The looming irrelevance of big oil

The looming irrelevance of big oil

This a long piece that would probably be better split up into several separate, focussed articles. Never mind, consider it as a rambling, idiosyncratic and opinionated mind-dump on the subject of the future of oil. I may later rewrite parts of it more coherently and rigorously for a wider readership. As I make my way through the recently published IEA WEO 2016, I will provide updates.

Pioneers or pariahs?

James Gandolfini, the late actor who played the gangster boss Tony Soprano, was once asked what profession he would never have wanted to have pursued. He answered: “an oilman” (video at 5:00). Those of us who have followed careers in the oil industry might be a little surprised, but not really that shocked, by a response like that.  To many people, oil companies and the people who work in them are often seen as the embodiment of greed and environmental destruction. Oilmen get used to being thought of as pariahs. Continue reading

The Exxon scandal: an industry insider’s view

I have no additional beans to spill about Exxon’s internal discussions on climate change, so if that is what you were looking for, I offer my apologies and advise you to read no further. (Although if you persist to the end of this piece, you will find a way to have a chance to earn $50!)

Nor will I spend much time rehashing the recent reports from Inside Climate News, the LA Times, the New York Times or the Guardian that recount what Exxon knew about climate change and what they did to promote doubt and delay climate policy in recent years . What I will offer is my perspective as an ex-oil industry insider on Exxon’s corporate culture and why their downplaying of their own in-house research is perhaps even worse than it appears. I’ll also look at how differently Exxon approached climate change compared to BP and Shell.

I have never worked for Exxon but, in my 30-plus years of oil industry experience, I have had a fair bit of exposure to Exxon’s culture through being involved with project partnerships with them, interactions with Exxon employees at technical conferences, and working with colleagues who had spent their formative years at Exxon. Most of my career was spent working for lesser-known, mid-size companies (Husky Oil, OMV, Encana) rather than the notorious Big Oil Companies. From the perspective of the smaller companies, the giant multinationals are seen as lumbering beasts, slow to act, slow to innovate, secretive and over-confident. Exxon was the biggest of the lumbering beasts, easy to run rings around in mature basins. As an example, consider how the big companies were bystanders and taken by surprise in the North American fracking revolution. Continue reading