Oil giant ExxonMobil is seeking "unprecedented secrecy" by labeling nearly 900,000 pages of documents as confidential in a class action lawsuit over an oil pipeline rupture in Arkansas, an attorney said in a new court filing.
The recent dive in oil prices is undermining oil company earnings, projects and stock prices—at least for now—giving new ammunition to climate action groups pushing pensions, universities and others to purge their fossil fuel holdings.
By themselves, the lower oil prices aren't likely to convince institutions to divest from fossil fuels, especially since price swings are common in oil markets. But the unexpected dip could help the cause by casting doubt on the investment case for keeping them, according to Jamie Henn, communications director at 350.org, a leader in the growing divestment campaign.
"The primary reason to divest remains the moral and political one—that if it's wrong to wreck the planet, then it's wrong to profit from that wreckage," said Henn. "But the recent news about oil prices is a reminder that it's a market that fluctuates wildly...and [oil company stocks] are not the secure investment that people often see them as."
The price of U.S. benchmark crude has been trading near $80 a barrel of late, a substantial slide from this year's high of more than $108 a barrel in June. Oversupply and slower demand growth could force the cost of crude down $10 more before it stabilizes or reverses course, according to Fadel Gheit, senior oil analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. Recently, Goldman Sachs lowered its 2015 oil price estimate to $75, down from $90.
SolarCity Corp., the nation's largest residential solar service provider, has a history of pushing the envelope. It introduced the industry's first leasing program for homeowners, offered discounted solar installations through Groupon, and is pouring money into a solar manufacturing plant in the United States.
In the last two weeks, the company added two financial innovations: a first-of-its-kind nationwide solar bond program to sell bonds directly to individual investors who want to support the spread of clean energy; and a hybrid financing program (MyPower) that gives customers lease-like payments as well as ownership of the solar system.
San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity, founded in 2006 by brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive, has grown to more than 6,000 employees. It is a full-service solar provider—including design, permitting, financing, installation, monitoring and maintenance—with operations in 15 states. So far, the company has installed more than 750 megawatts of photovoltaic solar systems for homes, businesses, governments and schools.
Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Motors, is chairman of the SolarCity board—and cousin to the Rive brothers. All three share a sense of urgency about the threat of climate change.
Limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius will require reworking how nations produce and use energy—away from fossil fuels to a mix of aggressive energy efficiency, nuclear power, carbon capturing technologies, and renewable power. The International Energy Agency estimates that renewable power will have to supply 65 percent of the world's power supply.
That makes solar a crucial part of the effort to avoid the worst effects of a warming climate. Federal tax credits, which have been a big driver in solar growth, are set to expire at the end of 2016.
Following the launch of MyPower, Lyndon Rive, SolarCity's chief executive, talked to InsideClimate News about the company, the MyPower program and the challenge of spreading solar far and fast enough.
In a world wrestling with climate change and the need to phase out fossil fuels, nothing is more critical than making sure there are reliable and cost-effective clean energy technologies ready to fill the void.
Environmental and community groups on Tuesday assailed federal approval of the Cove Point liquefied natural gas export project, arguing that regulators glossed over the climate change consequences. They vowed to challenge the decision through a regulatory appeal or in the courts.
"The groups that have been opposing this facility for more than a year have no intention of quitting and conceding this," said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, one of several nonprofit groups fighting the Lusby, Md. LNG project. "There are legal steps before us next."
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the Cove Point LNG export project late Monday. It imposed 79 conditions on its construction that regulators said would mitigate potential adverse environmental impacts. Those conditions were based on an environmental assessment of the project, a less-rigorous review than what is called for in an environmental impact statement.
FERC's action allows Dominion Cove Point to liquefy and export as much as 5.75 million metric tons of U.S. gas per year from the terminal. The commission said project owner Dominion Resources Inc. proposes to complete construction in time to begin exports in June 2017. In separate actions, the Department of Energy conditionally approved gas exports from the terminal to any country, providing there are no U.S. trade prohibitions.
Climate Week presented a two-front push for nations to take action on climate change. The moral case was emphatically made by a record-setting, 400,000-person march through Manhattan. What followed was a similarly unprecedented barrage from investor groups and corporations to convince world leaders that there's also a compelling economic case for taking steps against global warming.
The business presence last week was particularly striking because of its breadth and heft, and because of its extension well beyond the so-called "green bubble" that surrounds companies, investors and advocacy groups who embraced the cause long ago.
Signatories representing $26 trillion in investment funds called on world leaders to enact strong policies, cut fossil fuel subsidies and make polluters pay for the effects of their emissions. There were commitments and pledges from the likes of General Motors, food makers Mars Inc. and Nestle, and consumer products giant Unilever. And a string of corporate CEOs joined early-adopters like Ikea Group in supporting renewable energy and citing proof that companies and countries can tackle climate change and prosper at the same time.
"More and more businesses are coming forward and saying look, we can do this. We can cut energy use, we can become more efficient, and we can provide solutions—and this represents an enormous biz opportunity," said Paul Simpson, chief executive officer of London based CDP, a company that collects corporate climate change data on behalf of shareholders. "That's not a completely new message, but I think there are far more companies on board with saying it, and that's really a fundamental shift."
It took hundreds of millions of years for Earth's fossil fuel deposits to form, but mankind has burned much of it in just a couple centuries—in geologic terms, that amounts to an explosion of carbon emissions.
For as long as scientists and policymakers have been grappling with climate change, they've been up against two critical questions: How much extra carbon has mankind sent into the atmosphere? And how much more can be added before global warming becomes disastrous?
Climate researchers have spent decades tracking and quantifying the complex flows of carbon into and out of the atmosphere, but those questions couldn't be answered convincingly until 2009. That's when a group of European scientists published a groundbreaking and highly credible global carbon budget that filled the information void. Using a comprehensive climate model, the scientists determined the maximum amount of greenhouse gases mankind could send into the atmosphere without triggering catastrophe—and then found that more than a quarter of that budget had been spent by 2006.
A two-year-old number is changing the way governments, companies and investors approach the fight against climate change: $1 trillion.
That is roughly the amount of additional investment needed worldwide each year for the next 36 years to stave off the worst effects of global warming and keep the Earth habitable, according to the International Energy Agency. The Paris-based organization of 29 developed countries calculated the cost in 2012 and raised its estimates this year. Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit investor group that advocates environmental sustainability, framed it as the "Clean Trillion" in an investment campaign that has become a rallying cry.
While $1 trillion sounds like a lot, knowing the figure is good news, according to climate activists, investment experts and United Nations organizers of the next round of global climate talks. Worldwide, almost $4 trillion a year will need to be invested over that time anyway in electric grids, power plants and energy efficiency, the IEA says. In a global economy of $75 trillion, $1 trillion works out to 1.3 percent of the world's annual output of goods and services, or about $140 a person. The calculation also focuses the discussion on investment—suggesting the potential for returns and profits—rather than on costs for disaster response and losses to rising oceans.
As tensions mount and U.S. lawmakers push for stiffer sanctions on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis, oil giant ExxonMobil wants no part of it.
On the contrary, America's second-largest public company recently deepened its ties to Russia and its vast energy deposits with a new natural gas export venture and by providing Russian President Vladimir Putin with enthusiastic—and very public—support.
The incongruity of Exxon's business-as-usual approach in Russia while U.S. officials talk of punishing Putin highlights a reality that politicians and the public tend to overlook: Corporate interests and the needs of the nation can—and do—sometimes diverge. Barring legal prohibitions, Exxon and other public companies are duty-bound to put shareholder interests first.
It's a reality that remains obscured as energy lobbyists and Congressional lawmakers campaign for sweeping policy shifts and controversial projects, such as construction of the Keystone XL oil import pipeline, fast-tracking natural gas export plants and removing limits on domestic oil exports.