Why You Should Be Skeptical Of Big Oil Companies Asking For A Price On Carbon
By Emily Atkin, June 3, 2015 at 4:19 pm
Six large European oil and gas companies are asking governments across the world to charge them for the carbon dioxide they emit.
In a letter released Monday, Shell, BP, Total, Statoil, Eni, and the BG Group told the chief of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that a price on carbon “should be a key element” of an international agreement to address global climate change. The letter came while U.N. negotiators met in Bonn, Germany to work towards that agreement.
For those who want to fight climate change, this is good news. But it’s not totally unprecedented. Other high-emitting companies, including Shell, have expressed support for a carbon price before. And big oil companies have been expecting some sort of carbon price for a long time — the biggest ones have already incorporated it into their business plans. Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP, Shell; they’re all financially prepared for a carbon price if and when it comes their way.
That more and more oil companies are now actively calling for a carbon price, though, is good for the climate fight. Total, BP, Statoil, and Royal Dutch Shell are all among the 90 companies causing the vast majority of global warming via their exorbitant carbon emissions. Now, they’re acknowledging they want to at least pay for some of those emissions, and that seems like a positive development.
At the same time, it’s not like any of those six companies are halting their plans to drill. They haven’t recognized the science that says two-thirds of all proven fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground to avoid catastrophic warming. Shell is still planning to explore for oil in the Arctic; BP just recently expanded its operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
More importantly, though — at least in terms of getting a carbon price in the final U.N. climate deal — the European companies that signed the letter wield little power within the U.S. Congress compared to other big oil companies. This matters because the terms of that deal will almost certainly have to be approved by Congress if it is to include an enforceable price on carbon. Under U.S. law, any international agreement that binds or prohibits the United States from actions not otherwise mandated by law must be ratified by Congress.
BP, Statoil, and Total might be actively calling for a carbon tax, but the three biggest U.S. oil companies — ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips — aren’t. (ExxonMobil says they would prefer a carbon tax to a cap-and-trade system, but they don’t outright support it). And those U.S. companies are spending much more to influence Congress than the letter-writing companies on campaign donations and lobbying.
To be fair, European companies have more restrictions on how much they can give than U.S.-based companies do. But not only are the biggest U.S. companies spending far more to influence U.S. politics, their money is going to politicians who are actively fighting efforts to price carbon in the United States.
During the 2014 election, for example, the biggest receiver of funds from ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips was former Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Landrieu marketed herself, among other things, as the “key vote” that made sure a carbon pricing system wasn’t implemented by Congress in 2010. Other candidates supported by those three companies were John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Mark Begich, John Cornyn — allhavesaidthey oppose a price on carbon.
In fact, the Republican party as a whole in the United States is opposed to policies that price carbon. Though it says nothing about a carbon tax, the last official Republican party platform touts opposition to “any and all cap-and-trade legislation.” Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of all oil company campaign contributions is going to Republicans.
There are other reasons to be skeptical of any big oil company fighting for a price on carbon. For one, some companies have said they would support a carbon tax, but only if they can avoid other climate-related regulations. As David Roberts pointed out for Grist back in 2012, “the fossil fuel lobby would never give a carbon tax their OK unless EPA regulations on carbon (and possibly other pollution regs) were scrapped.” It’s also reasonable to assume that oil companies see profits increasing in the markets for low-carbon natural gas while the high-emitting coal industry tanks, and realize that coal would be hurt far worse by the policy.
In other words, it is great that some of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change want to be charged for the carbon they emit. But we still have a long way to go before big oil actually joins the fight.
Chevron Posts Lowest Quarterly Profit in Five Years
Oil Major to Pare Capital Budget by 13%, End Buybacks to Offset Low Crude-Oil Prices
By Daniel Gilbert and Chelsey Dulaney, Jan. 30, 2015
Chevron Corp. said it would trim ambitious spending plans and stop buying back its shares as the collapse in oil prices erased billions of dollars from the company’s cash flow.
The San Ramon, Calif., company on Friday reported $3.5 billion in profit for the last three months of 2014, down 30% from a year ago and its lowest since the 2009 recession.
It also outlined plans to spend $35 billion this year to find and tap oil and gas, a 13% cut from last year’s budget, in response to oil prices that have slumped more than 60% since the summer to under $50 a barrel.
With less cash coming in, the company is suspending its share buyback program for 2015, which had cost $5 billion a year since 2012. Repurchasing shares shrinks the number available to the public and tends to increase their value. Its shares were down 67 cents at $102.33 in recent trading.
John Watson , Chevron’s chief executive, said the company remains on track to pump the equivalent of about 3.1 million barrels a day by 2017—20% more than its current levels—despite spending less. Oil prices must rise, he said, because companies won’t invest enough to make up for the natural declines of existing oil and gas wells, eventually reducing supplies.
“The projects that are going to meet demand going forward are more complex than 20 or 30 years ago, and so the costs of the projects will be higher, and will require a higher price than we’re seeing today,” Mr. Watson said.
Chevron’s spending plans remain ambitious relative to its rivals and its shrinking cash flow. On Thursday, Occidental Petroleum Corp. said it would spend a third less on producing oil and gas this year; ConocoPhillips said it would chop 15% off its capital budget, on top of a 20% cut in December; Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it would spent $15 billion less than planned over three years. Exxon Mobil Corp. , the biggest U.S. energy company, reports results on Monday.
Chevron generated $6.5 billion from its operations in the fourth quarter of 2014, down 38% from a year ago, but still better than analysts’ expectations. Unless oil prices rebound significantly, that rate of cash generation isn’t likely to cover the company’s spending on exploration and production, plus dividend payments that totaled $7.9 billion last year.
Even before oil prices fell, Chevron had been spending at a deficit, dipping into its pile of cash and borrowing more money. The company’s debt rose to $27.8 billion by the end of 2015, doubling in two years and marking the highest it has been in at least 20 years, according to data compiled by S&P Capital IQ.
The company still has $12.8 billion in cash, but that is about $3.5 billion less than at the beginning of 2014. Patricia Yarrington, Chevron’s finance chief, said it could borrow “tens of billions of dollars” more. And Mr. Watson, the CEO, said that while acquisitions aren’t a priority, “We are actively screening opportunities that are out there and we’ll take advantage of opportunities that we see.”
Overall, Chevron reported earnings of $3.47 billion, or $1.85 a share, down from $4.93 billion, or $2.57 a share, a year earlier. Results included a net $570 million gain on asset sales. Revenue fell 18% to $46.1 billion.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had forecast earnings of $1.63 a share and revenue of $30.65 billion.
Chevron’s bottom line was helped by foreign-currency effects, which have been a drag on many U.S. companies’ results recently. Chevron said foreign currency helped its earnings by $432 million in the quarter, up from $202 million a year earlier.
The pain from lower oil prices was cushioned by Chevron’s business of refining crude into fuels like gasoline and diesel. The refining business, which in recent years has accounted for less than 15% of its profits, provided $1.5 billion in earnings–44% of the company’s total. Refining profits nearly quadrupled from a year ago, due to a combination of better margins and asset sales.
The fall in oil prices masked the company’s success at pumping more oil, as it began reaping petroleum from two major projects in the Gulf of Mexico’s deep waters in the last months of 2014. But overall, Chevron’s oil and gas output slipped about 1% from a year ago. On Friday, the company said production could increase up to 3% this year.
Repost from The Benicia Herald [Editor: Sue Kibbe also submitted her “Dream for Benicia” to the Benicia Planning Commission as a comment for the record on Valero Crude By Rail. – RS]
My dream for Benicia
by Sue Kibbe
I HAVE A DREAM THAT ONE DAY BENICIA WILL RISE UP and be known across the nation as the Little City that said “No” to Big Oil, putting human life and environmental stewardship above human greed and the insatiable quest for increased profits. What a proud day it would be if Benicia said the risk to the thousands living up-rail is too high a price to pay.
Because it is too high a price to pay. The effect on the environment from a spill or explosion would be an unmitigated disaster, a fire that cannot be extinguished, a toxic slick destroying every living thing.
Crude-by-rail has been called “a disaster in the making” by more than one expert. A railway safety consultant has warned, “We’ve got all kinds of failings on all sides, inadequacies that are coming to light because trains are blowing up all over the place.” The Federal Railroad Administration is able to inspect only two-tenths of 1 percent of railroad operations each year. With 140,000 rail miles across the nation, regular inspection of the tracks is impossible.
The Department of Transportation has yet to provide regulations for crude-by-rail transport. Expect pushback from the rail industry. Safety measures such as “positive train control” (PTC) were recommended 45 years ago, yet the technology operates on only a tiny slice of America’s rail network. The railroads have preempted local control and can make routing decisions without public disclosure.
Meanwhile, aging rail trestles and lines such as the one through Feather River Canyon — lines that were never constructed for such heavy traffic — continue to be used with greater frequency. The New York Times reported last month that “400,000 carloads of crude oil traveled by rail last year . . . up from 9,500 in 2008. . . . From 1975 to 2012, federal records show, (railroads) spilled 800,000 gallons of crude oil. Last year alone, they spilled more the 1.15 million gallons.”
Scott Smith, a scientist whose work has focused on oil spills, has studied samples of the Bakken crude oil from three accident sites. He may be the only expert outside the oil industry to have analyzed this crude. All the samples he studied share the same high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and alkane gases in exceptional combinations. Smith says 30 percent to 40 percent of Bakken crude is made up of toxic and explosive gases. “Any form of static electricity will ignite this stuff and blow it up,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal, based on its own analysis, reported that Bakken has significantly more combustible gases and a higher vapor pressure than oil from other formations. Basically, its flash point is dangerously low, and a chain reaction from tank car to tank car is inevitable.
Examining the draft environmental impact report (DEIR)
Pay attention to the wording in Valero’s proposal: “The Project would not increase the amount of crude oil that can be processed at the refinery . . .” It never says the amount of crude oil that “is being processed” at the refinery. In the DEIR, page 3-2, it says: “The Refinery’s crude oil processing rate is limited to an annual average of 165,000 barrels per day (daily maximum of 180,000 barrels) by its operating permit.” That is a huge increase from the 70,000 barrels per day that it says are processed now. With the 70,000 by rail per day, add 18 vessels shipping 350,000 barrels per vessel — that equals 6,300,000 barrels, a total of 31,850,000 barrels per year — thus an increase in processing, and hence in emissions.
We have read in a Bay Area newspaper that “Valero was named by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year as one of California’s top distributors of dangerous substances. It was second to the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo as the most profligate disseminator of poisons in the Bay Area, releasing 504,472 pounds of toxic substances into the air, water or ground. It was the 10th biggest source of chemicals and pollutants in the state, according to (a) report released in January.
“Almost half of the violations cited by the (Bay Area Air Quality Management District) between 2011 and 2012 involved excessive short-term emissions and valve leaks on tanks.”
According to the DEIR, Section 4.1-23: An unmitigated, significant and unavoidable air quality violation, with a net increase in Nitrogen oxides and ozone precursor emissions would result from transporting crude by rail through the communities up-rail within the Sacramento Basin: in the Yolo-Solano, Sacramento Metropolitan and Placer County Air Quality Management Districts.
How can we, in good conscience — or even legally — violate the air quality of our neighbors to the north by authorizing these shipments? And not only would we affect their air quality, we also would authorize the transport of a highly toxic, corrosive, flammable material in 36, 500 tank cars, each weighing 143 tons when loaded with crude oil — an annual total of 1,460 locomotives weighing more than 7,150 tons when loaded — through these communities, over rails that were never built for and have never carried such heavy traffic, all for the sole purpose of satisfying human greed?
Valero’s net income rose 28 percent in the first quarter of 2014; net income to shareholders jumped to $828 million, while revenues rose to $33.6 billion. If you are telling me that Valero needs this project to stay competitive, you haven’t looked at the facts.
A closer look at ‘job creation,’ one of the claimed benefits to the community from crude-by-rail
The addition of 20 full-time jobs at the refinery will be the result of switching from crude by vessel to rail delivery. There will be 72 fewer vessel deliveries, in which crude is pumped directly from a ship at the dock into pipes and storage tanks in one operation. Instead, there will be 36,500 tank cars per year to be emptied at the refinery, coupling and uncoupling 100 tank cars per day.
Let’s be clear, these are HAZMAT jobs. Not only would you be unloading one of the most toxic substances on the planet, breathing in toxic “fugitive emissions” from the tank cars, you also would be in direct contact with the toxic emissions from 730 locomotives per year. The only thing appealing about these new jobs will be the “good pay” (they are never described as “good jobs”), because they are hazardous, arduous, truly nasty jobs.
Section 4.6.5 Impacts and Mitigation Measures: Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Another one of the project’s “benefits” much proclaimed by Valero is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Valero states that crude by rail would “improve air quality in the Bay Area.” They are not lying — this is a carefully worded deception. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is a huge area encompassing every county that touches the Bay, the entirety of every county except for Sonoma and Solano counties. This is the area in which they can legally claim to improve air quality.
The mitigating factor here is the reduced number of oil tankers traversing the Bay. What they calculated were the emissions from 72 ships that will no longer be sailing across 49.5 miles — from the sea buoy outside the Golden Gate to the Valero dock in Benicia and back out again. (That’s 99 miles total for each of the 72 tankers.) They were allowed to subtract those Bay Area emissions from the direct emissions that will be generated right here from construction of the rail terminal, the unloading of crude oil and the 730 locomotive engines moving through the Industrial Park.
This, then, gives Valero a “less than significant” increase in emissions (DEIR Table 4.1-5) — but in reality, while reducing emissions out in the Bay they will be increasing them right here where we live and breathe by 18,433 metric tons per year (DEIR Table 4.6-5). This may be legal in terms of the permitting process, and good news for sailboats on the Bay, but for the people of Benicia and especially for any businesses located in the Industrial Park, it is a terrible deal.
What people need to understand is that this “mitigation” in the “Bay Area” has been used to offset the very real pollution that will happen right here in our city. That pollution is not reduced by one particle, except on paper. To tell us that this is a “benefit” to Benicia is hugely hypocritical and a manipulation of the facts. Do not be deceived. Know that the pollution in this city will increase as a result of crude by rail, and the “mitigation” out in the Bay actually works against us. And if you have a business in the Industrial Park, you will be in the thick of it.
Further emissions and omissions
The DEIR, page 4.1-21, states: “. . . locomotives generate more emissions than marine vessels per mile, per 1,000,000 barrels of crude oil delivered each year, of ROG (reactive organic gas), NOx, (nitrogen oxide), CO (carbon monoxide), PM10 and PM25 (particulate matter of differing micron size).” Estimates are vague regarding all this pollution. We are supposed to take comfort, however, in the decrease in marine emissions from fewer oil tankers traveling from Alaska, South America and the Middle East, which according to this document is supposed to offset all but the lethal NOx from the trains. It’s fancy figuring, subtracting what is happening on the ocean blue from the reality of emissions from 1,460 locomotives, each traveling more than 1,500 miles, that would be added to the terrestrial U.S., directly to hundreds of communities, farms and forests along the railways. The impact would, in fact, be “significant and unavoidable.”
But all this is avoidable — if Benicia declares a moratorium on crude by rail.
I have a dream today . . . that could all too easily become tomorrow’s nightmare.
Sue Kibbe is a longtime resident of Benicia’s Highlands district.
Oil group wants highest-danger label for Bakken rail shipments
New York, Aug 5, 2014
Aug 5 (Reuters) – A U.S. oil industry group is recommending that all crude shipped by rail from North Dakota’s Bakken fields be labeled as the most-dangerous type of oil cargo, a designation that could hasten the use of new or upgraded tank cars.
On Monday, the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC) released the final results of a wide-scale study on the quality characteristics of Bakken crude, which has been involved in several fiery oil-train derailments over the past year.
The study confirmed preliminary findings released in May suggesting that Bakken was little different from other forms of light, sweet U.S. crude and posed no greater threat versus other fuels when transported by rail.
The NDPC also issued a series of recommendations following the study, however, including one urging oil-by-rail shippers to classify all Bakken crude oil as “Packing Group I” hazardous materials.
That is the highest-risk level of a three-tiered danger assessment, and the NDPC said it was recommended “even though the majority of samples tested for the study would fall within specifications for PG (Packing Group) II.”
Current methods for testing boiling point, the key criteria for differentiating PG I and II classifications, can be inconsistent, the NDPC said. Because it typically contains a high proportion of very light hydrocarbons and petroleum gases, Bakken crude tends to boil at lower temperatures.
“The margin of error for the test methodology can result in different labs testing the same sample with values meeting both PGs. PG I has the more stringent standards and is therefore recommended to avoid further confusion,” said the NDPC report, which was prepared by industry consultants Turner, Mason & Co.
Historically the Packing Group label has made no material difference in how oil is handled on trains; its only purpose was to inform emergency responders about the cargo. The DOT-111 tank car, the model used almost exclusively to ship oil by rail, is able to transport any Packing Group. Many oil companies have been using PG I routinely simply to ensure they were compliant.
But under new regulations proposed last month by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Packing Group determination could become a pivotal factor in determining how quickly shippers use new or upgraded tank cars that will gradually replace older-model DOT-111s long seen as flawed.
The NDPC represents major producers in the Bakken including Marathon Oil Corp, ConocoPhillips, Continental Resources and Hess.
Authorities had already begun to crack down on misclassified oil shipments after the Lac Megantic tragedy in Canada last year, when a runaway oil-train with cargo from the Bakken energy patch derailed and killed 47 people in the center of a Quebec town.
In February, the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) fined three companies for using incorrect Packing Group labels for their Bakken cargoes. Two of them had mislabeled shipments as PG II, when in fact they should have been labeled PG I. A third company had used a PG III label rather than PG II.
The DOT rules last month said older model DOT-111 cars would not be allowed to carry Packing Group I crudes within two years, while less dangerous crudes that fall into PGs II and III could still be shipped in the older cars for three and five years.
The rules are open to public comment and may not be finalized for several months.
In its own study released last month, the PHMSA said most crude from the Bakken tested as PG I or II material – “with a predominance to PG I”. It also said the oil was “more volatile than most other types of crude,” a finding disputed by both the American Petroleum Institute and NDPC.
(Reporting by Jonathan Leff; Editing by Tom Brown)