HOUSTON — Darren W. Woods not often makes headlines though he’s the chief government of Exxon Mobil, the oil firm that some folks take into account a high environmental villain and others consider as a significant engine of the U.S. financial system.
Few have taken significantly, and even observed, that he’s starting to make guarantees to reply to local weather change, which is on the very least a rhetorical break from his predecessors if not a substantive one.
“What society calls for, and appropriately so, is reasonably priced, dependable power that doesn’t have the emissions related to in the present day’s power techniques,” he stated on Tuesday. “We’re engaged on that evolution.”
Whereas which may look like a guarded assertion, Mr. Woods, a soft-spoken electrical engineer from Wichita, Kan., is clearly altering the tone of the corporate, which he took over 4 years in the past. The Texas swagger employed by his predecessors, considered one of whom brazenly dismissed considerations about local weather change, has become one thing vaguely philosophical.
In an interview meant to be a curtain raiser to an annual presentation that executives will provide monetary analysts and traders on Wednesday, Mr. Woods, 56, waxed poetic concerning the historical past of know-how and the power trade and even advised there was widespread floor between his plans to scale back emissions and President Biden’s efforts to fight climate change. He went as far as to vow that Exxon would attempt to set a aim for not emitting extra greenhouse gases than it faraway from the ambiance, although he stated it was nonetheless troublesome to say when which may occur.
“We’re supportive of that ambition, and our aim is to assist society to realize it,” Mr. Woods stated. “Frankly, the popularity of the problem is continuous to develop. It’s an evolving dialog that I discover very useful to assume by means of what must occur.”
Below strain from activist traders, Exxon stated this week that it was adding two new directors with no earlier ties to fossil fuels to its board. The corporate just lately stated it might create a brand new enterprise that captured carbon dioxide from industrial plants and buried it deep within the floor. It additionally just lately invested in International Thermostat, an organization that goals to suck carbon dioxide out of the air.
In fact, many individuals are deeply skeptical concerning the firm’s plans and motives. Not like executives of European oil corporations, Mr. Woods shouldn’t be reducing investments in oil and fuel in favor of spending cash on wind and solar energy. He steered away from commenting on BP’s pledge final yr to cut its net emissions to zero by 2050.
“Not like their large oil rivals which have begun taking motion on local weather change, Woods and Exxon Mobil proceed to stay in a fairy story world of inaction whereas California burns and Texas freezes,” stated Peter Krull, chief government of Earth Fairness Advisors, a analysis and funding agency specializing in sustainability.
After spending almost three many years with an organization historically identified for its insularity, inflexible tradition and public indifference to world warming, Mr. Woods advised that he was able to steer it onto a unique course, albeit progressively.
With Exxon’s inventory worth nonetheless decrease than it was a decade in the past, many traders have demanded no much less.
“My interplay with traders is a mirrored image of what I’d say are the broader traits of society,” Mr. Woods stated.
Mr. Woods’s 4 years as chief government have spanned a rocky time for the trade. Oil and fuel costs have bounced up and down a number of instances lately. And final yr, demand for petroleum products collapsed because the coronavirus pandemic took maintain. Exxon misplaced $22.4 billion in 2020, a lot of it from write-downs of property the corporate acquired at wealthy costs earlier than Mr. Woods took over.
However in latest weeks, oil and fuel costs have recovered, and Exxon and its inventory are doing higher. Mr. Woods stated revenues had been flowing once more, permitting the corporate to scale back debt and pay for future initiatives. The corporate’s dividend, which it had raised yearly for almost 4 many years, now seems to be protected from being reduce.
What Exxon isn’t doing is spending a lot of its fortune on companies or concepts designed to sharply cut back emissions. It’s spending simply $3 billion by means of 2025 on capturing carbon from industrial vegetation — a small faction of the $16 billion to $19 billion it plans to spend on oil exploration and capital projects this yr.
Mr. Woods stated he would search extra change by means of researching breakthrough applied sciences. However a lot of them stay years or many years away from having a huge impact on emissions.
“Till we all know the trail and what’s going to be required and what the options are, it’s arduous to know,” he stated. “What we are able to do is decide to determine that out, and as soon as we discover the solutions you’ll see us start to commit and truly be on the trail towards web zero.”
Whereas Exxon is investing in power effectivity initiatives, biofuels and hydrogen, Mr. Woods expressed explicit enthusiasm for his firm’s 20 carbon seize and storage initiatives. Whereas the know-how has but to turn out to be broadly deployed as a result of it is rather costly, Mr. Woods and Exxon scientists argue that it might play an essential function in decreasing emissions from cement and metal manufacturing and different industrial processes that can’t simply run on renewable power.
“Carbon seize and storage goes to be wanted,” he stated.
He even advised that “there may be definitely the potential” that Exxon’s carbon seize and storage program might match neatly with Mr. Biden’s insurance policies and targets.
“Coverage assist and the precise regulatory framework to assist these investments are wanted and are going to be essential,” Mr. Woods stated. “We wish to have interaction with them in that dialog. You’re going to want allowing for investments. You’re going to want pipeline techniques, laws, and regulatory reform and authorized frameworks for storing CO2.”
Mr. Biden has expressed assist for carbon seize and sequestration. It’s one environmental coverage that would acquire the backing of congressional Republicans, though many liberal Democrats are usually not eager on it as a result of they see it as prolonging using fossil fuels.
Many local weather scientists are deeply skeptical that the know-how could be deployed on the scale wanted to make an enormous dent in emissions. Some power executives share that skepticism.
Charif Souki, the chief chairman of Tellurian, a liquefied pure fuel firm, stated carbon seize was considered one of many doubtlessly promising applied sciences to fight local weather change. However he added, “There is no such thing as a environment friendly method to do it on the size that’s essential to accommodate what we have to do.”
However Mr. Woods stated he was optimistic concerning the path Exxon had chosen. “It’s very troublesome to foretell when a breakthrough goes to happen,” he stated, “however if you happen to look again in time, they occur constantly.”