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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Biden’s Energy Secretary To Oil Industry: Adapt Or Die

“I’m not going to sugarcoat how hard transitions are,” new United States Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm stated on Wednesday. Her comment, made during IHS Markit’s annual CERAWeek conference, was in reference to the clean energy transition that serves as one of the cornerstones of President Biden’s platform, but she could just as easily be talking, in grander terms, about the administrative changeover that she is part of. The new presidential administration has hit the ground running on climate change, with a demonstrative focus on bringing the United States up to speed with the rest of the developed world in terms of leaning into the global green energy transition. While this proactive approach has been lauded as essential and far overdue in some circles, it also has its fair share of critics. Biden’s relatively tough stance on the United States’ massive shale oil and gas industry has stirred up a groundswell of anxiety in many parts of the country that depend on fossil fuel to keep their economies running. 

This anxiety is well-founded. Shale country has already had a serious taste of peak oil this year and the effects have been devastating. After the West Texas Intermediate crude benchmark hit historic lows in 2020, plunging past its previous rock-bottom and way below zero to end April 20th, 2020 at nearly $40 below zero per barrel, shocks were felt all across the Permian Basin. Entire small towns dried up and blew away like so many tumbleweeds across Texas without the heretofore seemingly infallible momentum of the oil and gas economy to keep them going. 

Related: Saudi Surprise Cut May Have Lasting Effect On Oil Prices
Now, just when oil prices are stabilizing and the shale industry is adjusting to the new normal, the last thing those dependent on the fossil fuel sector want is more adversity. But for Granholm, this view--that the Biden administration is leaving oil and gas workers behind--is a shortsighted one. Instead, she says that oil and gas companies should be jumping at the chance to grow and innovate to stay relevant in the new, increasingly decarbonized global economy. It’s not the Biden administration that’s leaving oil and gas workers behind, the thinking goes--it’s stubborn oil and gas execs. “The bottom line is this particular growth of clean energy and reduction of carbon provides a huge opportunity and I’m extending a hand of partnership,” Granholm said at the CERAWeek conference on Wednesday. 

She has a point. Around the world, global leaders are getting serious about climate change and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. According to data gathered by the world’s premier authority on global warming, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have just one decade left to change course and avoid the worst effects of climate change. Right now, we’re on a collision course, but world leaders as well as private sector head honchos are lining up to change that. 

Related: World’s Top Oil Trader: OPEC+ Controls The Market

In Europe, Big Oil is already well into its transition to becoming Big Energy. Even China is getting serious about cutting its carbon footprint. The environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment trend has gone mainstream, and some experts say that peak oil is already upon us

It would be both naive and misguided to suggest that the world no longer runs on fossil fuels--it does, and will continue to do so for years to come. If, for some reason, the world were cut off from fossil fuels overnight, the results would be catastrophic. But the heyday of oil and gas has come and gone, and the future will reward those who have adapted to a decarbonizing economy. 

Critics are correct to point out that telling fossil fuel workers to get jobs building solar panels is overly simplistic and deaf to the needs and struggles of this huge and imperiled workforce. But the real point is that those jobs are evaporating like it or not, with or without the Biden administration. Yes, the timeline will likely be shortened by current presidential priorities, and the seriousness of these prospects for oil- and coal-town economies can’t and shouldn’t be overstated, but in the long term, the outcome is the same. It’s time to adapt--or get edged out by another country that had no qualms about setting aside their allegiance to oil. 

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com 


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  • Mamdouh Salameh on March 09 2021 said:
    US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s advice to the US oil industry to adapt or die should neither be taken seriously nor literally.

    If by adapting she means that the US oil industry should greenwash itself and become energy industry, then this could be a sure way to their irrelevance and eventual demise. Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods and Occidental Petroleum CEO Vicky Hollub succinctly and eloquently made their position very clear at the CERAWeek conference when both said that “reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels and not the actual use of fossil fuels, offers the best way to combat climate change”.

    Unlike their European counterparts particularly Shell and BP, Exxon and Occidental believe that the best way they can contribute to global emission reduction and combatting climate change is to reduce emissions in their oil and gas production and not by greenwashing themselves. In a nutshell, their core business will continue to be oil and gas well into the future.

    Moreover, I would use data on climate change from the Integrated Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) very cautiously because it has a tendency to massage occasionally the scientific data or even use scaremongering tactics to emphasize their views. Just remember that the claim the IPCC made in 2007 that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035 was unfounded and the IPCC had had to apologize to the world for including such an unfounded claim in their report. So the claim by the IPCC that we have just one decade left to change course and avoid the worst effects of climate change is no exception.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • Renfrew Eldermeyer on March 09 2021 said:
    I’m sure OPEC+ really don’t care who says what. Remember OPEC+ run the show in this industry. Not political figures and certainly not the media. Oil is where it is due to global demand .
  • Aceof Spades on March 09 2021 said:
    2020 was the hottest year on record. It was also the year with lowest atmospheric CO2 levels in many years. Hmmmm.
  • John Skilling on March 11 2021 said:
    "Even China is getting serious about cutting its carbon footprint"

    They signed a 25-year oil contract with Iran.
  • Big Earl on March 15 2021 said:
    China getting serious about carbon footprint? Only on paper. Instead, they are building hundreds of coal plants out of country that will be helping to supply China with electricity.

    Y'all should really read up on stuff you are writing about...

Leave a comment

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