There were many would-be-prophetic headlines last week during what fast became – to mangle the Latin – a hebdomas horribilis for international oil majors, with Shell being ordered by a Dutch court to cut its greenhouse gas emissions far more aggressively than currently planned, BlackRock backing a sharehold call on BP for “faster climate action” despite the energy company's board opposition, and ExxonMobil and Chevron both facing climate-linked investor activism. But none perhaps more neatly summed it up than ‘The Day the World Changed for Big Oil’.
Some perceived the signs of shock waves emanating out from a seismic declaration by the International Energy Agency (IEA) a fortnight ago for an immediate halt to any new oil & gas projects globally – in time with a massively geared-up deployment of renewables – if net zero targets were not to slip out of reach.
As if underlining the gravity of the situation, the IEA this week rephrased itself, stating in a new report that investment in renewables remains far below what's needed to effectively combat global heating, despite early movements at some of the world's largest fossil energy players to “accelerate” their spending on clean energy projects and technologies.
Among the unconvinced by the IEA’s call to action is Brazilian energy minister Bento Albuquerque, who insisted to Recharge in an exclusive interview that the South American nation has “all the conditions” to become a net zero economy by 2050 and a future green hydrogen exporter beyond this, saying of a renewables-led energy transition: “I understand this is desirable but at the moment it’s not possible.”
The fact remains that there is a building financial force majeure in fossils-producing nations such as Brazil that will further tilt the table against oil & gas, as Rystad Energy teased out of its databanks last week. Namely: that petrostates are already suffering an unprecedented decline in tax revenues – last year down by half on pre-pandemic levels, at $560bn – with every expectation that the energy transition “will cause this source of state income to shrink and never again exceed or meet $1trn”.
Still, not everyone in the oil industry is thinking in a binary way about hydrocarbon production and the emissions linked to ongoing operations. Recharge, in an exclusive interview, delved into a $14bn plan from Cerulean Wind – founded by ex-oilmen Dan Jackson and Mark Dixon – to use 3GW of floating wind plant and a 1.5GW onshore hydrogen facility to abate as much as 10 million tonnes of emissions from offshore hydrocarbon production from the North Sea (where 13 million tonnes was released in 2019).
This model would add to the growing swell of offshore wind-decarbonisation projects taking shape, at the same time as Equinor is in the midst of developing Hywind Tampen, a scheme that will used 88MW of floating wind to reduce emissions by a third on the Snorre-Gullfaks oil field off Norway.
There might just also be some ‘repurposing’ value for oil as a carrier for hydrogen, as a big-hitting industrial consortium led by utility E.ON and the Port of Hamburg aim to find out via a pilot project launched as part of the 10GW wind-to-hydrogen AquaVentus megadevelopment in Germany.