Jun 8, 2020

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning. My latest column is the latest in my ongoing series about civil rights leaders and the oil and gas industry. I'll share a glimpse and then Ben Geman will take over the rest.

Tonight on "Axios on HBO": 

  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms opens up about the protests in a raw and heartfelt interview. (clip)
  • Rep. Val Demings “would say yes” to being Joe Biden’s running mate. (clip)
  • Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church explains “holy rage” and calls out Trump’s bible “photo op.”
  • Rep. James Clyburn tries to describe how he felt watching the video of George Floyd’s killing.
  • Plus Columbia University professor Robert Fullilove unpacks the health effects of racism.

Watch at 11pm ET/PT on all HBO platforms.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,257 words, < 5 minutes.

1 big thing: Civil rights leaders press oil industry on diversity

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Civil rights leaders are calling on the oil and gas industry — dominated by white men — to hire more women and people of color.

Why it matters: The effort, led by Rev. Jesse Jackson and National Urban League president Marc Morial, has been underway for weeks, though the topic has taken on a new urgency in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

Driving the news: Jackson and Morial are calling on the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, a trade group representing natural gas transportation companies, to increase racial and gender representation across the industry, including on boards of directors and C-suites.

  • “We believe that through the development of a workforce that reflects the country’s demographics, upward mobility will take place in underserved, urban, rural, middle class and other communities,” Morial said in a May 18 letter to Alex Oehler, INGAA interim president.
  • “I urge your association and member companies to double your efforts to include more women, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Pacific executives amongst your ranks,” Jackson wrote in a May 5 letter to Oehler.

The intrigue: Jackson and Morial are also trying to work with the trade group on ensuring affordable access to natural gas, especially for communities of color.

  • The leaders, along with Rev. Al Sharpton, have recently expressed opposition to a swift move away from natural gas — which is the cleanest fossil fuel, but one that environmentalists nonetheless oppose given its role heating up the planet.
  • Jackson is pushing for a natural gas pipeline in a low-income, largely black community near Chicago.

For the record: Oehler told Axios he plans to respond soon to Morial and welcomes the conversation about diversity. He already responded to Jackson’s letter, though that response was focused on the energy access question.

By the numbers: The oil and gas industry workforce is generally less diverse than the American workforce as a whole, and African Americans are especially underrepresented.

  • The share of African Americans working in the oil and gas industry in 2015 was 6.7%, according to a report published by the American Petroleum Institute, compared to 11.7% of the overall U.S. workforce that same year.

How it works: Ensuring diversity is important for several reasons, experts say, including making sure that organizations’ workforces reflect their customers — as well as the growing evidence that more diverse companies do better financially.

“The argument I’ve made with industry is the importance of trust among communities and the public at large. When you start to try to build coalitions and trust in a community and you bring a monolithic group to that community, then you seem out of step and out of touch, and that’s not the way you build trust.”
— Paula Glover, president and CEO, American Association of Blacks in Energy

Read the whole column

2. Breaking: BP to cut 10,000 jobs

BP plans to cut its global workforce by 10,000 jobs, or 14%, with most of the reduction occurring by year's end, the company announced this morning.

Driving the news: "The majority of people affected will be in office-based jobs. We are protecting the frontline of the company and, as always, prioritizing safe and reliable operations," CEO Bernard Looney said in an email to staff that he made public.

  • The move will have a significant effect on senior-level workers as the company moves toward a "flatter" structure, spokesperson David Nicholas added in an emailed summary.

Why it matters: It signals the pandemic's impact as oil companies including BP slash spending amid the crisis that has pushed prices and oil demand sharply lower.

  • "We are spending much, much more than we make — I am talking millions of dollars, every day," Looney said in the email, which followed a webcast on the topic.
  • For BP, it comes as the oil giant is also repositioning itself to grow its low-carbon business (though oil-and-gas remain its dominant products) and aiming to become a "net-zero" company by mid-century.

The big picture: BP officials note that even before the crisis, the company had signaled early this year that it planned to become, as Looney's email notes, a "leaner, faster-moving and lower carbon company."

  • "These plans and actions have been accelerated and amplified by the need to respond to market conditions and reduce our  costs," Nicholas said.

Go deeper: Oil major BP plans to cut 10,000 jobs (Financial Times)


Speaking of oil, Reuters reports, "Oil slipped on Monday after Saudi Arabia said an extension of output cuts by OPEC+ nations would not include extra voluntary cuts by a trio of Gulf producers".

3. Poll suggests a climate opening for Biden
Reproduced from Data for Progress; Note: ±2.2% margin of error; Chart: Axios Visuals

Voters trust Democrats to address climate change and clean energy far more than Republicans, and there's majority support for multitrillion-dollar investments to massively expand emissions-free fuels, new polling shows.

What they found: The survey from the lefty think tank Data for Progress shows an advantage for Democrats on those topics that's far outside the margin of error, compared to the more even split on jobs and the economy (check out the chart above).

What they're saying: "[C]limate change presents especially favorable terrain upon which the Democratic Party can engage their Republican counterparts," a memo alongside the wide-ranging survey argues.

One level deeper: One of the other questions gauged support for something that resembles Joe Biden's existing plan (but with a more aggressive timeline).

It offers two statements about a $5 trillion plan to move the U.S. to "100% clean energy" by 2040.

  • One says the plan is "worth the cost" due to health protections, job creation, and economic damage prevention. It adds that ending "giveaways" to fossil fuel companies would help to defray costs.
  • The other says it's not worth forcing taxpayers to shoulder trillions of dollars in costs and that it would kill lots of oil-and-gas jobs, drive up energy costs, and worsen debt.

The result: 58% of likely voters backed the $5 trillion plan while 42% opposed it. Among Democrats, support was 76%, while it was 59% among independents and 32% among likely GOP voters.

The intrigue: Another takeaway is that various climate commitments would make younger voters more likely to back Biden without bleeding support among older ones.

  • "[C]limate represents an opportunity for Biden to gain support from voters under forty-five while not losing support from voters over forty-five," it states.

Of note: The overall survey of likely voters has a ±2.2% margin of error, but for questions broken down by party affiliation it's 4% for Democrats and 4.2% for Republicans.

4. A sobering look at clean energy hurdles

A new International Energy Agency report shows that growth of low-carbon energy and industrial technologies are far off the long-term trajectory that would be consistent with the temperature goals of the Paris climate deal.

Driving the news: The "Tracking Clean Energy Progress" report finds just six technologies — including solar PV, rail and efficient lighting — are "on track" under IEA's Paris-aligned Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS).

  • Another 16 technologies tracked showed "some progress," while another 24 are "off track."

Threat level: Here's a stark example of technology that's "off track," which is deployment of carbon capture and storage in the electric power sector.

  • The two large-scale projects in operation have a combined annual capture capacity of 2.4 million tons of CO2.
  • Another 14 are in the development pipeline, which would brings the annual capture capacity to 36 million tons annually.
  • But that's an order of magnitude below the 310 MtCO2 envisioned under the SDS by 2030.
5. The troubling reason behind Russia's Arctic spill

Containment boom deployed during a major cleanup operation following the May 29 fuel spill in Norilsk, Russia. Photo: Kirill Kukhmar/TASS via Getty Images

Bloomberg provides the big picture behind a bad spill in Russia...

"Investigators have determined that the leakage of of 20,000 tons of diesel (about 150,000 barrels) from a reservoir at a power plant in Russia’s Far North was caused by damage from thawing permafrost — just the latest sign of the catastrophic effects climate change is having in the Arctic."
Ben GemanAmy Harder