Published on February 16th, 2020 |
by Steve Hanley
February 16th, 2020 by Steve Hanley
There is an old expression that says, “If you fail to plan, you have a plan to fail.” It’s good to have goals, but plans are what make achieving those goals possible. This week in London, Bernard Looney, the new CEO of BP, announced that his company intends to eliminate or offset 100% of its carbon emissions by 2050. “We are aiming to earn back the trust of society, Looney said according to a report by The New York Times. “We have got to change, and change profoundly. Trillions of dollars will need to be invested in replumbing and rewiring the world’s energy system. It will require nothing short of reimagining energy as we know it,” Looney said in a company statement.
No one can argue with that. BP has been one of the largest polluters of the planet for the past 50 years or more and is singlehandedly responsible for screwing up the Gulf of Mexico with the disastrous Deep Water Horizon fiasco that was far larger than anyone knew at the time. This is a company that spent $13 million lobbying against a ballot initiative that would have imposed a modest tax on carbon emissions in the state of Washington a few years ago, but now says it supports stricter climate laws that include putting a price on carbon emissions. It’s little wonder people have trouble trusting the company.
There is one fairly bold component of Looney’s Reimagining Energy announcement that deserves attention, however. He says not only does the company intend to slash carbon emissions from its operations, it also intends to significantly reduce the emissions created by burning the oil and gas it produces, which are so-called Scope 3 emissions. Unfortunately, Looney offered no details about how that’s going to happen, promising a full report on the details by next September.
At the present time, BP emits about 55 million tons of greenhouse gases each year directly from its extraction operations and refineries, The New York Times reports. But when its products are used, they generate another 360 million tons of carbon dioxide. And that doesn’t include the damage done by methane emissions from its drilling and pumping operations. Looney also conveniently omits the 77 million tons of emissions attributable to the oil and gas it purchases from other suppliers.
Also, important note from my colleague Laura Hurst: “An important nuance here lies in the language BP is using here. They’re calling this an ‘ambition’ not a ‘target’. The use of this word has been a bugbear for some activist investors.”
— Akshat Rathi (@AkshatRathi) February 12, 2020
Despite all the happy talk, don’t get the idea that BP is going to stop its fossil fuel extraction operations any time soon. During the question and answer session after Looney’s announcement, he said the company would “very likely” still be producing and refining hydrocarbons by 2050, but that it planned to invest “less and less in oil and gas” over time, according to The Verge. The New York Times may have some insight into that conundrum. It speculates that BP may be planning on making money from capturing and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere — the real world equivalent to a septic system pumping company emptying the contents of its trucks on your property and then charging you to clean up its mess.
Environmental Groups Respond
The idea of cutting emissions from burning fossil fuels is pretty bold stuff for an oil company, so environmental groups have given the company some tepid praise for timidly going where no fossil fuel company has gone before. “Looney deserves support and credit for starting BP on the journey towards carbon neutrality and policy leadership. The direction is good, and we look forward to hearing more about the specifics. Time will tell if he gets BP where it needs to go. Its real actions and verifiable emissions reductions that will be the measure of success,” said Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp after the announcement. But Ellen Gibson of 350.0rg Britain tells The New York Times, “Unless BP commits clearly to stop searching for more oil and gas, and to keep their existing reserves in the ground, we shouldn’t take a word of their P.R. spin seriously.”
Goals are like lighthouses. They give us something to aim for. A sailboat crossing the ocean is off course 99% of the time but because it has a goal — the white cliffs of Dover, perhaps — it can correct its path regularly and arrive safely at its destination. A plan is what makes all those mid-course corrections possible. We will have to wait until September when BP reveals its plan before we can judge whether it is sound, but until then, the company has established a clear goal and for that it should be congratulated.
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