HOUSTON — Darren W. Woods hardly ever makes headlines although he’s the chief govt of Exxon Mobil, the oil firm that some individuals contemplate a prime environmental villain and others consider as a significant engine of the U.S. economic 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 reasonably priced, dependable vitality that doesn’t have the emissions related to at this time’s vitality methods,” he stated on Tuesday. “We’re engaged on that evolution.”
Whereas which may seem to be 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 among whom brazenly dismissed considerations about local weather change, has became one thing vaguely philosophical.
In an interview meant to be a curtain raiser to an annual presentation that executives will provide monetary analysts and buyers on Wednesday, Mr. Woods, 56, waxed poetic in regards to the historical past of know-how and the vitality trade and even recommended there was frequent 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 environment, although he stated it was nonetheless tough to say when which may occur.
“We’re supportive of that ambition, and our aim is to assist society to attain 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 means of what must occur.”
Beneath stress from activist buyers, 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 will 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.
On Wednesday, Mr. Woods instructed buyers that Exxon was effectively positioned “to capitalize on the rising demand for decarbonization and market alternatives which are 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. Not like executives of European oil firms, Mr. Woods isn’t slicing investments in oil and gasoline 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 huge oil opponents 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 govt of Earth Fairness Advisors, a analysis and funding agency specializing in sustainability.
After spending practically three a long time with an organization historically recognized for its insularity, inflexible tradition and public indifference to international warming, Mr. Woods recommended that he was able to steer it onto a unique course, albeit steadily.
With Exxon’s inventory worth nonetheless decrease than it was a decade in the past, many buyers have demanded no much less.
“My interplay with buyers is a mirrored image of what I might say are the broader developments of society,” Mr. Woods stated.
Mr. Woods’s 4 years as chief govt have spanned a rocky time for the trade. Oil and gasoline costs have bounced up and down a number of occasions in recent times. 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 belongings the corporate acquired at wealthy costs earlier than Mr. Woods took over.
However in current weeks, oil and gasoline 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 tasks. The corporate’s dividend, which it had raised yearly for practically 4 a long time, 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 a long time away from having a big effect on emissions.
“Till we all know the trail and what will be required and what the options are, it’s laborious to know,” he stated. “What we will do is decide to determine that out, and as soon as we discover the solutions you’d see us start to commit and really be on the trail towards internet zero.”
Whereas Exxon is investing in vitality effectivity tasks, biofuels and hydrogen, Mr. Woods expressed specific enthusiasm for his firm’s 20 carbon seize and storage tasks. Whereas the know-how has but to grow to be extensively deployed as a result of it is rather costly, Mr. Woods and Exxon scientists argue that it might play an vital position in decreasing 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 recommended that “there may be actually the potential” that Exxon’s carbon seize and storage program might match neatly with Mr. Biden’s insurance policies and targets.
“Coverage help and the correct regulatory framework to help these investments are wanted and are going to be vital,” Mr. Woods stated. “We wish to have interaction with them in that dialog. You’ll want allowing for investments. You’ll want pipeline methods, 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 would acquire the backing of congressional Republicans, though many liberal Democrats aren’t 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 will 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 gasoline firm, stated carbon seize was one among many doubtlessly promising applied sciences to fight local weather change. However he added, “There is no such thing as a environment friendly solution 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 in case you look again in time, they occur constantly.”