picture: Climate activists and even some of tech giants' own employees say the growing number of fossil fuel partnerships undercut tech companies' increasingly aggressive climate and clean energy efforts.

  • Big Tech has improved the reach of wind power and made data centers more efficient by training AI to predict how much energy should be used in a given day.
  • Tech companies were again the top corporate buyers of renewable energy in 2019, with Google contracting the most new capacity, per BloombergNEF.

What to watch: Global spending on AI in oil, gas and renewable energy industries is expected to reach $7.79 billion by 2024, per BIS Research.

  • U.S. tech companies are dominating AI in the energy sector. They took in the most net revenue globally in 2018 — roughly $657 million — by selling AI to oil, gas and power industries including renewable energy, BIS told Axios.
  • Tech companies in China netted roughly $180 million for the same thing.

Some ways AI and cloud services are used for oil and gas:

  • Microsoft cloud computing software helps Chevron analyze drilling data from approximately 40 complex wells, including some in Kazakhstan and several in the Deepwater Gulf of Mexico, Chevron spokesperson Jan Sieving told Axios.
  • Amazon provides its AI-enabled CloudWatch to GE Oil & Gas and heavily advertises its AWS machine learning as a tool to make oil drilling and production faster, reduce costs and analyze trillions of terabytes of data.
  • Google Cloud has helped Total quickly explore oil and gas fields through AI data analysis since April 2018, a Total spokesperson confirmed to Axios.

Some ways AI is used for renewable energy:

  • Microsoft Azure AI has been used to help energy providers in the U.K. avoid energy-balancing fees imposed by national energy authorities and analyze data for solar energy providers.
  • AWS' SageMaker helps a German-based energy company track customers' online behavior. It also supplies deep learning and predictive tech to New Zealand's largest electricity and gas distributor, a Nordic branch of World Fuel Services, a California energy and battery company, and the U.K.'s EDF Energy.
  • Google is still optimizing a DeepMind AI algorithm launched in 2016 to autonomously run its data centers' cooling systems. Their system was the first of its kind for industrial facilities and data centers, Google spokesperson Mara Harris told Axios.

Between the lines: Big Tech companies say 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.

  • Microsoft is "committed to continuing to work with all our customers, including those in the oil and gas business ... while innovating together to achieve the business needs of a net-zero carbon future," per their "carbon negative" release.
  • Amazon said in a statement to Axios it will "continue to provide cloud services" to oil, gas and renewable energy companies as they work to "make their legacy businesses less carbon intensive and accelerate development of renewable energy businesses."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

4 hours ago - Health

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.

5 hours ago - World

UAE asks U.S. to reinstate Houthi terrorist designation after attack

Secretary of State Tony Blinken (left) listens to United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan during a joint news conference at the State Department iin October. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed asked Secretary of State Tony Blinken in a phone call Monday to re-designate the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a terrorist organization, a senior Emirati official told Axios.

Why it matters: Less than a month after he assumed office, President Biden rolled back the Trump administration’s decision to make the designation. He said it hampered humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people. Since then, the Houthis have escalated their attacks against Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region — including an attack Monday in Abu Dhabi.