Monday, May 5, 2008

If I could put just one question to Shell (and Greenpeace)

(flickr:james at 42)

Having recently seen Shell's first quarter earnings, I have a question: why does the company not disclose how much money it invests in renewable energy?

Don't get me wrong (and if you're hoping for a good big oil-bashing article stop reading now). But when the CFO starts talking about how the company is investing heavily in oil capacity in the Artic Circle (subtext: which is opening up to exploitation due to global warming) you to have to wonder about what they think of the future.

(zorzimo croquezz)

Actually on second thought they break it down pretty clearly that they see fossil fuel use growing massively in the future.

"We are increasing our investment, ploughing most of our profits into finding, producing and refining oil and natural gas. Our investment levels have more than doubled since 2000, to $25 billion in 2006."

"Affordability has been the main problem for new alternatives like biofuels, wind and solar. Even at recent high oil and natural gas prices, they cannot yet compete on price on a large scale."

-Shell website

So it doesn't bother me that Shell won an award from Transparency International last week about disclosing revenue streams: it's the equivalent of saying "at least they're honest in that regard."


But returning to the question of how much $$ investment they're putting into alternatives: it's a really basic one for me. I think it would help people judge *how seriously* a huge energy company _ for better or worse _ takes renewables as a business as time goes by.

It doesn't help that Shell has stopped disclosing numbers on alternative electricity generation, which they used to do. The reasoning, if I recall correctly, was that it's become such a significant amount that it's now considered a normal business and folded into their "power generation" numbers. And/or that it's commerically sensitive.

Yet, they began reporting on profits from oil sands separately this very quarter (US$250M). Why one "new" energy source and not others?

I notice their ''external ' review panel' was complaining about the lack of disclosure of investment in renewables last year so maybe we'll get more when they release their sustainability report this year.

For balance in this post, I have an open question for Greenpeace as well.


Why is the organization so monolithic in its viewpoints? I'm not saying that they're right or wrong, I'm just surprised that members appear to move in such lockstep / groupthink.
I'll just throw out two examples:

Everybody at Greenpeace opposes nuclear energy.
Everybody at Greenpeace opposes genetically modified organisms.

Yet these are complicated ethical questions.

And Greenpeace is such a large organization _ wouldn't you expect there to be some dissenting views among the ranks? I've never encountered any.


Flurtissimo said...

Hey Tobes, for your reading pleasure:

Branko Collin said...

I think that if there's one type of company that believes in Peak Oil, it's the oil company. So yes, Shell probably are looking into renewable energy sources, because their existence is on the line. But they'll probably also try to squeeze every last drop of oil from the earth's crust while they still can: it's what they know.

In a way the oil companies are very much in a similar situation to journalists in the 1990s, when the internet emerged as both a powerful tool and a threat.

Toby Sterling said...

@flurt: Am aware of. But he's outside the firm.

Toby Sterling said...

@Branko _ Poe's Law: Ha, I never heard of it before but very appropriate, all praise be to YHWH of course.
Shell: I largely agree with the journalism analogy. I would underline that while the exploding newsroom is a fact, a world powered by alternative energy is an expected future _ and when exactly we will arrive there is both unknown and important.
Being able to put a number on how much of $9 billion per quarter Shell spends to prepare for it would be handy for handicappers.