Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The oil industry is facing an immense amount of uncertainty, even for a sector that bobs along in the currents of global markets and geopolitics despite its enormous power.

The big picture: As Democrats hold their convention this week, seeking a boost for Joe Biden heading into the heart of the 2020 campaign, the election is unfolding against another huge source of uncertainty for the industry: the coronavirus pandemic.

The state of play: Biden's platform calls for major new restrictions and regulations on oil-and-gas development, as well as steps to greatly speed deployment of electric vehicles and renewables.

  • It's a stark departure from Trump administration practices. And Biden is also hoping to use diplomacy and trade policy to pressure other countries to move faster on climate.
  • Biden's platform would also go much further than anything proposed — let alone implemented — during the Obama years that saw rapid growth of domestic production.
  • “It’s hard to overstate how far Joe Biden’s Democratic party has shifted on fossil fuels, especially natural gas, in just four years,” Robert McNally of the Rapidan Energy Group tells the Financial Times.

COVID-19 and its unknown trajectory create big new question marks around future oil demand for at least three big reasons...

  1. Nobody really knows when the pandemic will be brought under control in the U.S. or worldwide, and vaccine timing and distribution are mysteries too.
  2. The long-term stickiness of pandemic behaviors, especially working from home, is unclear as well.
  3. How much governments worldwide use economic recovery packages to invest in low-carbon energy is also an unfolding story.

The intrigue: Some of the world's largest companies like BP and Shell are accelerating their moves to diversify away from their still-dominant fossil fuel businesses and into areas like renewable power and EV charging.

What we're watching: How much space the prime-time convention speakers — including Biden and VP pick Kamala Harris — devote to their energy agenda.

  • It's an early — and, admittedly, imperfect — hint at how much political capital they might deploy if they win (and if Democrats also gain Senate control).

Go deeper

Amy Harder, author of Generate
Sep 19, 2020 - Energy & Environment
Column / Harder Line

Big Tech takes the climate change lead

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Getty Images photo: Jit Chattopadhyay/Pacific Press/LightRocket

The tech industry is playing a growing role in fighting climate change, from zero-carbon commitments to investments in startups and pushing for the use of data to encourage energy efficiency.

Why it matters: Big Tech is already dominating our economy, politics and culture. Its leadership in helping to address climate change — and reckon with its role in contributing to it — could have similarly transformative impacts.

Updated Sep 17, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: The economics of renewable energy

On Thursday, September 17, Axios' Amy Harder hosted a conversation on the growth of clean energy and sustainability, featuring Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Amazon's Head of Worldwide Sustainability Kara Hurst.

Gov. Inslee discussed efforts within Washington to address climate change, its impact on fires in Washington state and the role of renewable energy in the state.

  • On the role of climate change in recent fires: "These fires are incredibly cataclysmic. The solution to this, of course...[is that] we need to reduce this climate change. It is the ultimately cataclysmic situation we face in Washington."
  • On President Trump's attitude to renewable energy: "He has tried to throw up a roadblock against any development of renewables industries. He's got an allergy to good ideas and infatuation with deception. He's downplayed climate change, just like he downplayed COVID."

Kara Hurst unpacked Amazon's aims to hit carbon neutrality in 2040 and its efforts to help companies develop climate-friendly technologies through a $2 billion venture fund.

  • On partnering with oil and gas producers to achieve climate change goals: "Amazon, like every other company you just mentioned — Google, Microsoft, many tech companies — works across a wide variety of industries. And I believe it's absolutely necessary to work with those types of industries to create transformation."
  • On recent research at Amazon on the sustainability of online shopping: "Online grocery deliveries can generate 43% lower carbon emissions per item as compared to shopping in stores."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with Vinson & Elkins Head of Renewables Practice Group Kaam Sahely, who discussed the surge in demand for renewable energy and the growth of the sector.

  • "The demand [for renewable energy] is almost insatiable. It's not that it's completely without regards to government regulation...The demand for renewable energy continues to rise."

Thank you Vinson & Elkins for sponsoring this event.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Sep 19, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The new politics of global warming

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Getty Images photos: Ethan Miller and Chip Somodevilla

The 2020 election is both very different and very familiar when it comes to the politics of global warming and the stakes of the outcome.

What's new: Democratic voters are more concerned than in prior presidential cycles, polling shows.