BP Still Doesn’t Get It

BP, the company formerly known as British Petroleum (and on the U.S. Gulf Coast as “those bastards”) has released its 2030 energy estimates, all surrounded by nice green ink.

The headline they want you to remember is a prediction that oil growth will be out-stripped by growth in renewables  over the next 20 years with demand growth to be paced by the so-called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries. (The illustration, an estimate of future CO2 emissions, is taken from the report.)

But the report still makes false choices (deliberately), assumes facts not in evidence (like clean coal works), and notes rather casually that emission targets will still not be met by then.

The false choice, of course, is one between economic growth and growth in fossil fuel demand. CEO Bob Dudley put that rather bluntly “The issues covered in this document are huge ones – the effort to provide energy to fuel the global economy, sustainably, in an era of unprecedented growth.”

Last year’s International Energy Association report on future energy demands  forecast that doubling our energy investments to 1.1% of global GDP over 20 years could start cutting CO2 emissions by about one-sixth during that time – to roughly the level of 2000, with a sharp downward trajectory. That’s the IEA “450 Scenario” shown on the graph. But the BP calls the “best case” one where emissions actually rise one-fourth from current levels, and a “policy case” one where 2030 is just as polluted as 2010. Best case for who?

But here’s the elephant in the room. The difference in all these scenarios is mainly the size of green investment. In other words, it’s the emphasis we wish to place on renewable energy investment, as opposed to what fossil fuels will naturally deliver, that will make the difference between a “best” case for BP and saving the world.

As you may have guessed, there’s a step missing. Oil and coal are said by the BP report to be “cheap” energy, renewables always “expensive” energy. (BP doesn’t seem to think solar technology is going to change much.) They also assume that the value of that “cheap” energy (cheap to produce) only rises with time.

But what happens to oil and coal prices if companies make the investments the IEA is demanding? If demand for oil and coal goes down, prices also have to go down, as will the value of proven reserves.

Oh, and if the value of oil and gas reserves moderates, and demand declines, what does that mean for Russia, which BP thinks is going to boom? Aren’t they depending on oil, gas and gold to fuel that growth?

BP is deliberately ignoring the possibility of a collapse in the fossil fuel sector, calling the “best case” one in which investments that can drop prices aren’t made, while the ice caps melt and the future of our children boils away.

Yet the cover of the report remains green.


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Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publications including The Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and ZDNet. He has covered PCs, networks, telecommunications, cable technology, Internet commerce, the Internet of Things, Open Source and Health IT, He began covering alternative energy at his personal blog, Danablankenhorn.com, in 2007.

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