Sep 20, 2018

Exclusive: Exxon, Chevron join global industry climate group

Amy Harder, author of Generate

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Some of America’s most powerful U.S.-based oil companies — ExxonMobil, Chevron and Occidental Petroleum — are joining a global consortium of oil and gas producers seeking to address climate change, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The companies are the first U.S.-based members of the group, called the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative. This is one of the strongest signs yet of how America’s biggest oil companies, under pressure from investors and lawsuits, are joining most other U.S. corporations in working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions despite President Trump reversing America’s course on the matter.

Driving the news: CEOs of most of the group’s 13 member companies, including Saudi Aramco, Shell, BP and Occidental, are scheduled to speak at an event Monday in New York City hosted by the group and facilitated by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, led by former Obama officials.

“It will take the collective efforts of many in the energy industry and society to develop scalable, affordable solutions that will be needed to address the risks of climate change.”
— Exxon CEO Darren Woods, according to a draft release viewed by Axios

By the numbers: The group’s companies represent 30% of the world’s oil and gas production, and 20% of the planet’s primary energy consumption. Their clout is now truly global, with the addition of American companies, which had been a notable omission since the group’s founding four years ago. Government-owned oil companies other than Aramco are also members, including China’s CNPC and Mexico’s Pemex.

What they're saying: Spokespeople for companies involved declined to comment, as did Columbia University. CEOs of Exxon and Chevron likely can’t make Monday's event due to prior obligations, along with CEOs of one or two foreign-based companies, people familiar with the planning say.

The group’s purpose is twofold:

  1. Work toward cleaner operations, particularly in the area of emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s the primary component of natural gas. These efforts are continuing and growing despite Trump repealing methane regulations.
  2. Investment in new technologies, for which members contribute to a $1 billion investment fund. The primary goal is to commercialize technologies that capture carbon dioxide, but also include ones like reducing methane emissions, lowering transportation sector pollution and improving energy efficiency. The new member companies will contribute $100 million to the fund, according to a press release issued after publication of this story.

The other side: Environmentalists and others skeptical of the industry say commitments by oil companies to address climate change ring largely hollow absent more aggressive action urging governments to price carbon emissions. The group’s mission is expressly not geared toward influencing any government policy.

Between the lines: CEOs of several major, publicly traded oil companies say they support carbon taxes and back a separate group writing a proposal for one. But the companies are not actively lobbying Congress to embrace the policy. That disconnect will grow harder to reconcile as their public commitments to address climate change, such as through groups like this, grow.

Go deeper: Big Oil teeters between enemy and ally in climate fight

Editor's note: This piece has been updated with new information on monetary contributions.

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