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Two Perspectives On Fossil Fuels & Emissions — The Exxon Video

Exxon CEO Darren Woods speaks of how the company is positioning itself to thrive in a changing world.

The emissions from fossil fuels supplied by Exxon and others are making the Earth uninhabitable by humans. That is unfortunate, because the power created when fossil fuels are burned has become the basis for virtually all human activity. Transportation, agriculture, industry, the built environment, heating, cooling, social media, mining bitcoin — even warfare — have relied exclusively on fossil fuels for the past 150 years. Wind and solar have become part of the energy mix recently, but they still account for only a modest amount of the world’s energy needs.

The ExxonMobil Perspective

This past week, Darren Woods, CEO of ExxonMobil, sat down for an interview with David Faber of CNBC. The wide ranging conversation (you can see it all for yourself in the video below) touched on electric cars, the demand for gasoline and diesel in the future, and where Woods sees his company being in 2040. His answers were enlightening.

Woods said he fully expects all passenger vehicles sold in the world in 2040 to be electric, but that the decrease in demand for motor fuels will only mean the company will go back to where it was in 2013, and its business was quite good then, and so it will soldier on quite nicely, thank you very much.

There are many exciting new opportunities on the horizon for the company, he said. Hydrocarbons can be rearranged into literally millions of combinations. Oil and gas are just collections of hydrocarbons begging for some clever scientist to turn into new products.

Some of them could be used to create the solar panels and wind turbines of the future or even components for those battery powered cars and trucks. Others can be made into billions of single use bottles, straws, food containers, and shopping bags. There is literally no end of stuff the oil and gas Exxon brings to market can used for, so Woods says there’s no need to worry about the future of the company.

He pointed out that Exxon invented butyl rubber, which proves it can be a leader in the innovation of products society needs. He neglected to mention that invention occurred in 1937.

Exxon doesn’t make automobiles or generating stations; it just makes the fuels that power them, Woods said. Then he went off on a tangent familiar to many who recall the speeches made by Donald Trump. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, so there will always be a need for fossil fuels to keep the lights on and lift the billions of disadvantaged people around the globe out of poverty.

Exxon & The Hydrogen Thing

A few years ago, all people were talking about were wind and solar. Today, the conversation has expanded to include carbon capture, hydrogen, biofuels, and ammonia. Woods says that proves technology will solve our carbon problems if we just let the free market work its magic.

Not surprisingly, he is in the “all of the above” camp, which claims we will need energy from multiple sources. From there, he slides easily into the “we shouldn’t be giving government incentives to wind and solar unless fossil fuels get their fair share, too.” He even had the audacity to look into the camera and declare that Exxon does not seek favorable treatment from government and never has. Uh, huh.

He was quick to point out that the US has an abundant supply of methane — aka natural gas — that can be “reformed” into clean burning hydrogen. He very conveniently omitted, however, that the reformation process releases copious amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Not did he address the massive amount of documented emissions from methane production, leaks at pumping stations and along pipelines, and the environmental damage that comes from fracking to release all that gas trapped deep underground.

Europe is fortunate to have abundant hydro power it can use to make “green” hydrogen, but the US is more limited in that regard and so the only alternative is to ramp up the production of “blue” hydrogen. It’s unfortunate, but what can you do?

The Exxon Legacy

David Faber confronted Woods directly with the legacy of his company, particularly while led by Lee Raymond, the architect of the company’s climate change denial campaign. Woods insisted the company has always followed the science on the subject. 30 years ago, the science was still evolving.

Today, there is no doubt that carbon dioxide released by human activity is driving a warming world, Woods said, but we didn’t always know that. Now we do, and so it is pointless to look back and criticize what could have been. Instead, it is time to look to the future, in which the free market drives the most cost effective climate solutions forward. Exxon expects to play a significant role by providing fuels for industry and heavy duty transportation, transitioning to making biofuels, and making carbon capture into a viable business.

Biofuels

Biofuels is a catchall phrase that covers many alternatives, many of which have questionable climate benefits. Plants are composed of hydrocarbons. Through the magic of science, some of them can be re-engineered to make so-call biofuels. But many plants are also the primary source of food for people and animals. One person’s gallon of ethanol may be someone else’s daily meal. Woods’ rather casual assertion that biofuels are the answer to gasoline is shallow at best, disingenuous at worst.

Carbon Capture

During the interview, Woods bangs the drum hard for carbon capture, treating it as a major new business opportunity just waiting to be exploited. And Exxon scientists are hard at work searching for ways to make the technology, a.) feasible, and b.) profitable. The viewer can almost see his eyes light up when he thinks of all the money there is to be made from removing the crud his company is responsible for from the atmosphere. They got paid to create it and now they will get paid again to remove it. Talk about your capitalist dream!

The problem is, it doesn’t work and shows little sign of ever working in the future. And profitable? Not in this lifetime, Darren, and probably not in the next one either. Faber even pointed out the world will need to remove 4 trillion tons of carbon dioxide by 2040 just to keep global heating from going into hyperdrive. Exxon’s target for that same year is 100 million tons. Talk about your pisshole in the snow.

A Price On Carbon

Woods says his company absolutely supports a price on carbon as a way of leveling the playing field. Let the best, most cost effective technology win. The question, how much should it be and what carbon will it apply to? You can bet your bottom dollar Woods is not suggesting his company should pay for the carbon dioxide created when its products are burned. Let someone else shoulder that burden.

Nor should the price be so high that it constrains demand, which would lead to lower profits. In other words, its a strategy that gives the appearance of doing something while actually accomplishing very little.

Meeting Demand

When Faber suggested most oil and gas reserves should be left in the ground to restrain further global heating, Darren Woods looked aghast. If there wasn’t so much demand for oil and gas, Exxon and its colleagues in the industry wouldn’t be rushing around the globe trying to find more.

Yes, something needs to be done to prevent the Earth from becoming uninhabitable to humans (cockroaches and rats will always find a way to survive), but it shouldn’t involve freezing out traditional energy companies. We need an “all of the above” approach. Exxon just wants to do its part to be of service to humanity.

If you have the time, check out some of the comments to the Woods interview on YouTube. They are very entertaining and provide some insight into how the online community feels about Exxon in general and Darren Woods in particular.

 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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