Bank Advises Clients Against Fossil Fuel Investment

Reprint from Time Magazine

HSBC Advises Clients Against Fossil Fuel Investment

By Nick Cunningham / Oilprice.com, April 29, 2015
The HSBC logo on the facade of HSBC France headquarters in Paris on Feb. 9, 2015.
The HSBC logo on the facade of HSBC France headquarters in Paris on Feb. 9, 2015.

The bank wrote to its clients that fossil fuel companies will become “economically non-viable”

The fossil fuel divestment campaign is picking up steam.

Often dismissed as unwise by oil industry proponents and criticized as a distraction even by supporters of action on climate change, the divestment movement is no longer being ignored.

Look no further than CeraWeek, an annual get-together of North America’s fossil fuel elite. On April 22, amid discussion panels such as “Asia: Still the Promised Land for New Energy Investment?” or “Canada’s role in the rising North America energy powerhouse,” there was also a session dedicated to divestment and the implications for energy companies. The conversation analyzed how sustainable the business model is for fossil fuel companies as the world moves towards regulating carbon emissions.

The attention paid to the divestment at CeraWeek suggests that the growing publicity and success from the environmental movement’s ability to secure divestment commitments from universities, banks, pension funds, churches, and other wealth funds are starting to be perceived as a threat by the fossil fuel industry.

A few weeks earlier, The Guardian made a splash with its “Keep it in the Ground” campaign, a very firm declaration in support of divestment. The Guardian Media Group vowed to divest its £800 million fund as well.

The growing concern over carbon pollution raises the possibility of a regulatory or tax crackdown, both at the national and international level. Newsweek reported on April 21 that HSBC wrote in a private note to its clients that there is an increasing risk that fossil fuel companies will become “economically non-viable.” As a result, HSBC advised its clients to divest from fossil fuels because they may be too risky. If investors fail to get out of fossil fuels, the bank says, they “may one day be seen to be late movers, on ‘the wrong side of history.’” As the divestment campaign builds up steam, major oil and gas companies are starting to see the writing on the wall.

But there could be a way to adapt. The Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) just published a “blueprint” for fossil fuel companies to adapt to a carbon-constrained world. The blueprint provides several recommendations. For example, oil companies should avoid high cost projects such as the struggling Kashagan field in Kazakhstan or expensive oil sands projects in Canada. High-cost projects put companies at risk when they are hit with unforeseen events, such as an oil price crash, a decline in demand, or a change in tax regimes. Instead, companies should invest in lower risk projects with higher rates of return, CTI says. CTI also insists that corporate governance within fossil fuel companies is critical – management needs a clear-eyed prognosis of how exposed their assets are to a potential scenario in which their oil and gas reserves are no longer wanted.

It is far from clear whether or not the oil majors will heed CTI’s advice on adapting their companies. In mid-April, 98 percent of BP’s shareholders voted in favor of an initiative that would force the company to disclose which of its assets would become “unburnable” in a low-carbon world. The results of that analysis will be much anticipated. ExxonMobil undertook a similar study, but summarily dismissed the likelihood that its assets would be affected in the future by climate action.

“Our analysis and those of independent agencies confirms our long-standing view that all viable energy sources will be essential to meet increasing demand growth that accompanies expanding economies and rising living standards,” William Colton, ExxonMobil’s vice president of corporate strategic planning, said in a March 2014 statement. In other words, investors have little to fear — ExxonMobil will be fine.

However, much has changed since then. The divestment movement has gathered quite a bit of momentum as protests hit more campuses and city halls. The U.S. and China reached a landmark agreement to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. More countries will set policies to reduce energy demand ahead of international negotiations in Paris later this year. Oil prices have crashed, highlighting the vulnerabilities of many over-leveraged oil companies. And clean energy continues to make inroads, amid falling costs for solar, wind, and energy storage.

Oil companies ignore the divestment campaign – and other threats to their business models – at their own peril.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

 

    Energy, Transportation departments to study volatility of oil moved by rail

    Repost from McClatchyDC

    Energy, Transportation departments to study volatility of oil moved by rail

    By Curtis Tate, April 28, 2015
    The federal government will conduct a two-year study of how crude oil volatility affects the commodity’s behavior in train derailments, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told a Senate panel Tuesday.The Energy Department will coordinate the study with the Department of Transportation, Moniz told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

    After a series of fiery train derailments, the Transportation Department concluded early last year that light, sweet crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region is more volatile than other kinds.

    But derailments involving ethanol and other types of crude oil have cast doubt on whether Bakken is likely to react more severely than other flammable liquids transported by rail.

    The petroleum industry has been citing its own studies and a recent report from the Energy Department’s Sandia National Laboratory to support its position that there’s no difference. But it’s clear that more crude oil is moving by rail, and an increase in serious accidents has come with that increased volume.

    Moniz said the Sandia report was “the most comprehensive literature survey in terms of properties of different oils” but showed the need for more research to determine their relevance in train derailments.

    The joint Energy-Transportation study would look at other kinds of crude moving by rail, such as light crude from west Texas and heavy crude from western Canada.

    Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a member of the Senate Energy panel who requested the departments work together on a study, noted that there had been four derailments of oil trains in the U.S. and Canada since the beginning of the year.

    “A number of high-profile incidents have underscored major safety concerns,” she said.

    On April 1, North Dakota began setting vapor pressure limits for crude oil loaded in tank cars at no more than 13.7 pounds per square inch.

    But the crude oil tested in many serious derailments had a lower vapor pressure than the new standard…..  [MORE]

      Refineries Plan To Ship Dirty Tar Sands Oil Into Bay Area; Fracked Crude By Rail Gets Too Pricey

      Repost from CBS SF Bay Area

      Refineries Plan To Ship Even Dirtier Tar Sands Oil Into Bay Area, Fracked Crude By Rail Gets Too Pricey

      Reporter Chrystin Ayers, April 27, 2015 11:53 PM

      SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — It’s an unexpected consequence of the drop in oil prices. Trains carrying explosive fracked crude oil from North Dakota are no longer rolling through our neighborhoods. Crude by rail has become too expensive.

      Instead local refineries are turning to a cheaper alternative, that poses a new kind of danger.

      Sejal Choksi-Chugh with San Francisco Baykeeper can’t forget the day the tanker ship Cosco Busan crashed into a Bay Bridge tower, spewing 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay. “It was getting on boats it was getting on birds it was everywhere,” she said.

      But the environmentalist says that’s nothing compared to what could happen if there’s a spill of a new kind of cargo headed our way, called tar sands crude, the dirtiest crude on the planet. “We are looking at a product that sinks. Its very heavy,” she said.

      There is huge supply of tar sands crude in Alberta Canada, and it’s cheap. Since they can’t get North Dakota Bakken crude by rail, refineries here in the Bay Area are gearing up to bring the Alberta crude in by ship.

      “Today’s refineries are all designed to take ships in,” said energy consultant David Hackett. He says two thirds of the crude supplying Bay Area refineries already comes in on tankers, so adding tar sands to the mix makes sense.

      “The California refineries are designed to process crude that is heavy and dense, and relatively high in sulfur. So the Canadian tar sands is the kind of quality that will fit in to the California refineries fairly well,” Hackett said.

      The plan is to expand an existing pipeline called Transmountain, that runs from Alberta to Vancouver, and  retrofit a terminal in Vancouver that will transfer the tar sands from pipeline to ship. Then tankers could move it down the coast to refineries in the bay.

      Projected route of crude oil from Alberta tar sands to the Bay Area. (CBS)

      Hackett predicts tankers full of tar sands crude could be coming into the San Francisco Bay in large numbers by 2018, a delivery route he believes is much safer than trains. “There are significant safety standards and operating practices that are involved,” he said.

      But with all the extra ship traffic accidents are more likely to happen. Ande even one even one in the bay could be devastating.  A spill on the Kalamazoo river in Michigan 5 years ago cost $1 billion to mop up, the costliest cleanup in U.S. history. That’s because tar sands crude is so dense, it sinks.

      “It’s going to instantaneously cover the bottom of the bay which will almost automatically kill everything that is on the bay floor,” said Sejal. “We shouldn’t even be contemplating having those vessels come in to the bay until we are ready to deal with a spill,” she said.

      Environmentalists in Canada are mounting strong opposition to the expansion of the Transmountain pipeline, but Hackett says since there’s already an existing route, the project will likely get the green light.

      And by the way – most of the tar sands that will be headed down the Pacific coast will actually be exported to Asia.