Reposted from jonathonporritt.com (image added).
So where does all that upbeat, excitable buzz around renewables leave the oil and gas companies?
Well, they’re still hanging in there, with exhibition stands as bullish and brazen as ever, continuing to take the line that their mainstream market positions remain unchallengeable.
And, to be honest, they seemed far more preoccupied with the current low price of a barrel of oil (and what that means for their existing business model) than they do with any existential threat to their very being.
The strong likelihood is that oil prices will stay low for some time to come. The lifting of sanctions against Iranian oil exports will take some time to work through (there’s a lot of new investment needed), but markets are already factoring in the prospect of another 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day in the short term, potentially double that within a year, at relatively low prices.
It’s not all bad news for the oil and gas industry, in that such low prices are clearly encouraging more energy use and reducing people’s motivation to improve efficiency. New vehicle sales in the USA, for instance, hit record levels in 2015, with those gas-guzzling SUVs as popular as ever. And many reckon that low oil and gas prices will delay the switch to renewables and storage, and reduce investment in cleantech R&D.
I’m sure that might once have been the case, but will it still hold today? There’s likely to be a far bigger impact on the readiness of oil and gas majors to invest in yesterday’s favoured mega-projects, especially in remote and high-risk locations. Shell’s withdrawal from the Arctic (after pouring billions into various forlorn projects) was much commented on in Abu Dhabi.
Astonishingly, their great white hope remains carbon capture and storage (CCS), and there was plenty of bubblingly enthusiastic stuff about the massive contribution that CCS will make in extending the life of oil and gas assets for many, many years to come.
Just to show willing, I exposed myself to Shell’s ‘virtual reality promo’ about the potential for CCS to deal with ‘up to 50% of tomorrow’s CO2 emissions’ – I kid you not!! It was all a bit pathetic really – with oil at below $25 a barrel, and conventional CCS coming in at above $75 a tonne, how the hell do they think they can make it all add up?!
They still have one temporary consolation to fall back on: that they’re not in as bad a position as coal! The IEA’s (International Energy Agency) Medium Term Coal Market Report has just cut its five-year estimate of global coal demand by a whopping 500 million tonnes – not least because of growing evidence that demand for coal in China will continue to fall over the next few years. The Report included a new scenario, in which Chinese coal demand has already peaked, and will therefore, from now on, be on a downward trajectory. And that would be a total game-changer.
Image by Richie, Robert Yarnall (1908-1984)