Since the Gulf oil disaster in 2010, BP has spent hundreds of millions of ad dollars to cleanse its image as a dirty-energy giant. In the company’s latest TV ad, wind turbines whirl in the sun as a voiceover touts the number of American jobs created by BP and promises, “We’re working to fuel America for generations to come.” There’s just one problem: BP’s commitment to wind energy is virtually nonexistent.
In April, BP announced that it is selling off its entire $3.1 billion U.S. wind energy business – including 16 farms spread across nine states – as “part of a continuing effort to become a more focused oil and gas company,” according to a company spokesperson. Indeed, though it famously rebranded itself “Beyond Petroleum” in 2000, BP also exited the solar energy business back in 2011. Today, its alternative energy investments are limited to biofuels and a lone wind farm in the Netherlands.
And BP is far from alone. You wouldn’t know it from their advertising, but the world’s major oil companies have either entirely divested from alternative energy or significantly reduced their investments in favor of doubling down on ever-more risky and destructive sources of oil and natural gas.
Not that those commitments to alternatives were ever particularly grand. Using very generous estimates, BP holds the oil industry record for the highest percentage of expenditures committed to alternatives, with just 6 percent of its overall expenditures in 2011, right before it started selling off its solar operations. Chevron and Shell run a distant second with highs of 2.5 percent; none of the others have ever even cracked 1 percent.
“The bottom line is that oil companies only invested a drop in the bucket [in alternatives] even in the ‘heyday’ of the early 1980s,” says Douglas Cogan, vice president of investment firm MSCI ESG Research. “Most of the largest [oil company] investors have dropped out in recent years, following the precedent that Exxon set 30 years ago.”
Take ConocoPhillips, which highlights its “emerging technologies and alternative energy sources” activities on its website – but fails to mention that in April 2012 it divested all of these activities to focus exclusively on its “core business” of exploring for and producing oil and natural gas, and specifically to take advantage of the North American “shale revolution” and tar sands production in Canada. “ConocoPhillips is an independent oil and gas company,” says a spokesperson. “We do not have an active renewable energy segment within our portfolio.”
The newly created Phillips 66 (already the third-largest U.S. oil company) took over ConocoPhillips’ “downstream” activities – meaning everything after exploration and production. Other than limited investment in second-generation biofuel research, Phillips 66, too, has abandoned alternatives.
How about Shell – the world’s largest corporation, according to Fortune? In 2010, the company launched an ad campaign called “Let’s Go,” hyping its efforts to “broaden the world’s energy mix.” The ads are still running today. But the numbers tell a different story. Shell reports spending about $400 million a year on alternatives, out of the $23 billion it spent on all expenditures in 2012. At its peak in 2007, Shell was spending just 2.5 percent of its total capital expenditures on alternatives. Today it’s down to 1.5 percent.
Shell abandoned solar in 2006 and maintains only minor investments in wind and some hydrogen research today. The bulk of Shell’s alternative investments today are in biofuels. Meanwhile, it presses ahead with the world’s deepest offshore oil well in the Gulf of Mexico and refuses to do more than “pause” plans for drilling in the U.S. Arctic – even after one of its drilling rigs ran aground in Kodiak, Alaska in January.
As with all these companies, the expenditures that Shell reports publicly on alternatives are difficult to pin down or verify. Shell includes the money it spends on carbon capture initiatives and “other CO2 related work”; both are commendable, but neither one is an alternative energy source. BP, similarly, uses the mysterious phrase “lower-carbon businesses.” In fact, no major oil company has ever spent enough on alternatives for it to amount to even 10 percent of its revenues or assets – the Security and Exchange Commission‘s threshold for public reporting requirements on financial expenditures.
In 2010, Chevron launched its “We Agree” public relations campaign, with ads announcing “It’s time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy,” that still run today. Yet Chevron’s alternative investments have been falling as a proportion of its total expenditures, not rising, for years: From 2.5 percent of overall expenditures in 2008, alternative energy dropped to 2.3 percent in 2010 and 1.5 percent in 2012.
In 2011, Chevron’s Corporate Responsibility report – which for years had been an alternatives showcase – announced that the company would take “a pragmatic approach” to these investments, focusing on geothermal energy, next-generation biofuels and efficiency solutions. Yet wind and biofuels are conspicuously absent from the 2012 report; the words “alternative energy” and “renewable energy” do not appear anywhere in its pages. “Chevron spent $5.4 billion from 2002 to 2012 on alternative energy,” says company spokesperson Morgan Crinklaw. That’s about $500 million a year, out of $34 billion total expenditures in 2012 alone. (This figure includes the work of its private subsidiary, Chevron Energy Solutions, which does work on solar, but does not have to provide public disclosure of its finances.) Meanwhile, Chevron remains one of the world’s oiliest oil companies, with one of the highest percentages of oil assets among the majors.
Like ConocoPhillips, Marathon, the nation’s fifth largest oil company, divested all its downstream activities in 2011, for similar reasons – in order to expand its U.S. shale and Canadian tar sand operations. Today, it maintains partial ownership of a methanol plant that converts natural gas into motor fuel, while the newly spun-off MPC includes ethanol in its portfolio.
Of course, some companies were never into alternatives. Since 2002, Exxon Mobil, which took in $45 billion in profit last year alone, put a grand total of $188 million into its alternative investments, compared to the $250 million it dedicated to U.S. advertising in the last two years alone. (This figure and previously cited advertising data were provided by Kantar Media.)
It’s worth mentioning one slight exception to the trend: France’s Total, the world’s 9th-largest oil company, which greatly increased its solar operations in the last year. But Total, too, had a long way to improve. The latest available figures from MSCI ESG Research put its alternative investments at just about $84 million a year from 2005 through 2010, or, at best, less than 0.6 percent of total expenditures. Moreover, the company’s fairly extensive coal operations stand in contrast to the good it’s doing in alternatives.
There are clear reasons why some biofuel investments remain while wind and solar have all but disappeared. Since 2009, both the U.S. and the European Union have had policies in place requiring biofuels in motor fuel, compared to on-again, off-again tax credits for wind and solar energy. And why bother putting real investments in alternatives at all, when polished ad campaigns have already convinced the public that the companies are still “green”?
In reality, all of the companies are putting more and more resources toward dirty energy sources that were never before accessible – or never before considered acceptable. With limited regulation and oversight, and with plenty of subsidies and tax breaks, all of the companies discussed here are upping their oil and natural gas antes by drilling deeper than ever into the oceans (including Exxon in the Russian Arctic), increasing operations in the Canadian tar sands, dramatically expanding hydraulic fracking in ever-more parts of the U.S. and the world, and drilling for oil in Iraq and Kurdistan. It all makes perfect sense, if you go by what Exxon vice president J.S. Simon told Congress in 2008: “[T]he pursuit of alternative fuels must not detract from the development of oil and gas.”
Expect to see more big names from the oil industry, such as Shell, ExxonMobil and Statoil, moving into the British shale sector now that one of their competitors – Centrica – has taken the plunge. The international companies have always taken a keen interest in the UK fracking scene, despite endless statements from their chief executives that there are better prospects in China and elsewhere.
There is some speculation this weekend that the reason Centrica paid a fairly toppy price for the stake in the Bowland Shale licence from Cuadrilla Resources was because it faced competition from Shell and others.
It is not so much the geological uncertainty that made big oil hesitate in the past, but the fear of reputational damage. And as one of the industry players told the Observer: “That all changes now because Centrica has elected to become the lightning rod for the industry.”
Indeed it will. Green groups opposed to fracking because of the chemicals used and because they believe more gas use means more carbon emissions have already condemned Centrica. A couple of small earthquakes in the Blackpool region that helped to trigger an 18-month drilling moratorium have heightened public concerns. Fracking remains banned in France, Bulgaria and some other countries.
In fact it was always likely that the British Gas parent group would be first out of the blocks, not least because it has the largest retail supply business in this country.
Equally, if anyone is going to have the inside track on what government is thinking about the future taxation structure planned for a shale gas regime, it is going to be homegrown Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, rather than say Peter Voser, the boss of Shell, who spends much more time in The Hague than London.
Laidlaw is constantly in and out of Whitehall. Until recently he was part of David Cameron’s Business Advisory Group, while Centrica, as one of the UK’s few, and by far the biggest, British-owned power suppliers, stands most to gain from changes in UK energy policy.
Was British Gas pushed by ministers to front UK shale? Certainly Centrica had privately expressed reservations about the flack it might take if it got involved at an early stage. Ministers were keen to give credibility to a sector populated by small firms, even if some have big backers behind the scenes, such as IGas’s connections with the partly state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation.
But it seems more likely that Laidlaw, who as recently as January had expressed the view that UK shale was no “game changer”, just changed his mind and decided it was worth having first-mover advantage.
He had no doubt spent much time talking to John Browne, whose chief executiveship at BP was characterised by being first off the blocks (into Russia, mega-mergers with Amoco etc) and just happens to be a director of Cuadrilla and the UK government’s lead non-executive board member.
So Centrica is to spend £100m helping Cuadrilla with an exploration programme which restarts in earnest next year with a new, fourth, well. A further £60m is promised if the exploration turns into production.
But the size and scale of the shale sector in Britain remains unclear. The British Geological Survey is shortly expected to come up with some encouraging new reserve estimates. Equally, the Treasury will confirm the level of tax breaks available before the parliamentary recess next month.
But the issue that will decide whether Britain can replicate the enormous success of the shale frackers in America, where prices have dropped like a stone, is whether the gas can be made to flow from the rocks easily and in large quantities. That will only be known once more wells are drilled, but Centrica is clearly optimistic.
Deflation could be the way forward
Hard though it is to believe, historically Britain has been as prone to bouts of deflation as it has to inflation. Not in the past half-century, of course, but in the three centuries or so since the Bank of England was founded in 1694, there have been as many years when prices have fallen as there have when they have risen.
Indeed, until quite recently deflation was the natural order of things. Competition resulted in downward pressure on prices and it was only during wars that inflation moved upwards. The price level in the UK was lower at the outbreak of the first world war than it was when the guns fell silent after the battle of Waterloo.
Dhaval Joshi, an investment strategist at BCA Research, says we are on the cusp of returning to this sort of environment. The age of inflation, he says, has also been the age of credit growth, with a strong correlation between the annual increase in the cost of living and the annual increase in debt.
But debt is likely to rise far more slowly in the future than it has in the past, argues Joshi. Why so? Because debt levels are already uncomfortably high; the collateral against which the debt is secured is impaired; and there has been a widespread backlash against debt that was sparked off by the financial crisis.
As a result, the only way the age of inflation could be extended into the future is if central banks decide that it is a lesser evil than deflation. In the short term, that is certainly the case, which explains why central banks have been pumping credit into their economies through quantitative easing.
But will central banks really be comfortable with the next stage on from QE, helicopter drops of money into economies?
Joshi says that ultimately policymakers will prefer modest falls in the price level to the risk of runaway inflation, and that deflation will become the new normal.
Cosy chair awaits Tucker
Paul Tucker’s decision to quit his job at the Bank of England was not unexpected. He has been at the bank for more than 30 years, risen to deputy governor and had been regarded as the nailed-on certainty to take over from Sir Mervyn King. Missing out on the top job meant he was always likely to walk.
He now plans what Threadneedle Street describes as a sojourn in “US academia”.
But it is unlikely that Tucker, an expert in the way that banks work, will disappear into a black hole of research and quiet contemplation. He will without doubt be top of many headhunters’ lists when they cast around for candidates to chair UK banks in the coming years. And it just so happens a couple of jobs might just come along to suit his timing: Sir Win Bischoff has already made it clear that he won’t be hanging around at Lloyds Banking Group beyond next May. And if that is a tad too, soon then there will be a berth at Royal Bank of Scotland as soon as it has bedded down a new chief executive.
Tucker will be back.
We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic group: genocide. And one for the conscious destruction of aspects of the environment: ecocide. But we don’t have a word for the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on, the world as humanity had known it until, historically speaking, late last night. A possibility might be “terracide” from the Latin word for earth. It has the right ring, given its similarity to the commonplace danger word of our era: terrorist.
The truth is, whatever we call them, it’s time to talk bluntly about the terrarists of our world. Yes, I know, 9/11 was horrific. Almost 3,000 dead, massive towers down, apocalyptic scenes. And yes, when it comes to terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t pretty either. But in both cases, those who committed the acts paid for or will pay for their crimes.
In the case of the terrarists — and here I’m referring in particular to the men who run what may be the most profitable corporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell — you’re the one who’s going to pay, especially your children and grandchildren. You can take one thing for granted: not a single terrarist will ever go to jail, and yet they certainly knew what they were doing.
It wasn’t that complicated. In recent years, the companies they run have been extracting fossil fuels from the Earth in ever more frenetic and ingenious ways. The burning of those fossil fuels, in turn, has put record amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Only this month, the CO2 level reached 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. A consensus of scientists has long concluded that the process was warming the world and that, if the average planetary temperature rose more than two degrees Celsius, all sorts of dangers could ensue, including seas rising high enough to inundate coastal cities, increasingly intense heat waves, droughts, floods, ever more extreme storm systems, and so on.
How to make staggering amounts of money and do in the planet
None of this was exactly a mystery. It’s in the scientific literature. NASA scientist James Hansen first publicized the reality of global warming to Congress in 1988. It took a while — thanks in part to the terrarists — but the news of what was happening increasingly made it into the mainstream. Anybody could learn about it.
Those who run the giant energy corporations knew perfectly well what was going on and could, of course, have read about it in the papers like the rest of us. And what did they do? They put their money into funding think tanks, politicians, foundations, and activists intent on emphasizing “doubts” about the science (since it couldn’t actually be refuted); they and their allies energetically promoted what came to be known as climate denialism. Then they sent their agents and lobbyists and money into the political system to ensure that their plundering ways would not be interfered with. And in the meantime, they redoubled their efforts to get ever tougher and sometimes “dirtier” energy out of the ground in ever tougher and dirtier ways.
The peak oil people hadn’t been wrong when they suggested years ago that we would soon hit a limit in oil production from which decline would follow. The problem was that they were focused on traditional or “conventional” liquid oil reserves obtained from large reservoirs in easy-to-reach locations on land or near to shore. Since then, the big energy companies have invested a remarkable amount of time, money, and (if I can use that word) energy in the development of techniques that would allow them to recover previously unrecoverable reserves (sometimes by processes that themselves burn striking amounts of fossil fuels): fracking, deep-water drilling, and tar-sands production, among others.
They also began to go after huge deposits of what energy expert Michael Klare calls “extreme” or “tough” energy — oil and natural gas that can only be acquired through the application of extreme force or that requires extensive chemical treatment to be usable as a fuel. In many cases, moreover, the supplies being acquired like heavy oil and tar sands are more carbon-rich than other fuels and emit more greenhouse gases when consumed. These companies have even begun using climate change itself — in the form of a melting Arctic — to exploit enormous and previously unreachable energy supplies. With the imprimatur of the Obama administration, Royal Dutch Shell, for example, has been preparing to test out possible drilling techniques in the treacherous waters off Alaska.
Call it irony, if you will, or call it a nightmare, but Big Oil evidently has no qualms about making its next set of profits directly off melting the planet. Its top executives continue to plan their futures (and so ours), knowing that their extremely profitable acts are destroying the very habitat, the very temperature range that for so long made life comfortable for humanity.
Their prior knowledge of the damage they are doing is what should make this a criminal activity. And there are corporate precedents for this, even if on a smaller scale. The lead industry, the asbestos industry, and the tobacco companies all knew the dangers of their products, made efforts to suppress the information or instill doubt about it even as they promoted the glories of what they made, and went right on producing and selling while others suffered and died.
And here’s another similarity: with all three industries, the negative results conveniently arrived years, sometimes decades, after exposure and so were hard to connect to it. Each of these industries knew that the relationship existed. Each used that time-disconnect as protection. One difference: if you were a tobacco, lead, or asbestos exec, you might be able to ensure that your children and grandchildren weren’t exposed to your product. In the long run, that’s not a choice when it comes to fossil fuels and CO2, as we all live on the same planet (though it’s also true that the well-off in the temperate zones are unlikely to be the first to suffer).
If Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 plane hijackings or the Tsarnaev brothers’ homemade bombs constitute terror attacks, why shouldn’t what the energy companies are doing fall into a similar category (even if on a scale that leaves those events in the dust)? And if so, then where is the national security state when we really need it? Shouldn’t its job be to safeguard us from terrarists and terracide as well as terrorists and their destructive plots?
The alternatives that weren’t
It didn’t have to be this way.
On July 15, 1979, at a time when gas lines, sometimes blocks long, were a disturbing fixture of American life, President Jimmy Carter spoke directly to the American people on television for 32 minutes, calling for a concerted effort to end the country’s oil dependence on the Middle East. “To give us energy security,” he announced,
“I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation’s history to develop America’s own alternative sources of fuel — from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun… Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation’s first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20% of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.”
It’s true that, at a time when the science of climate change was in its infancy, Carter wouldn’t have known about the possibility of an overheating world, and his vision of “alternative energy” wasn’t exactly a fossil-fuel-free one. Even then, shades of today or possibly tomorrow, he was talking about having “more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias.” Still, it was a remarkably forward-looking speech.
Had we invested massively in alternative energy R&D back then, who knows where we might be today? Instead, the media dubbed it the “malaise speech,” though the president never actually used that word, speaking instead of an American “crisis of confidence.” While the initial public reaction seemed positive, it didn’t last long. In the end, the president’s energy proposals were essentially laughed out of the room and ignored for decades.
As a symbolic gesture, Carter had 32 solar panels installed on the White House. (“A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people: harnessing the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”) As it turned out, “a road not taken” was the accurate description. On entering the Oval Office in 1981, Ronald Reagan caught the mood of the era perfectly. One of his first acts was to order the removal of those panels and none were reinstalled for three decades, until Barack Obama was president.
Carter would, in fact, make his mark on U.S. energy policy, just not quite in the way he had imagined. Six months later, on January 23, 1980, in his last State of the Union Address, he would proclaim what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine: “Let our position be absolutely clear,” he said. “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
No one would laugh him out of the room for that. Instead, the Pentagon would fatefully begin organizing itself to protect U.S. (and oil) interests in the Persian Gulf on a new scale and America’s oil wars would follow soon enough. Not long after that address, it would start building up a Rapid Deployment Force in the Gulf that would in the end become U.S. Central Command. More than three decades later, ironies abound: thanks in part to those oil wars, whole swaths of the energy-rich Middle East are in crisis, if not chaos, while the big energy companies have put time and money into a staggeringly fossil-fuel version of Carter’s “alternative” North America. They’ve focused on shale oil, and on shale gas as well, and with new production methods, they are reputedly on the brink of turning the United States into a “new Saudi Arabia.”
If true, this would be the worst, not the best, of news. In a world where what used to pass for good news increasingly guarantees a nightmarish future, energy “independence” of this sort means the extraction of ever more extreme energy, ever more carbon dioxide heading skyward, and ever more planetary damage in our collective future. This was not the only path available to us, or even to Big Oil.
With their staggering profits, they could have decided anywhere along the line that the future they were ensuring was beyond dangerous. They could themselves have led the way with massive investments in genuine alternative energies (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, algal, and who knows what else), instead of the exceedingly small-scale ones they made, often for publicity purposes. They could have backed a widespread effort to search for other ways that might, in the decades to come, have offered something close to the energy levels fossil fuels now give us. They could have worked to keep the extreme-energy reserves that turn out to be surprisingly commonplace deep in the Earth.
And we might have had a different world (from which, by the way, they would undoubtedly have profited handsomely). Instead, what we’ve got is the equivalent of a tobacco company situation, but on a planetary scale. To complete the analogy, imagine for a moment that they were planning to produce even more prodigious quantities not of fossil fuels but of cigarettes, knowing what damage they would do to our health. Then imagine that, without exception, everyone on Earth was forced to smoke several packs of them a day.
If that isn’t a terrorist — or terrarist — attack of an almost unimaginable sort, what is? If the oil execs aren’t terrarists, then who is? And if that doesn’t make the big energy companies criminal enterprises, then how would you define that term?
To destroy our planet with malice aforethought, with only the most immediate profits on the brain, with only your own comfort and wellbeing (and those of your shareholders) in mind: Isn’t that the ultimate crime? Isn’t that terracide?
[Note: Thanks go to my colleague and friend Nick Turse for coming up with the word “terracide.”]
As European Union (EU) member states consider the implications of environmentally risky shale gas development (fracking), negotiations are underway for a controversial EU–Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) that would grant investors the right to challenge governments’ decisions to ban and regulate fracking.
This briefing by Corporate Europe Observatory, the Council of Canadians and the Transnational Institute highlights the public debate around fracking, the interests of Canadian oil and gas companies in shale gas reserves in Europe, and the impacts an investment protection clause in the proposed CETA could have on governments’ ability to regulate or ban fracking. It examines the case study of the company Lone Pine Resources Inc. versus Canada, which, using a similar clause, is challenging a fracking moratorium and suing the Canadian government for compensation, and warns this could be the state of things to come in Europe. It recommends that the investor–state dispute settlement mechanism should not be included in CETA.
Fracking in the EU: regulators play catch-up
Fracking – short for hydraulic fracturing – is a newly popular technology to extract hard-to-access natural gas or oil trapped in shale and coal bedrock formations. The rock must be fractured and chemicals, sand and water propelled in to allow the gas or oil to migrate to the well. Each stage of the extraction process has considerable environmental risks, especially in terms of water contamination.1
Environmental and public health problems related to fracking have created popular distrust and resistance, to the extent that the majority of countries concerned with shale gas endowments in Europe (see map on page 3 in PDF version of this briefing) are taking positions against fracking. France and Bulgaria have already banned it, while Romania, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Denmark and North-Rhine Westphalia in Germany have proclaimed moratoria. As in the Netherlands, the UK and Switzerland, projects in the listed countries with moratoria have been suspended until further environmental risk assessments are done. In Norway and Sweden fracking has been declared economically unviable. Projects in Austria and Sweden have been cancelled for the same reason, though without legislative measures.
But powerful gas corporations are constantly pushing back against regulation.2 Despite citizens mobilisation, unconventional gas projects are underway in much of Spain and Poland. Even when a moratorium or a ban exists as in France, the industry exploits legal loopholes to push through its operations.
These struggles for the democratic right to decide environmental regulation are all the more important as to date there is no political consensus at the EU level regarding fracking. The issue is under debate, however: in September 2012 the European Parliament brought an amendment calling for a European moratorium on fracking that was supported by a third of Members of European Parliament (MEPs). The EU currently lacks clear regulation on fracking and it rests mainly on member states’ shoulders to legislate on the issue.
CETA threatens fracking bans
The EU and Canada are currently negotiating a free trade agreement that could threaten the ability of countries to implement fracking bans and regulations. There are many oil and gas companies with headquarters or offices in Canada who have already begun exploring shale gas reserves in Europe, particularly in Poland (see box 1). Though many of these firms are not strictly Canadian, a subsidiary based in Canada would allow them to challenge fracking bans and regulations through CETA. Moreover, there is ample evidence that firms will shift their nationalities in order to profit from such a treaty.
Box 1: North American Energy Giants Lead Fracking in Europe
Total, a French corporation with a subsidiary in Canada, has invested in Denmark, Poland and France. In 2010, the Danish government issued two exploration permits to Total and despite a moratorium the company began exploratory drilling in that country. Total has one Polish concession. The company also invested in France prior to the moratorium and filed a legal appeal against its license being withdrawn.
Chevron, a US-based company with subsidiaries in Canada, owns and operates four shale concessions in southeast Poland and since 2012 has been drilling exploratory wells. Before the Romanian moratorium, Chevron had the gigantic Barlad Shale concession. Chevron also had a 50% stake in an exploration and production company in Lithuania.
In early 2013, Shell signed the biggest shale gas contract in Europe – a $10 billion deal in the Ukraine where it will drill 15 test wells.
In 2011, ExxonMobil signed an agreement with Ukraine’s state energy company, Naftogaz. The company is pursuing shale gas potential in Germany, and in response to a moratorium in North-Rhine Westphalia, Exxon has developed a website to address public concern.
In partnership with Lane Energy, Texas-based Conoco Philips is assessing the reserves of 1.1 million acres in northern Poland.
Other North American companies interested in Europe’s shale gas reserves are Halliburton, Enegi, Talisman and Encana.
The proposed CETA includes several chapters that would limit environmental, health or consumer protection regulations. These include chapters on so-called Technical Barriers to Trade and Regulatory Cooperation that will give the Canadian government more influence in how and when European governments act to protect the public good. Canada is already disputing the European seal product ban at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), claiming it is an illegal technical barrier to trade. Canada has also threatened to challenge the proposed European Fuel Quality Directive at the WTO if it labels fuel from tar sands as more polluting than conventional oil. One of the world’s largest deposits of the controversial tar sands is located in the Canadian province of Alberta.
CETA will also include a process through which a Canadian investor can settle disputes with the EU or a member state outside of the regular court system. This process, called investor–state dispute settlement, is increasingly controversial globally as mining and energy firms use it to challenge environmental, public health or other government measures that, in their terms, indirectly lower their profit expectations – or, in other words, run counter to their financial interests.
This investment protection provision will enable energy and extractive companies with an office in Canada to challenge fracking bans, moratoria and environmental standards for fracking sites across the EU – and potentially pave the way for millions of Euros in compensation to be paid to these companies by European taxpayers. Precedents already exist for these types of challenges under a similar provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), where a US energy firm, Lone Pine Resources Inc., is challenging a moratorium on fracking in the Canadian province of Quebec.
Investor rights trump democracy: the alarming case of Lone Pine vs Canada
North American governments are under enormous pressure from natural gas and energy firms to embrace fracking. While production is more advanced in the US, several energy firms are staking out claims to Canada’s large shale gas basins across the country. The Utica basin in the province of Quebec, sitting underneath the St. Lawrence River and Valley, is estimated to contain around 181 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
But public resistance to fracking in Quebec, as well as growing documentation about water pollution, forced Quebec’s government of the day to be cautious. Public consultations on fracking resulted in the creation of a strategic environmental assessment committee. In 2011, based on the recommendations of a study by Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement, the Quebec government placed a moratorium on all new drilling permits until a strategic environmental evaluation was completed. Finally, a new provincial government was elected in 2012, promising to extend the moratorium to all exploration and development of shale gas in the entire province. At this point, Lone Pine Resources Inc. decided to use the investor rights chapter in the NAFTA to challenge the Quebec moratorium and demand US$250 million (€191 million) in compensation.
Lone Pine claims the Quebec moratorium is an “arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation of [its] valuable right to mine for oil and gas.” The firm says the government acted “with no cognizable public purpose,”3 even though there is broad public support for a precautionary moratorium while the environmental impacts of fracking are studied. Milos Barutciski, a lawyer with Bennett Jones LLP, who is representing Lone Pine in the arbitration, described the moratorium as a “capricious administrative action that was done for purely political reasons – exactly what the NAFTA rights are supposed to be protecting investors against.”4 It may seem unbelievable but this lawyer may be correct that Lone Pine’s right under NAFTA to make a profit is more important than the right of communities to say no to destructive and environmentally dangerous resource projects.
Essentially, this means companies in shale gas exploitation have their considerable investment risks reduced to near zero. If affected communities speak out against fracking, or the government changes its mind, it is the taxpayer who picks up the tab, not the firm – sometimes even if the government wins the investment dispute or settles beforehand. In investment arbitration, legal costs aren’t always awarded to the winning party.
The Lone Pine case is extremely significant for the EU and member states. It shows that governments are highly susceptible to investor–state disputes related to fracking and other controversial energy and mining projects, and that those firms eager to establish or expand shale gas exploration and extraction in Europe will be able to undermine precautionary measures in the public interest – as long as they have a subsidiary or an office in Canada. An investor–state dispute settlement in the proposed CETA would create needless risk to European communities weighing the pros and cons of fracking.
The right to pollute, the right to profit
EU member states already have experience with investor–state disputes undermining green energy and environmental protection policies. More than 1200 existing international investment treaties signed by EU member states allow companies to challenge public policy at private international tribunals. Germany has been sued by energy company Vattenfall for environmental restrictions on a coal-fired power plant, claiming more than €1.4 billion (US$1.8 billion) in compensation. The case was settled out of court after Germany agreed to water down the environmental standards, thus exacerbating the impact that Vattenfall’s power plant will have on the environment.5
Despite this negative experience, the EU is negotiating free trade and investment agreements that will allow foreign investors to bring similar legal claims against member states, including over measures to protect the environment and public health. If ratified, CETA will be the first EU-wide agreement to grant foreign investors such far-reaching rights enshrined in international law for Europe and Canada, which, even if eventually cancelled by either party, will remain in force for 20 years.6
Based on Canada’s negative experience under NAFTA’s investor–state dispute process – it is the 6th most sued country in the world and currently faces over US$5-billion (€3.8 billion) worth of NAFTA investment claims – the Canadian government is trying to limit when a company can invoke investment arbitration in CETA. However, EU negotiators are pushing back and seeking much more investor-friendly definitions for key terms in the treaty such as what would count as “direct” or “indirect expropriation,” or what would contravene an investor’s “fair and equitable” treatment (see box 2).
In the general context of controversy over fracking at both EU and member state levels, investor–state dispute settlement is a real threat to governments’ sovereignty. In cases where member countries already have a ban or a moratorium, such a process would allow these to be challenged. For countries moving towards permitting projects related to shale gas, or without a strong protective legal framework, the mere threat of an investor–state dispute could freeze government action. Evidence under NAFTA suggests that the threat of a dispute has a chilling effect when policy-makers realise they have got to pay to regulate.
The present EU regulatory framework concerning fracking is at an early and fragile stage, which could be severely undermined by investment rules within the CETA agreement. They are in potential conflict with democratic efforts to regulate and roll back fracking activities at both EU and member state levels.
Box 2: The Devil in the (Free Trade Treaty) Details
“Indirect expropriation”: Allows investors to claim compensation as a result of a regulation, law, policy, measure or other government decision that has the effect of reducing or eliminating profit-making opportunities for the firm. Since almost any government measure can fit that definition when seen from a certain (investment-biased) point of view, legitimate public policies have faced investor–state lawsuits globally.
Canada is proposing to include exceptions so investors cannot sue against regulations to protect public welfare, such as health, safety and the environment. Thus, Canada hopes to create more freedom to regulate without the fear of being sued.
According to the leaked CETA investment text, the EU, on the other hand, would apply both “necessity” and “effectiveness” tests to such public welfare measures, in other words placing a very big burden of proof on governments to justify any measures such as fracking moratoriums or strict regulations on energy projects.
“Fair and equitable treatment”: A vaguely defined minimum standard of treatment for foreign investors found in almost all bilateral and multilateral investment treaties. Because this clause is so vague and arbitrators tend to interpret it in an investor-friendly way, it is the clause most relied on by investors when suing states. It is cited in all of the current NAFTA claims against Canada.7
For example, a Canadian oil or gas company could argue that it was under the impression, given favourable signals from the EU or member state governments, that a fracking project was going to go ahead. This is exactly what happened in the Quebec case where the project was only halted by strong community resistance. Under CETA, a Canadian firm would be able to challenge this kind of moratorium or ban.
Because of how broadly investment tribunals tend to interpret minimum standards of treatment, Canada is trying to narrow the definition of the so-called fair and equitable treatment standard in CETA. But again, the EU favours a more expansive, pro-investor definition in line with the type of investment treaties favoured by Germany and the Netherlands.8
No excessive corporate rights in CETA
The negative environmental impacts of fracking have been well documented and serious concern over the practice is widespread. Many governments are currently considering moratoria or exploration bans, especially in light of public health and environmental protection. These democratic proceedings and communities’ rights to self-determination ought to be respected, if not protected, and policy-makers should ensure that no treaties or laws can interfere with that process. In the case of fracking, moratoria are fully in line with the long-standing EU respect for the precautionary principle.
Clearly CETA, and in particular its planned investment chapters, will give corporations unreasonable and undemocratic rights to challenge fracking bans and to frustrate public interest regulation. CETA may also give EU-based energy companies with an interest in fracking the ability to skirt European laws by pretending to be Canadian to access the investor–state dispute settlement process.
In June 2011 a European Parliament resolution on the EU–Canada negotiations stated that, “given the highly developed legal systems of Canada and the EU, a state-to-state dispute settlement mechanism and the use of local judicial remedies are the most appropriate tools to address investment disputes.”9 In July that year, the Commission’s own Sustainability Impact Assessment of CETA came to the same conclusion, recommending a state-to-state dispute process only.10
The case of Lone Pine Resources Inc. suing Canada over a fracking ban shows that government policies on environmental issues can be undermined by granting investors the right to sue at international tribunals. Like their US competitors, Canadian energy firms and the Canadian government are eager to establish a strong presence in emerging European markets for shale gas. They, as well as US and European energy firms with substantial operations in Canada, could access CETA’s investor rules to file compensation claims similar to Lone Pine’s NAFTA case.
The mere possibility of a lawsuit based on investor–state arbitration can be enough to deter strong public health and environmental protection. Where fracking is concerned, it is unacceptable that the public should bear all the risks of extraction and the resulting environmental damage, as well then running the risk of having to pay compensation to energy firms for the right of communities to say no to fracking.
This situation brings new urgency to the need to exclude the investor–state dispute settlement provisions from CETA, and to rely on Canadian and European courts to settle disputes between foreign investors and host states.
- 1.For more general information about fracking see Transnational Institute (2013): Old Story, New Threat. Fracking and the global land grab, February.
- 2.See, for example: Corporate Europe Observatory (2012): Foot on the gas. Lobbyists push for unregulated shale gas, November.
- 3.See Lone Pine’s Notice of Intent to Submit a Claim to Arbitration Under Chapter Eleven of the North American Free Trade Agreement, 8 November 2012.
- 4.Quoted in: Gray, Jeff (2012): Quebec’s St. Lawrence fracking ban challenged under NAFTA, in: The Globe and Mail, 22 November.
- 5.In a similar case, Germany is currently being sued by Vattenfall because, after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, the German government decided to phase out nuclear energy. Vattenfall is seeking €3.7 billion (US$ 4.8 billion) for lost profits.
- 6.According to a leaked version of the consolidated investment chapter in the CETA from 7 February 2013.
- 7.Public Citizen (2012): Memorandum. “Fair and Equitable Treatment” and Investors’ Reasonable Expectations: Rulings in U.S. FTAs & BITs Demonstrate FET Definition Must be Narrowed, September 5.
- 8.Note that even Canada’s more cautious approach has proven futile in practice, where arbitration panels have ignored the common international law definition and used decisions of past tribunals instead, which will inevitably create pressure for increasingly pro-investor decisions. See, Porterfield, Matthew C. (2013): A Distinction Without a Difference? The Interpretation of Fair and Equitable Treatment Under Customary International Law by Investment Tribunals, in: Investment Treaty News, March 22.
- 9.European Parliament resolution of 8 June 2011 on EU-Canada trade relations.
- 10.A Trade SIA Relating to the Negotiation of a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) Between the EU and Canada, Trade 10/ B3/B06, June 2011, p. 19.
Scientists: There is no such thing as “safe fracking”
by Amy Mall
National Resources Defense Council
There are a few new reports from Europe on fracking that provide a lot of valuable information:
A joint report from Germany’s Federal Environment Agency and Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety was released in September. Among the conclusions about the environmental impacts of fracking:
Fracking technology can lead to groundwater contamination.
There are current gaps in knowledge about environmental risks.
Germany should use a step-by-step approach on the use of fracking.
There should be tight restrictions and a ban in areas that provide drinking water and spa regions.
Experts advise against large-scale fracking.
An environmental impact assessment should be conducted for every fracking project.
Also in Germany, Exxon-Mobil funded a panel of independent experts to conduct a Hydrofracking Risk Assessment (the lengthy executive summary is available in English). Yes, you heard me correctly: while Exxon-Mobil financed the study, the company had no say in the content of the report or the selection of scientists and none of the scientists involved in the study had ever worked for the oil and gas industry prior to this project. Can anyone imagine ExxonMobil funding a similar project in the U.S.? The panel of experts was monitored by about 50 stakeholder groups. Among the conclusions about the environmental impacts of fracking:
Hydrofracking entails serious risks as well as minor risks.
Hydrofracking-induced incidents can do substantial harm to water resources.
The greenhouse-gas footprint of shale gas is between 30 to 183 percent greater than that of conventional natural gas.
Some of the chemicals currently used in fracking should be replaced due to environmental risks.
Fracking should be banned in certain areas such as areas with severe tectonic risk, areas with pressurized artesian/confined deep aquifers and continuous pathways, and Germany’s Zone I and Zone II drinking water protection areas and thermal spring conservation areas (which may be the same as the spa regions mentioned above). [In Germany, Zone I is 10 meters from a water well and Zone II is the distance from which it would take contaminated groundwater 50 days to reach a water well.]
Before fracking is allowed in broad areas, a new legal framework is needed as well as additional scientific knowledge.
For now, the only fracking that should be allowed is exploratory wells and single model demonstration projects—under extensive safety conditions—designed to define and optimize the state of the art, gain a greater understanding of the impacts of fracking, and test practices. Such efforts should only occur along with extensive in-depth dialogue with stakeholders and new statutory and planning structures.
The European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General also issued a comprehensive report (almost 300 pages) in September. It is a very thorough description of the fracking process, many of the best practices available to reduce risks, and European rules. Among its findings and recommendations regarding environmental impacts:
There is a high risk of surface and groundwater contamination at various stages of the well-pad construction, hydraulic fracturing and gas production processes, and well abandonment, and cumulative developments could further increase this risk.
Air emissions from numerous well developments in a local area or wider region could have a potentially significant effect on air quality including ozone levels.
There is a significant risk of impacts due to the amount of land used in shale gas extraction and it may not be possible fully to restore sites in sensitive areas following well completion or abandonment.
There are gaps or inadequacies in EU legislation that could lead to risks to the environment or human health not being sufficiently addressed.
Robust regulatory regimes are required to mitigate risks.
Thousands of gallons of oil have spilled from a pipeline in Texas, the third accident of its kind in only a week.
Shell Pipeline, a unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, shut down their West Columbia, Texas, pipeline last Friday after electronic calculations conducted by the US National Response Center showed that upwards of 700 barrels had been lost, amounting to almost 30,000 gallons of crude oil.
By Monday, Shell spokespeople said inspectors found “no evidence” of an oil leak, but days later it was revealed that a breach did occur. Representatives with the US Coast Guard confirmed to Dow Jones on Thursday that roughly 50 barrels of oil spilled from a pipe near Houston, Texas and entered a waterway that connects to the Gulf of Mexico.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Steven Lehman said that Shell had dispatched clean-up crews that were working hard to correct any damage to Vince Bayou, a small waterway that runs for less than 20 miles from the Houston area into a shipping channel that opens into the Gulf.
The spill was contained, said Lehman, who was hesitant to offer an official number on how much crude was lost in the accident. According to Shell spokeswoman Kim Windon, though, the damage could have been quite significant. After being presented with the estimate that said as much as 700 barrels were found to have leaked from the pipeline due to an unknown cause, investigators determined that 60 barrels entered the bayou.
“That’s a very early estimate–things can change,” Officer Lehman told Dow Jones.
Meanwhile, though, rescue works in Arkansas have been getting their hands dirty responding to an emergency there. A rupture in ExxonMobil‘s Pegasus pipeline late last week send thousands of barrels of oil into the small town of Mayflower, around 25 miles outside of Little Rock. Authorities evacuated more than 20 homes in response, and by this Thursday roughly 19,000 barrels had been recovered.
Another incident in Canada this week caused an estimated 400 barrels — or roughly 16,800 gallons — of oil to be compromised in northern Ontario when a train derailed. Originally, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd said only four barrels were lost in the accident.
Corporate Crimes the Villains gallery
Dedicated to those who do not have to serve jail time.
Dedicated to those with the money to buy justice.
Dedicated to those who have the wealth bypass their legal obligations
Dedicated to those who live without ethical obligations to their fellow man
Dedicated to those who destroy the planet for profit alone
Dedicated to the arms dealers who sell their weapons of destruction to all and sundry
Dedicated to all who have abandoned all sense of moral responsibility for what they do
Dedicated to those who look after the 1% of the world’s population
With an outpouring of great sadness, the world witnessed the passing of one of the great revolutionary leaders of our time, the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Hugo Chavez, who died on Tuesday, March 5, 2013.
All who value human rights and democracy, which does not include the Washington regime, will miss his inspired leadership.
A staunch fighter against US hegemony in the Americas, President Chavez warned, “But as we all must know, the imperial threat against our beloved Homeland [Venezuela] is alive and latent.”
No sooner had news of his untimely death been announced when lackeys from the US were caught busily trying to stir up a military coup against the Venezuelan government. Vice President Nicholas Maduro announced that a US Air Force attaché and another embassy official were being expelled for plotting to destabilize the government. Previously, the US had attempted a coup in April 2002, but President Chavez managed to return to office within 2 days.
Standing firm against the US oil giants, President Chavez nationalized Exxon Mobil’s Venezuelan heavy oil assets in the Orinoco Belt in 2007, and came out the winner against them in the subsequent litigation. Predictably in response to his death, the well-oiled capitalists of Wall Street rejoiced with an orgy of record highs on the New York stock exchange, accompanied no doubt by wild dreams of “reclaiming” Venezuela. Joining in the right-wing rapture were US politicians from both factions of the corporate party, who greeted the tragic news gleefully. With typical Republican vitriol, Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) stated, “His death dents the alliance of anti-US leftist leaders in South America.”
Particularly noteworthy for its vileness was the statement by Congressman Tom Cotton (R-AR), who acrimoniously declared, “After the welcome news of Hugo Chavez’s death… I look forward to working in the House to promote a free, democratic, and pro-American government in Venezuela.” US President Obama, displaying a minimal facade of respect, stated, “At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government.”
One US official, Representative José E. Serrano (D-NY) broke away from pack of foul-mouthed US political vultures vomiting their venom and actually spoke reverently and candidly about the deceased Venezuelan leader:
“He believed that the government of the country should be used to empower the masses, not the few. He understood democracy and basic human desires for a dignified life. His legacy in his nation, and in the hemisphere, will be assured as the people he inspired continue to strive for a better life for the poor and downtrodden.”
Constantly demeaned in the capitalist-dominated Western media who referred to him as a “theatrical leader,” a “showman,” “insane” or worse, President Chavez left a substantial legacy of progress in his country. Over the last decade in Venezuela, poverty fell by over 20 percent, income inequality is down over 2 percent as measured on the Gini index, the unemployment rate was halved, medical services have been expanded to communities that never before had even a clinic, and the country has been recognized as a leader in providing free internet access for its citizens.
This has been accomplished as a result of President Chavez’s enlightened leadership, which has created a government that invests 60 percent of its income in social programs for the benefit of its population, instead of for the benefit of the moneyed elite. At the funeral, Reverend Jesse Jackson eulogized him, saying, “Hugo fed the hungry. He lifted the poor. He raised their hopes. He helped them realize their dreams.”
Among his list of humanitarian programs was providing free heating oil to poor Americans who could not afford the high prices charged by the price-gouging US oil companies. Initiated in 2005 after the dismal failure of the Bush administration to help victims of hurricane Katrina, the program, which helps some 400,000 people, is a lifeline for the retired, elderly and those who otherwise would have to depend on the poorly funded LIEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program) that has been subject to 25% budget cuts by the Obama administration.
When torrential rains in late 2010 left over 130,000 Venezuelans homeless, President Chavez responded with an initiative named the Great Housing Mission whose goal is to provide 2 million affordable housing units for needy families within seven years. With almost 300,000 units already under construction, the program is diametrically opposed to the US response to the 2008 financial crisis, which provided bailouts to prop up the same financial institutions that caused the foreclosure flood in the first place by their predatory lending practices and unethical trading in mortgage-backed bonds and derivatives.
In short, President Chavez wisely invested in his fellow citizens while Obama greedily invested in his fellow bankers.
The wisdom of President Chavez’s economic policies can be judged by the results: Despite a lagging world economy, Venezuela has posted 8 successive quarters of GDP growth with the last quarter of 2012 at an enviable 5.2 percent; unemployment continues to fall as minimum wages have risen every year; and the oil sector grew at a rate of 1.6 percent while the construction, finance, transportation, community services/non profits, and communications sectors all grew at rates exceeding that of the GDP.
Again, compare these statistics with the abysmal record of the United States, whose 2012 4th quarter GDP grew a sickly 0.1 percent, with 12 out of 22 industrial sectors contributing to the “slowdown” led by retail trade and durable goods, and whose people are suffering from a 4-percent decline in their disposable income in January 2013. In stark contrast to the otherwise pathetic US economy is the 2012 3rd quarter $68.1-billion increase in profits of US financial corporations, which are still doing quite well, judging by the record highs on Wall Street.
President Chavez leaves a country behind that proudly sets the standard for other countries when it comes to holding fair and transparent democratic elections. The most recent presidential election on October 7, 2012 was witnessed by a team of 245 lawyers, election officials, academics and elected representatives from around the world, and saw a voter turnout of over 80 percent. The Venezuelan electoral system, praised for its “professionalism and technical expertise,” boasts sophisticated voting machines that identify voters by fingerprinting which must coincide with the individual’s identity number, thereby practically eliminating the possibility of election fraud.
While the US struggles to pass sensible reforms to its all too permissive gun ownership laws, Venezuela under President Chavez destroyed over 50,000 seized firearms in 2012. He also instituted the “Venezuela Full of Life” program, which imposed a one-year ban on the importing of firearms and ammunition, in order to enhance the safety and security of the citizenry. Organized under the Chavez administration in 2009, the Bolivarian National Police has played a leading role in public safety, crime prevention and community engagement.
Another notable accomplishment by President Chavez is the inclusion of the rights of indigenous people under the Venezuelan constitution. Ratified in 1999, Article 119 states:
“The State recognizes the existence of native peoples and communities, their social, political and economic organization, their cultures, practices and customs, languages and religions, as well as their habitat and original rights to the lands they ancestrally and traditionally occupy, and which are necessary to develop and guarantee their way of life.”
Additionally, indigenous people are guaranteed representation in the Venezuelan National Assembly, while in the US, Native peoples are excluded from representation by Article 1 Section 2 of the constitution, which only apportions full personhood to free “persons,” meaning whites.
President Chavez worked hard to gain the passage of comprehensive labor laws that protect the rights of workers. The new law signed on May 1, 2012 includes provisions prohibiting the unjust dismissal of workers, requiring the payment of severance pay to the employee regardless of the reason for termination of employment, and empowering the Labor Ministry to impose sanctions on businesses that violate the law.
Additionally, discrimination based on nationality, sexual orientation, membership in a labor union, prior criminal record, or any type of handicap is prohibited. Compare this to US labor law, where draconian “Right to Work” laws undermine employees’ ability to organize, and “At Will” employment practices allow an employer to fire an employee for virtually any reason. Of course there are restrictions, but the legal burden of proof is upon the employee who rarely can afford proper legal representation.
Hugo Chavez was a visionary: a rare leader who cared about his people and envisioned a prosperous society in which all could share in the benefits, not just an exclusive few. President Chavez has left this world, but his legacy remains with us. It is now up to us – those of us who share his noble dream of a just society and are willing to struggle for it – to fight on until the last link in the oppressive chain of imperialistic capitalism is broken.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez‘s death is not likely to result in near-term changes to the Venezuelan oil industry or global energy landscape, but it could ultimately result in political change that would reopen the country’s energy industry to foreign investment.
As news of Chavez’s death swept through IHS CERAWeek, the world’s largest conference for energy executives, in Houston on Tuesday afternoon, participants flocked to televisions, looking for news on the political future of a country that has the second largest oil reserves in the world.
“It’s too soon to say what Hugo Chavez’s death means for oil prices,” said IHS Vice Chair Daniel Yergin. “But it is certainly true that oil prices are what made Hugo Chavez possible,” as the collapse of oil prices in the late 1990s “gave him the opening to become president” and rising oil prices since 2000 “gave him the financial resources to consolidate power.”
Analysts and attendees at the Houston energy conference said it was unclear what would happen after the country holds an election for a new president. For now, Venezuela’s Vice President Nicolas Maduro is in charge and the country’s army chiefs are reported to be supporting him.
“Without (Chavez’s) charisma and force of character, it is not all clear how his successors will maintain the system he created,” Yergin said
Among the major integrated oil companies, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil could stand to benefit greatly from regime change in Venezuela, if the new leadership allows overseas oil companies to return, analysts said.
The nationalization of Venezuela’s oil industry in 2007 resulted in the exit of those two companies who were unable to reach a new agreement with the state-owned oil company PDVSA.
Too Early to Tell
“It’s too early to tell how the new leader will handle it, but ConocoPhillips could benefit the most,” said Fadel Gheit, senior oil analyst at Oppenheimer & Co.
ConocoPhillips was the biggest foreign stakeholder in Venezuela at the time of nationalization and could benefit greatly from regaining its former assets, Gheit said, adding: “The book value of assets that were confiscated was $4.5 billion (at the time.) The market value is now $20 to $30 billion… ConocoPhillips could eventually see a net gain of $10 billion.”
But that assumes ConocoPhillips would want to return to the country. Venezuela’s economic problems extend beyond the oil business. “It really much depends on what kind of government will follow Chavez,” said Enrique Sira, IHS senior research director for Latin America.
“The only thing for sure is the fact that the industry is in very poor condition — upstream, downstream, power, and distribution. Electricity has to be rationed. It has a gas deficit that’s been running for years and the country doesn’t produce anywhere near what it could produce,” Sira said. (Read More: Venezuela Vote, Post-Chavez, Next Risk for Oil)
ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance, who spoke Tuesday morning at the Houston energy conference prior to news of Chavez’s death, noted how the global energy landscape has changed dramatically.
“The new landscape is like someone picked up the energy world and tilted it,” he said, as countries with great demand for energy and those with ample supplies has changed. The U.S. is now exporting more of its natural resources than ever before, he said. Those exports include shipping record supplies of US gasoline to Venezuela. Meanwhile Venezuela oil exports to the U.S. are on the decline.
Sira said Venezuela could produce as much as 6 to 9 million barrels of oil a day but now it’s probably less than 2.5 million barrels. He said oil production peaked in the early year at 3.3 million barrels. (Read More: Why Venezuela’s World-Beating Oil Reserves Are ‘Irrelevant’)
Venezuela ranked fourth in oil imports to the U.S. last year at 906,000 barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). But crude oil imports from Venezuela have been declining steadily since 2004, when they peaked at 1.3 million barrels per day.
Venezuela’s refineries are also in such poor shape that it has to import gasoline and diesel from the U.S. In December, Venezuela imported a record 197,000 barrels per day of petroleum products from the U.S., according to EIA data.
In the short-run, oil prices may not be greatly impacted by regime change in Venezuela since for now the flow of oil from Venezuela to the U.S. and domestic fuel imports to the South American country are likely to continue current trends, said Houston-based energy analyst Andy Lipow. “We both need each other.”
While 2012 might not be a banner year for Big Oil profits, it wasn’t a bad one either. With just BP left to announce 2012 earnings, Big Oil earned well over $100 billion in profits last year, while the companies benefit from continued taxpayer subsidies. Average gas prices also hit a record high last year, showing how a drilling boom may help oil companies’ profit margins, but not consumers’ wallets.
ExxonMobil — now the most valuable company in the world, passing Apple — earned $45 billion profit in 2012, a 9 percent jump over 2011. Meanwhile, Chevron earned $26.2 billion for the year. In the final three months of the year, the companies earned $9.95 billion and $7.2 billion respectively.
Here are the highlights of how Exxon and Chevron spend their earnings:
Exxon received $600 million annual tax breaks. In 2011, Exxon paid just 13 percent in taxes. The company paid no taxes to the U.S. federal government in 2009, despite 45.2 billion record profits. It paid $15 billion in taxes, but none in federal income tax.
Exxon’s oil production was down 6 percent from 2011.
In fourth quarter, Exxon bought back $5.3 billion of its stock, which enriches the largest shareholders and executives of the company.
Exxon’s federal campaign contributions totaled $2.77 million for the 2012 cycle, sending 89 percent to Republicans.
The company spent $12.97 million lobbying in 2012 to protect low tax rates and block pollution controls and safeguards for public health.
Exxon is moving ahead with a project to develop the tar sands in Canada.
In October, Chevron made the single-largest corporate donation in history. Chevron dropped $2.5 million with the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC to elect House Republicans.
The bulk of Chevron’s federal contributions came from the super PAC donation, for a total of $3.87 million for the 2012 cycle. 85 percent went to Republicans.
Chevron spent $9.55 million lobbying Congress in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Chevron paid 19 percent U.S. taxes last year (half of the top corporate tax rate of 35 percent), and received an estimated $700 million in annual tax breaks last year.
Chevron was fined $1 million for a refinery fire that sent 15,000 Richmond, California residents to the hospital. Though the company faces $10 million in medical expenses, Chevron earns it back in a couple of hours.
With Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips reporting $35 billion in combined profit in 2012, BP is the last company left to announce its profits for the year.
Exxon Mobil one of the most irresponsible/corrupt companies in the world has now reached the pinnacle of the corporate world
Exxon overtakes Apple as biggest public company in the world
Apple lost its position as the biggest public company in the world on Friday, amid growing concerns that its extraordinary growth trajectory of recent years is coming to an end.
A 2012 article in The Daily Telegraph says that ExxonMobil has “grown into one of the planet’s most hated corporations, able to determine American foreign policy and the fate of entire nations”. In terms of its environmental record, ExxonMobil increasingly drills in terrains leased to them by dictatorships, such as those in Chad and Equatorial Guinea. Lee Raymond, the corporation’s chief executive until 2005, was “notoriously sceptical about climate change and disliked government interference at any level”. The company was widely criticized for its slow response to cleaning its 1989 Valdez oil spill in Alaska.
ExxonMobil has been a contributor to environmental causes (the company donated $6.6 million to environmental and social groups in 2007 Its environmental record has been a target of critics from outside organizations such as the environmental lobby group Greenpeace as well as some institutional investors who disagree with its stance on global warming. The Political Economy Research Institute ranks ExxonMobil sixth among corporations emitting airborne pollutants in the United States. The ranking is based on the quantity (15.5 million pounds in 2005) and toxicity of the emissions. In 2005, ExxonMobil had committed less than 1% of their profits towards researching alternative energy, less than other leading oil companies.
Main article: Exxon Valdez oil spill
The March 24, 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill resulted in the discharge of approximately 11 million US gallons (42,000 m3) of oil into Prince William Sound, oiling 1,300 miles (2,100 km) of the remote Alaskan coastline. The Valdez spill is 36th worst oil spill in history in terms of sheer volume.
The State of Alaska’s Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council stated that the spill “is widely considered the number one spill worldwide in terms of damage to the environment”. Carcasses were found of over 35,000 birds and 1,000 sea otters. Because carcasses typically sink to the seafloor, it’s estimated the death toll may be 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, and up to 22 killer whales. Billions of salmon and herring eggs were also killed.
Oil remains on or under more than half the sound’s beaches, according to a 2001 federal survey. The government-created Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council concluded that the oil disappears at less than 4 percent per year, adding that the oil will “take decades and possibly centuries to disappear entirely”. Of the 27 species monitored by the Council, 17 have not recovered. While the salmon population has rebounded, and the killer whales are recovering, the herring population and fishing industry have not.
Exxon was widely criticized for its slow response to cleaning up the disaster. John Devens, the Mayor of Valdez, has said his community felt betrayed by Exxon’s inadequate response to the crisis.Exxon later removed the name “Exxon” from its tanker shipping subsidiary, which it renamed “SeaRiver Maritime.” The renamed subsidiary, though wholly Exxon-controlled, has a separate corporate charter and board of directors, and the former Exxon Valdez is now the SeaRiver Mediterranean. The renamed tanker is legally owned by a small, stand-alone company, which would have minimal ability to pay out on claims in the event of a further accident.
After a trial, a jury ordered Exxon to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, though an appeals court reduced that amount by half. Exxon appealed further, and on June 25, 2008, the United States Supreme Court lowered the amount to $500 million.
In 2009, Exxon still uses more single-hull tankers than the rest of the largest ten oil companies combined, including the Valdez’s sister ship, the SeaRiver Long Beach.
Exxon’s Brooklyn oil spill
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced on July 17, 2007 that he had filed suit against the Exxon Mobil Corporation and ExxonMobil Refining and Supply Company to force cleanup of the oil spill at Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and to restore Newtown Creek.
A study of the spill released by the US Environmental Protection Agency in September 2007 reported that the spill consists of 17 to 30 million US gallons (64,000 to 110,000 m3) of petroleum products from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. The largest portion of these operations were by ExxonMobil or its predecessors. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez oil spill was approximately 11 million US gallons (42,000 m3). The study reported that in the early 20th century Standard Oil of New York operated a major refinery in the area where the spill is located. The refinery produced fuel oils, gasoline, kerosene and solvents. Naptha and gas oil, secondary products, were also stored in the refinery area. Standard Oil of New York later became Mobil, a predecessor to Exxon/Mobil.
Baton Rouge Refinery pipeline oil spill
In April 2012, a crude oil pipeline, from the Exxon Corp Baton Rouge Refinery, burst and spilled at least 1,900 barrels of oil,(80,000 gallons)in the rivers of Point Coupee Parish, Louisiana shutting down the Exxon Corp Baton Refinery for a few days. Regulators opened an investigation in response to the pipeine oil spill. Local Louisiana residents were not informed until days after the Exxon pipeline oil spill. Needs revision. Inaccurate based upon cited source.
Yellowstone River oil spill
The July 2011 Yellowstone River oil spill was an oil spill from an ExxonMobil pipeline running from Silver Tip to Billings, Montana, which ruptured about 10 miles west of Billings on July 1, 2011 at about 11:30 pm The resulting spill leaked an estimated 750 to 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River for about 30 minutes before it was shut down.
As a precaution against a possible explosion, officials in Laurel, Montana evacuated about 140 people on Saturday (July 2) just after midnight, then allowed them to return at 4 am
A spokesman for Exxon Mobil said that the oil is within 10 miles of the spill site. However, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer disputed the accuracy of that figure. The governor pledged that “The parties responsible will restore the Yellowstone River.”
Sakhalin-I in the Russian Far East
Scientists and environmental groups voice concern that the Sakhalin-I oil and gas project in the Russian Far East, operated by an ExxonMobil subsidiary, Exxon Neftegas Limited (ENL), threatens the critically endangered western gray whale population.In February, 2009, independent scientists, convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature issued an urgent call for a “…moratorium on all industrial activities, both maritime and terrestrial, that have the potential to disturb gray whales in summer and autumn on and near their main feeding areas” following a sharp decline in observed whales in the main feeding area in 2008, adjacent to ENL’s project area. The scientists also criticized ENL’s unwillingness to cooperate with the scientific panel process, which “certainly impedes the cause of western gray whale conservation.”
Funding of global warming skeptics
ExxonMobil has been accused of paying to fuel skepticism of anthropogenic global warming (i.e. the belief that an increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere is due to the greenhouse effect, caused primarily by increased levels of carbon dioxide released in the burning of coal and petroleum-based fuels).
ExxonMobil has drawn criticism from the environmental lobby for funding organizations critical of the Kyoto Protocol and skeptical of the scientific opinion that global warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. According to Mother Jones Magazine, the company channeled more than $8 million to forty different organizations that challenged the scientific evidence of global warming and that the company was a member of one of the first such skeptic groups, the Global Climate Coalition, founded in 1989. According to The Guardian, ExxonMobil has funded, among other groups skeptical of global warming, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, Heartland Institute, Congress on Racial Equality, TechCentralStation.com, and International Policy Network. ExxonMobil’s support for these organizations has drawn criticism from the Royal Society, the academy of sciences of the United Kingdom. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report in 2007 accusing ExxonMobil of spending $16 million, between 1998 and 2005, towards 43 advocacy organizations which dispute the impact of global warming. The report argued that ExxonMobil used disinformation tactics similar to those used by the tobacco industry in its denials of the link between lung cancer and smoking, saying that the company used “many of the same organizations and personnel to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue.”] These charges are consistent with a purported 1998 internal ExxonMobil strategy memo, posted by the environmental group Environmental Defense, stating
Victory will be achieved when
Average citizens [and the media] ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom’ …
Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy
Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear out of touch with reality.
ExxonMobil has been reported as having plans to invest up to US$100m over a ten-year period in Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project.
A survey carried out by the UK’s Royal Society found that in 2005 ExxonMobil distributed $2.9m to 39 groups that the society said “misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence”.
In August 2006, the Wall Street Journal revealed that a YouTube video lampooning Al Gore, titled Al Gore’s Penguin Army, appeared to be astroturfing by DCI Group, a Washington PR firm with ties to ExxonMobil.
In January 2007, the company appeared to change its position, when vice president for public affairs Kenneth Cohen said “we know enough now—or, society knows enough now—that the risk is serious and action should be taken.” Cohen stated that, as of 2006, ExxonMobil had ceased funding of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and “‘five or six’ similar groups”. While the company did not publicly state which the other similar groups were, a May 2007 report by Greenpeace does list the five groups it stopped funding as well as a list of 41 other climate skeptic groups which are still receiving ExxonMobil funds.
On February 13, 2007, ExxonMobil CEO Rex W. Tillerson acknowledged that the planet was warming while carbon dioxide levels were increasing, but in the same speech gave an unqualified defense of the oil industry and predicted that hydrocarbons would dominate the world’s transportation as energy demand grows by an expected 40 percent by 2030. Tillerson stated that there is no significant alternative to oil in coming decades, and that ExxonMobil would continue to make petroleum and natural gas its primary products, saying: “I’m no expert on biofuels. I don’t know much about farming and I don’t know much about moonshine. … There is really nothing ExxonMobil can bring to that whole biofuels issue. We don’t see a direct role for ourselves with today’s technology.” However, recently Exxonmobil has announced that it will plan on spending up to 600 million dollars within the next 10 years to fund biofuels that come from algae. On July 14, 2010 Exxonmobil announced that, a year after teaming with Synthetic Genomics, Inc., they had opened a greenhouse to research algae as a possible biofuels
On July 1, 2009, The Guardian newspaper revealed that ExxonMobil has continued to fund organizations including the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) along with the Heritage Foundation, despite a public pledge to cut support of lobby groups who deny climate change.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, was a watershed moment for environmental critics of the oil industry.
Foreign business practices
Investigative reporting by Forbes Magazine raised questions about ExxonMobil’s dealings with the leaders of oil-rich nations. ExxonMobil controls concessions covering 11 million acres (45,000 km2) off the coast of Angola that hold an estimated 7.5 billion barrels (1.19×109 m3) of crude.
In 2003, the Office of Foreign Assets Control reported that ExxonMobil engaged in illegal trade with Sudan and it, along with dozens of other companies, settled with the United States government for $50,000.
In March 2003, James Giffen of the Mercator Corporation was indicted, accused of bribing President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan with $78 million to help ExxonMobil win a 25 percent share of the Tengiz oilfield, the third largest in the world. On April 2, 2003, former-Mobil executive J. Bryan Williams was indicted on tax charges relating to this same transaction. The case is the largest under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This series of events is depicted in the film Syriana.
In a U.S. Department of Justice release dated September 18, 2003, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that J. Bryan Williams, a former senior executive of Mobil Oil Corporation, had been sentenced to three years and ten months in prison on charges of evading income taxes on more than $7 million in unreported income, “including a $2 million kickback he received in connection with Mobil’s oil business in Kazakhstan.” According to documents filed with the court, Williams’ unreported income included millions of dollars in kickbacks from governments, persons, and other entities with whom Williams conducted business while employed by Mobil. In addition to his sentence, Williams must pay a fine of $25,000 and more than $3.5 million in restitution to the IRS, in addition to penalties and interest.
Main article: Accusations of ExxonMobil human rights violations in Indonesia
ExxonMobil is the target of human rights activists for actions taken by the corporation in the Indonesian territory of Aceh. In June 2001 a lawsuit against ExxonMobil was filed in the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia under the Alien Tort Claims Act. The suit alleges that the ExxonMobil knowingly assisted human rights violations, including torture, murder and rape, by employing and providing material support to Indonesian military forces, who committed the alleged offenses during civil unrest in Aceh. Human rights complaints involving Exxon’s (Exxon and Mobil had not yet merged) relationship with the Indonesian military first arose in 1992; the company denies these accusations and filed a motion to dismiss the suit, which was denied in 2008 by a federal judge, but then dismissed in August 2009 by a different federal judge. The dismissal is currently under appeal.
When Exxon Corporation merged with Mobil Corporation in 1999, the newly merged company ended enrollment in Mobil Corporation’s domestic partner benefits for same-sex partners of employees, and it rescinded formal prohibitions against discrimination based on sexual orientation by removing it from the company’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy In 2010 the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT lobbying group and political action committee, gave Exxon Mobil a score of “0” in its Corporate Equality Index, a scorecard that rated 590 companies on several criteria including diversity training that covers gender identity issues, transgender-inclusive medical coverage including surgical procedures, and “positively engaging the external LGBT community.” On May 26, 2010 ExxonMobil shareholders voted down LGBT benefits for its employees – only 22% of shareholders voted yes for the issue.
ExxonMobil’s headquarters are located in Irving, Texas.
As of January 2010, the company is conducting an internal study regarding possible consolidation of facilities to the northern Houston suburb of Spring, at the intersection of Interstate 45 and the Hardy Toll Road. Architectural documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle outline an elaborate corporate campus, including twenty office buildings totaling 3,000,000 square feet (280,000 m2), a wellness center, laboratory, and multiple parking garages. Alan Jeffers, a spokesperson for the company, did not say whether the consolidation study includes the Irving headquarters, but definitely includes the Fairfax headquarters. Chris Wallace, the chief executive of the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, said that he believed that it does include the headquarters. In October 2010 the company stated that it would not move its headquarters to Greater Houston.
Since then, the corporation has acknowledged a move to a suburb between The Woodlands, TX and Spring, TX. This campus will be built to house 8,000 employees, and will be an environment that is suitable for work, play, and life. Beginning early in 2014, and ending some time in 2015, employees will move into the campus and begin work.[
“A recent analysis by Carbon Brief from 2011 concluded that 9 out of 10 climate scientists who claim that climate change is not happening have ties to ExxonMobil. The results showed that out of the 938 papers cited by climate sceptics, 186 of them were written by only ten men, and foremost among them was Dr Craig D. Idso, who personally authored 67 of them. Idso is the president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, an ExxonMobil funded think tank. The second most prolific was Dr Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, who receives roughly 40% of his funding from the oil industry.”
* “Two days after [this report] was published, [Philip] Cooney resigned his position as chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality and got a job at ExxonMobil. However, his resignation was planned months before the memo was leaked and he had already accepted the position at ExxonMobil.”
Ireland take note
What are the chances of Fracking coming to Ireland? If the big boys want it I feel one hundred per cent sure the government will acquiesce to their demands with prodding from the IMF but no equal share for Ireland
A deal of equal shares!!! Suspect Shell are not telling the full story
A fifty year deal… I smell a rat
Under the $10bn deal that drew attention of the industry, Shell and Ukraine’s state-owned firm Nadra Yuzivska have equal shares in the enterprise, 50% each.
The latest deal is anticipated to help Ukraine increase its domestic gas production, create jobs, boost state budget revenue, and lift the economy.
Reuters noted that the 50-year contract is “the biggest contract yet to tap shale gas in Europe,” and added that the deal would help the country reduce its dependence on Russia for energy.
In May 2012, Shell had won the right to explore gas in Yuzivske gas field in Ukraine, while in August 2012, Shell along with ExxonMobil, Romanian OMV Petrom and Nadra have received joint rights to develop underwater deposits at Ukrainian deep marine shelf field under the Black Sea.