In a world beset by climate change, what does the future of oil look like? The answer depends on whom you ask.
Here are the greenest forecasts from different organizations:
In its sustainable development scenario, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says oil demand in 2040 will fall by a third compared to now. On the other end of the spectrum, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) expects an increase in oil demand by 2040 compared to where we are today. Apart from ExxonMobil, which is even more bullish than OPEC on global oil demand, every other company predicts that demand will fall somewhere between those two scenarios.
These wildly divergent predictions have one thing in common: Even the greenest route means the world will blow past the 1.5°C global warming threshold. A study published in Nature in June showed that we’ve already built too much carbon-emitting infrastructure to allow us to meet that ambitious Paris climate goal.
Fortunately, there is at least one oil company that recognizes the disconnect between ambition and reality. It’s even ready to do something about it. Under CEO Vicki Hollub, Occidental Petroleum has pledged to become carbon neutral—and then, perhaps, even use its technology to have a positive impact on the environment.
Oxy—its stock-ticker symbol—is the world’s largest handler of carbon dioxide. It pumps the greenhouse gas into oilfields, where under the right conditions it acts like detergent pushing out more oil. More than 99% of the injected carbon dioxide gets locked underground, and it’s possible to lock away more carbon dioxide than would be produced by burning the extra recovered oil. In other words, as the company told the US Senate in May, it’s possible for Oxy to produce a carbon-negative barrel of oil.
All that is just physics and geology, which has been proven to work. In the end, however, Oxy has shareholders who expect dividends. That means climate good will only happen if there’s also money to be made.
The genius of Hollub, the only female CEO of a major international oil company, is in making a viable case for carbon-negative oil. She recognizes that Oxy holds a technology that the world will need, and she’s used the lobbying power of Big Oil to get governments to legislate the incentives that make the technology profitable.
I spent the last few weeks trying to understand just how Hollub has managed to make it all work. I hope you’ll take some time to read my nearly 5,000-word profile, accessible to Quartz members. I have two other stories connected to the profile that you’ll enjoy: one on the startup Oxy is backing to capture carbon dioxide from the air and another on the language that sets Hollub apart from male CEOs of oil companies.
You can also join a conference call on this link where I will answer your questions tied to the profile at 1pm ET/6pm BST today. If you’d rather listen in on your phone, call 866 226 4650 in the US or 800 014 8469 in the UK. In both cases, the meeting ID is 722 994 440.
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