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Climate Change Is No Longer A Taboo For U.S. Oil Majors

Just two or three years ago, the biggest U.S. oil corporations were not mentioning climate change or environmentally-responsible investment at conference calls or results releases, but the global push for cleaner energy solutions and investors pushing for sustainability and transparency has changed that.

According to a Bloomberg analysis of transcripts of the recent conference calls of the 23 constituents of the S&P 500 Energy Index, the largest U.S. oil firms have started to increasingly talk about emissions performance, ways to reduce emissions, investments in new low-carbon technologies, and even alignment with the Paris Agreement goals.

The top executives stress the word “sustainability,” which was used as many as nearly 300 times during conference calls in the first quarter, up from “just” 36 mentions of the term at the same time last year. 

In that one year, nearly all major oil corporations in Europe—including BP, Shell, Total, Eni, Equinor, and Repsol—pledged to become net-zero emission businesses by 2050 or sooner. Meanwhile, governments around the world pledged to “build back greener” from the pandemic that hit their economies.

The U.S. oil firms are slower than their European rivals to pledge net-zero emissions, but some started to do so at the end of last year.

ConocoPhillips and Occidental became the first two U.S. oil firms to announce net-zero plans. ConocoPhillips unveiled in October a target to reduce emissions from its operations to net-zero by 2045-2055, saying that its goals are consistent with the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius. In November, Occidental also announced a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.

The supermajors, Exxon and Chevron, haven’t set any such targets. However, like other U.S. oil firms, they are talking up emissions reductions and investments in low-carbon energy sources.

During its Investor Day earlier this month, Exxon outlined its plan to boost its development of carbon capture and hydrogen technologies, saying it is “positioned to succeed” in those two areas. Chevron, for its part, pledged to deliver higher returns and “lower carbon,” days after saying it would work with a unit of oilfield services giant Schlumberger, as well as with Microsoft and private company Clean Energy Systems, to build a bioenergy plant with carbon capture technology that would produce carbon-negative power in Mendota, California.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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