HOUSTON — Darren W. Woods hardly ever makes headlines although he’s the chief government of Exxon Mobil, the oil firm that some folks contemplate a high environmental villain and others consider as a significant engine of the U.S. financial system.
Few have taken critically, and even seen, 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 inexpensive, dependable vitality that doesn’t have the emissions related to at the moment’s vitality techniques,” he stated on Tuesday. “We’re engaged on that evolution.”
Whereas that 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, one in all 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 in regards to the historical past of know-how and the vitality business and even urged there was widespread floor between his plans to cut 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 tough to say when that 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 suppose by way of what must occur.”
Below stress 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 not too long ago stated it will create a brand new enterprise that captured carbon dioxide from industrial plants and buried it deep within the floor. It additionally not too long ago invested in International Thermostat, an organization that goals to suck carbon dioxide out of the air.
On Wednesday, Mr. Woods informed traders that Exxon was properly positioned “to capitalize on the rising demand for decarbonization and market alternatives which might be more and more coming collectively to help lower-carbon vitality options.”
After all, many individuals are deeply skeptical in regards to the firm’s plans and motives. In contrast to executives of European oil firms, Mr. Woods just isn’t 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 12 months to cut its net emissions to zero by 2050.
“In contrast to their massive 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 practically three many years with an organization historically identified for its insularity, inflexible tradition and public indifference to international warming, Mr. Woods urged that he was able to steer it onto a distinct 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 might say are the broader tendencies of society,” Mr. Woods stated.
Mr. Woods’s 4 years as chief government have spanned a rocky time for the business. Oil and fuel costs have bounced up and down a number of instances lately. And final 12 months, 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 current 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 cut back debt and pay for future initiatives. The corporate’s dividend, which it had raised yearly for practically 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 way 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 12 months.
Mr. Woods stated he would search extra change by way 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 exhausting to know,” he stated. “What we will 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 internet zero.”
Whereas Exxon is investing in vitality 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 change into extensively deployed as a result of it is extremely costly, Mr. Woods and Exxon scientists argue that it may play an essential function in lowering emissions from cement and metal manufacturing and different industrial processes that can’t simply run on renewable vitality.
“Carbon seize and storage goes to be wanted,” he stated.
He even urged that “there may be definitely the potential” that Exxon’s carbon seize and storage program may match neatly with Mr. Biden’s insurance policies and objectives.
“Coverage help and the precise regulatory framework to help these investments are wanted and are going to be essential,” Mr. Woods stated. “We wish to interact with them in that dialog. You will want allowing for investments. You will want pipeline techniques, laws, and regulatory reform and authorized frameworks for storing CO2.”
Mr. Biden has expressed help for carbon seize and sequestration. It’s one environmental coverage that might achieve 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 vitality executives share that skepticism.
Charif Souki, the chief chairman of Tellurian, a liquefied pure fuel firm, stated carbon seize was one in all many doubtlessly promising applied sciences to fight local weather change. However he added, “There isn’t a environment friendly approach to do it on the dimensions that’s essential to accommodate what we have to do.”
However Mr. Woods stated he was optimistic in regards to the path Exxon had chosen. “It’s very tough to foretell when a breakthrough goes to happen,” he stated, “however when you look again in time, they occur persistently.”