HSBC to stop funding most new fossil fuel developments
LONDON REUTERS, PUBLISHED APRIL 20, 2018
Europe’s largest bank, HSBC, said on Friday it would mostly stop funding new coal power plants, oil sands and arctic drilling, becoming the latest in a long line of investors to shun the fossil fuels.
Other large banks such as ING and BNP Paribas have made similar pledges in recent months as investors have mounted pressure to make sure bank’s actions align with the Paris agreement, a global pact to limit greenhouse gas emissions and curb rising temperatures.
“We recognise the need to reduce emissions rapidly to achieve the target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement … and our responsibility to support the communities in which we operate,” Daniel Klier, group head of strategy and global head of sustainable finance, said in a statement.
HSBC said it would make an exception for coal-fired power plants in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam.
“There’s a very significant number of people in those three countries who have no access to any electricity,” HSBC chief John Flint told HSBC shareholders at the bank’s annual general meeting in London on Friday.
“The reasonable position for us is to allow a short window for us to continue to get involved in financing coal there … if we think there is not a reasonable alternative,” he said.
Aside from the coal exemptions environmental campaigners Greenpeace welcomed the move and said HSBC’s new energy strategy would prevent it from providing project finance for TransCanada Corp.’s proposed $8-billion Keystone XL oil pipeline to Nebraska.
“This latest vote of no-confidence from a major financial institution shows that tar sands are becoming an increasingly toxic business proposition,” John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said in a statement.
Would Saving A Livable Climate Destroy Buffett’s Fossil Fuel Empire?
By Joe Romm, March 11, 2016 8:00 AM
Billionaire Warren Buffett has bet the future of his company Berkshire Hathaway on dirty energy. In recent years he has been building a vertically-integrated fossil fuel empire — one that develops, delivers, processes, and burns the most climate-destroying fuels.
The final part of this series on Buffett looks at how BNSF Railways is the engine of his carbon-intensive conglomerate, creating a massive risk for shareholders in this increasingly carbon-constrained world — a risk the “Oracle of Omaha” needs to be far more upfront about.
Is Warren Buffett “The Profiteer” of “Climate Killers”?
When Rolling Stone named Warren Buffett one of its 17 “Climate Killers” in 2010, they called him “The Profiteer.” They zeroed in on his recent purchase of “Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad for $26 billion — the largest acquisition of Buffett’s storied career.”
Why? BNSF is “the nation’s top hauler of coal, shipping some 300 million tons a year.” That is especially convenient for Buffett because, as noted in Part 2, Berkshire Hathaway Energy has four major utilities that still rely on coal for over half their electricity generation.
2015 “has already been the costliest by far for crude train explosions,” BloombergBusiness reported in December. A “BNSF train that derailed and exploded in Illinois” last March “carrying highly explosive crude from North Dakota” created some $5.5 million in damage.
From 2010 through mid-2014, oil shipped by rail in the United States increased from about one million barrels of oil every month to 25 million! At the same time, Canadian imports increased 50-fold, as we’ve reported. BNSF was a driving force behind that explosion.
Also, last October we learned about “what is believed to be the largest frac sand unit train to date in North America.” You guessed it: “The 150-car unit train, operated by BNSF, carried 16,500 tons of frac sand used in hydraulic fracturing.”
Warren Buffett Bets Big On The Tar Sands
But wait, there’s more. You may recall from Part 1 that last year, the billionaire spent $240 million buying another chunk of Canadian tar sands giant Suncor, upping his overall bet on the climate-destroying liquid fuel to $1.1 billion — a fact Buffett does not share with shareholders in his list of Berkshire Hathaway’s climate risks.
On top of that, as BNSF’s website also proudly attests, the railroad “is positioned to act as a gateway to the Canadian oil sands.” Seriously.
Indeed several years ago, a BNSF employee magazine explained how invested the railway was in all aspects of tar sands (aka bitumen) development. The key point is that “Before bitumen can move through a pipeline to its destination, it must be blended with diluents (diluting agents),” lighter weight hydrocarbons like natural gasoline or butane:
BNSF has been moving single carloads of diluents from U.S. refineries to the Canadian border…. The inbounds are then interchanged with Canadian railroads, then moved to Edmonton, with the final move to the oil sands’ processing center via pipeline.
Last year, BNSF moved about 9,000 carloads of diluents for the project, with the majority of loads originating from the Gulf Coast, California, and Kansas. This year, about 12,000 carloads are anticipated to move.
There’s more: Beyond shipping diluents, “BNSF has also transported turbines, other large machinery and pipes for use at the drilling sites.”
There’s still more to this empire. In 2015, Buffett “nearly doubled Berkshire’s position in Phillips 66,” one of the country’s leading oil (and gas) refiners and processors. The company has 15 refineries which can refine a total of 2.2 million barrels of crude per day.
In January of this year alone, Buffett spent a staggering $832 million to buy yet more Phillips 66 stock. At more than $5 billion, it is his sixth-largest holding. He now owns 14 percent of the “Number 7” company on the Fortune 500 list.
Phillips 66 is a major co-owner of the Wood River Refinery in Illinois, which in recent years made investments “to expand the capacity to handle the bitumen from the Alberta oil sands by nearly 700%.” Also not coincidentally, for the last year, Phillips 66 has been trying to get California planning commissioners to let it build a 1.3-mile rail spur to its Santa Maria refinery. Why? As the Sierra Club explained last month, “The oil giant seeks to transport tar sands crude from Canada in mile-long trains — each laden with over 2 million gallons of dirty crude.”
Both A Livable Climate And Buffett’s Empire Cannot Thrive
Yes, the Oracle of Omaha has a thing for the Canadian tar sands. But more than that, over the last several years he has built a vertically-integrated fossil fuel empire — one that develops, delivers, processes, and even burns the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels. It would be a brilliant strategy except for two small details.
First, climate science makes clear we have to leave most fossil fuels — and virtually all of the most carbon-intensive — in the ground to avoid global catastrophic warming. Second, over the past 18 months, the leading nations of the world unanimously agreed on a plan whose goal is to do just that, and the overwhelming majority of them made detailed pledges to slow or reverse carbon-intensive growth and replace it with carbon-free growth.
The domestic and international coal market has already collapsed as a result of growing environmental concerns and low-cost alternatives including renewables. If the world follows through on its plans to keep total warming below 2°C — a big “if,” for sure — then coal is going to continue to be squeezed out of the market in the coming decades and oil will almost certainly follow the same fate, peaking in demand by 2030, as I discussed last month.
Now whether or not you believe the world is going to achieve the plan it unanimously embraced in Paris in December, surely Buffett ought to at least mention to his shareholders the risks to Berkshire Hathaway if the world does. Yet, his latest annual letter to shareholders dismisses the risk of climate change.
Here is all Buffett says about the coal risk: “To begin with an obvious threat, BNSF, along with other railroads, is certain to lose significant coal volume over the next decade.” But he quickly dismisses this as a problem that is not “crucial to Berkshire’s long-term well-being.”
Last summer, BNSF executive chairman Matthew K. Rose noted the decline in U.S. coal transport and consumption. He said of his company’s major investment to upgrade its rail service to and from the coal-rich Powder River Basin, “That leaves us with millions of dollars in investment in what will eventually be stranded assets.”
Certainly, from a short-term business perspective, investing in oil-by-rail and tar-sands-by-rail to replace coal-by-rail appears to make sense. But what are the risks those investments will eventually become stranded assets, too? Low oil prices aren’t good for crude-by-rail, as BloombergBusiness explained in December. And aggressive climate action, which could well give us peak demand within 15 years, is not bullish for oil prices.
Rather than informing shareholders about any of these risks, Buffett asserts the reverse: “Both BHE [Berkshire Hathaway energy] and BNSF have been leaders in pursuing planet-friendly technology.” Seriously?
I discussed in Part 2 how, despite BHE’s own investments in renewables, BHE is working to crush solar energy in Nevada and around the western United States. And it remains a huge user of coal. And as we’ve seen BNSF is a major deliverer of coal….
But here is how Buffett defends the fairly ludicrous claim that BNSF is somehow one of the “leaders in pursuing planet-friendly technology”:
BNSF, like other Class I railroads, uses only a single gallon of diesel fuel to move a ton of freight almost 500 miles. That makes the railroads four times as fuel-efficient as trucks!
Yes, BNSF is a very fuel-efficient way of delivering vast amounts of climate-destroying fuels to market.
Finally, is it only a coincidence that after outperforming the market for decades, the stock of Berkshire Hathaway has actually underperformed the S&P 500 over the last five years?
Again, if serious global climate action ultimately keeps oil prices low and renders much of the tar sands uneconomic, then Buffett’s carefully constructed fossil fuel empire is going to keep suffering — and deservedly so. After all, leading climate activists have been urging major investors to disinvest in fossil fuels for years. Buffett is doing the exact reverse!
BOTTOM LINE: Between Berkshire Hathaway and a livable climate, only one can thrive. That’s not a tough choice, is it?
Stanford Students Demand Divestment From Fossil Fuel Industry During Lengthy Sit-In
November 20, 2015 12:09 PM
STANFORD (CBS SF) — Stanford University students and supporters were holding a rally Friday culminating a five-day sit-in calling for the college’s divestment from the fossil fuel industry.
More than 100 students have been camping out at the main quad since Monday afternoon outside University President John Hennessy’s office demanding administrators divest from the top 100 oil and gas companies .
The action was organized through Fossil Free Stanford, a student organization that has been working on the effort for nearly three years, organizer Michael Peñuelas said.
The group was inviting the administrators to address any concerns at the 11 a.m. rally, when students will be prepared to accept any charges the university may file against them, according to Peñuelas.
On Thursday night, the university sent the group a notice stating that administrators are considering suspension of their request for divestment from oil and gas companies due to the action, which was a disappoint for Peñuelas.
The notice also stated that if students didn’t leave the quad with their belongings by 5 p.m. Friday the university would review them under its Fundamental Standard, which outlines conduct expected from students, Peñuelas said.
The students have also violated the college’s use of the main quad policy and trespassed in violation of state law since they are blocking an administration building, according to university officials.
The sit-in is surrounding a building housing the university’s president and provost offices, where no staff have shown up since Monday, Peñuelas said.
The students plan to leave the quad at the end of the rally to participate in a Transgender Day of Remembrance scheduled in the afternoon, Peñuelas said.
The university has a Thanksgiving recess scheduled next week.
The group held a meeting with Hennessy on the issue last week and attempted to schedule another one with him for Friday, according to organizer Michael Peñuelas.
Throughout this week, professors have held classes at the quad in support of the group’s cause and teach-ins on environmental issues, Peñuelas said.
About 30 alumni rallied with the students on Thursday calling for divestment and said they will not make contributions to the university unless they follow through with the divestment, Peñuelas said.
Seniors have also pledged to not donate to the senior gift, a fundraiser that helps contribute to The Stanford Fund to assist in university scholarships, academic programs and student organizations , according to Peñuelas.
Last year, the university divested from the coal industry after a petition brought forward by Fossil Free Stanford and recommendations from the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing.