Friday, 6 March 2015

Put your ear to a Shell and what do you hear?

Just been reading a speech by Ben van Beurden calling for the oil industry to be less aloof and more assertive. Not sure whether to become more complacent about this, or switch my view of the oil industry from exasperation to fear. I couldn't make it to the actual speech as it was for the International Petroleum Week dinner for the Energy Institute and they didn't invite me. 

The general tone seems to be one of business as usual: let's keep meeting increasing demand for oil and let's keep searching for more oil. There are suggestions about capturing carbon from power stations, apparently removing up to 90% CO2 with CCS technology, and switching from coal to gas. If I can compare this with the tobacco industry, this is a bit like adding filters and switching to low-tar. 

As Upton Sinclair said, it's impossible to make somebody believe something if his salary depends upon him not believing it. We're not likely to get the oil industry suggesting we use less oil any more than we could expect the tobacco industry to encourage people to give up smoking.

A couple of specific things he talks about grated a little. One was the idea of them delivering energy to the poor of the world, in the interest of human rights. Of course this makes complete sense if you're in the fossil fuel industry. But if you are living in a village with no electricity, would you prefer solar panels, windmills, or generators and a long term commitment to buy oil for them? 

He also said "provoking a sudden death of fossil fuels isn’t a plausible plan."

The idea of the death of fossil fuels is really interesting. For a start they're already dead. They're fossils, right? And second, aren't they less dead left in the ground than taken out and burnt?

"In the meantime, however, the world’s energy needs will underpin the use of fossil fuels for decades to come. "

I love the way the grammar of this statement seems to put using fossil fuels as the priority, and world energy needs as something that help this along.

Another interesting piece of information here: "production from oil fields typically declines at a rate of at least 5% a year." No suggestion that they should be reducing their output by 5% a year so that these oil fields will last for ever.

At the same time, Shell is investing and researching heavily into renewables, for example using oil rig technology to build platforms for offshore windfarms. 

They are still a few billion years behind on solar energy though, relying on sunshine from the paleozoic period.