Oil Execs Pan Electric Cars At Houston Energy Conference, Fail To Say One Word About Climate Change

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CERA Week is to the energy industry what Davos is to bankers — a chance to rub elbows with other enormously wealthy people and wallow in self satisfaction. Smugness is the order of the day, as it was in Houston last week as oil and gas executives from all over the world gathered to praise each other for being such swell people.

A few days ago, I wrote a piece about Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, who attended the CERA Week conference. She at least mentioned electric cars, pushed for more charging infrastructure, and called for more renewable energy. Several people criticized my title for that story: Mary Barra Speaks Truth To Rich White Men In Houston. Below is a photo from last week’s conference supplied by CERA Week. Now what do those naysayers have to say about that title? (Note: the one dark face in the photo belongs to the mayor of Houston. See any women in the photo? No, me either.)

CERA Week Conference 2017

Hello, Houston

How oddly appropriate that this year’s conference was in Houston, a city that almost floated into the Gulf of Mexico last year, thanks to unprecedented rainfall from Hurricane Harvey. Despite that fact, the words “climate change” were not uttered once by any of the presenters other than the CEO of Shell. Mayor Turner, who has joined other US mayors in calling for more federal action on climate change, did acknowledge that storms like Harvey are “the new normal” and are forcing his administration to reconsider whether paving every square centimeter of the city is the most appropriate way to deal with more frequent storms.

“We need a more holistic approach,” Turner acknowledged, noting that infrastructure should be more resilient to flooding and that “as we build in the future, we build higher and we build in such a way that we aren’t going to be flooding our neighbors,” according to a report by Think Progress. Then he thanked the oil and gas executives for helping rebuild the city and encouraged them to continue doing business in the city and surrounding areas.

Shell Talks A Good Game

Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden did tell the conference that climate change is the biggest issue facing the energy sector, but his remarks were directed more toward transitioning away from oil and coal and moving toward more natural gas. Shell is a leader worldwide in liquid natural gas production and sales. Van Beurden made no mention of the damage that fracking for natural gas does to the environment. He also made a tepid call for more renewable energy, according to Chron.com.

Shell has said it will reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2050, but most of that involves hardening its operations against the ravages of more frequent storms and rising sea levels. It has no intention of reducing the amount of fossil fuels it sells one iota. This is what Andrea Bertoli, CleanTechnica’s director of communications, dismisses as “greenwashing.”

EVs Are Just A Passing Fad

Bloomberg was on hand at the conference and reports on some of the remarks made by energy company executives regarding EVs. BP CEO Bob Dudley told the conference he sees “tremendous” opportunities with the coming of electric cars but said they are “not the silver bullet that everyone’s looking for.” He believes oil and natural gas will still be part of the global energy mix for decades to come, with demand falling off very slowly over time.

Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said he thinks it is a mistake to assume electric vehicles will replace internal combustion engines quickly and easily. Battery electric and hydrogen cars still “face a range of problems,” he said, before launching into the familiar talking points about how electric cars are not as green as people assume because the electricity needed to recharge them comes from dirty coal generating stations in many countries, especially China and India.

“Right now, with battery electric vehicles, we are simply moving emissions from tailpipe to smoke stack,” Nasser said. “So, yes, battery electric vehicles will grow and have a welcome role to play in global mobility,” he said. “But given the competition and complexity of the transition, their impact on the 20% oil demand should not be exaggerated. And that still leaves the other 80%, where oil demand continues to grow.”

Nasser should be pilloried for showing such stunning ignorance of the green energy revolution taking place in the world today, especially in China and India. Here’s a note to the Saudi Aramco board of directors: I will do Nasser’s job for half what you are paying this buffoon and do it better than he will ever could.

Investors Are Getting Nervous

On the margins of the conference, some in the investment community were more sanguine about renewable energy and electric vehicles. Tim Perry, global co-head of oil and gas investment banking at Credit Suisse told Bloomberg, “There’s a wall of worry from a lot of equity investors about EVs coming in — 10 years out or 50 years out. Your views on that make for a very different understanding of participation in the sector.”

Tom Nimbley, CEO of PBF Energy, a US based refinery company, said he questions whether refineries are still worth investing billions of dollars in. Refineries are “great structures,” he said, “but you are really kind of taking a leap by saying, ‘that’s what I want to do,’ in this day and age because perhaps we are starting to approach some headwinds on demand.”

Most CleanTechnica readers are well aware of those headwinds, as we are looking at the energy sector from the outside in. Our income and lucrative packages are not tied to the status quo, which gives us the ability to see the changes coming down the road more clearly than the insiders who were pontificating in Houston last week. If I get that job with Saudi Aramco, I’m bringing all of you with me!

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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