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Tar sands investor BP says their projected future of unlimited carbon pollution “is a wake-up call, not something any of us would like to see happening.”

By Climate Guest Contributor  

"Tar sands investor BP says their projected future of unlimited carbon pollution “is a wake-up call, not something any of us would like to see happening.”"


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Guest blogger Andy Rowell of Oil Change International, in a WonkRoom cross-post.

We are on the path to climate chaos, Big Oil has admitted. Both BP and Exxon have conceded that progress on climate change is totally insufficient to stabilize CO2 emissions. Both oil companies have just published their Energy Outlooks, and the outlook looks grim.

In a bleak prognosis for success on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, BP admits in its new Energy Outlook 2030 report, which was published yesterday, that global CO2 emissions from energy will grow an average of 1.2 percent a year through 2030. In total, BP’s chief economist Christof Ruehl predicts “to the best of our knowledge,” CO2 emissions will rise by 27 percent over the next two decades, meaning an increase of about 33bn tons. All this does not bode well for climate change, with even Bob Dudley calling the scenarios a “wake-up call“:

I need to emphasize that this is a projection, not a proposition. It is our dispassionate view of what we believe is most likely to happen on the basis of the evidence. For example, we are not as optimistic as others about progress in reducing carbon emissions. But that doesn’t mean we oppose such progress. As you probably know, BP has a 15 year record of calling for more action from governments, including the wide application of a carbon price. Our base case assumes that countries continue to make some progress on addressing climate change, based on the current and expected level of political commitment. But overall, for me personally, it is a wake-up call, not something any of us would like to see happening.

BP’s estimate is just higher than ExxonMobil, which believes that CO2 emissions will increase by 25 percent in 20 years, which, according to John Vidal, writing in The Guardian, in effect dismisses “hopes that runaway climate change can be arrested and massive loss of life prevented.”

These projections by BP and Exxon scientists are even gloomier the projections of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which projectst that energy-related CO2 emissions will “grow by 16 percent from 2009 to 2035.” Exxon argues that oil will still be king in 2030:

In 2030, fossil fuels remain the predominant energy source, accounting for nearly 80 percent of demand. Oil still leads, but natural gas moves into second place on very strong growth of 1.8% a year on average, particularly because of its position as a favored fuel for power generation. Other energy types – particularly nuclear, wind, solar and biofuels – will grow sharply, albeit from a smaller base. Nuclear and renewable fuels will see strong growth, particularly in the power-generation sector. By 2030, about 40 percent of the world’s electricity will be generated by nuclear and renewable fuels.

BP too has demand for fossil fuels rising: BP’s “base case” “” or most likely projection “” points to primary energy use growing by nearly 40 percent over the next twenty years, with 93% of the growth coming from non-OECD countries. The BP report argues that world energy growth over the next twenty years is expected to be dominated by emerging economies such as China, India, Russia and Brazil. Natural gas is also expected to be the fastest growing fossil fuel, with coal and oil losing market share as fossil fuels as a whole experience a slow decline in growth, falling from 83 percent to 64 percent. Coal will increase by 1.2 percent per year and by 2030 it is likely to provide virtually as much energy as oil, excluding biofuels.

There is some good news that energy diversification will continue. Between 2010 to 2030 the contribution to energy growth of renewables (solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels) is seen to increase from 5 to 18 percent.

What oil there is left is predominantly under OPEC control. OPEC’s share of global oil production is set to increase to 46%, a position not seen since 1977, the decade that saw the cartel preside over a series of oil shocks and shortages. In fact, 75 percent of all growth in oil reserves over the next two decades is expected to come from OPEC nations, which include Kuwait, Iran, Angola, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Nigeria.

Andy Rowell writes for Oil Change International’s Price of Oil.

JR:  Of course as much as BP claims it would not like to see continued rapid growth in carbon pollution, the UK’s Independent reported last year, “Oil giant BP today signalled it would press on with a controversial Canadian tar sands project despite facing a showdown with environmental campaigners and shareholders.”

The tar sands are among the most carbon-intensive of replacements for conventional petroleum (see “Tar sands — Still dirty after all these years“):


X-axis is the range of potential resource in billions of barrels. Y-axis is grams of Carbon per MegaJoule of final fuel.

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24 Responses to Tar sands investor BP says their projected future of unlimited carbon pollution “is a wake-up call, not something any of us would like to see happening.”

  1. Prokaryotes says:

    40 minutes ago‎ in Reality Land

    Australia Gives BP Deepwater Oil Exploration Approval, As US Revamps Offshore Drilling Oversight

    Two on offshore oil drilling: 1) The US Department on Interior has announced long-coming restructuring of the Mineral Management Service with the goal (among other things) of increasing oversight of offshore drilling; 2) New York Times reports that Australia has approved plans for BP to expand operations in Bight Basin. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/01/australia-gives-bp-deepwater-oil-exploration-approval.php

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    It’s a little insane for Dudley to talk about the need to reduce fossil fuel use while using political influence to access tar sands oil. This is about like an alcoholic relation insisting that he is going to get off booze at some point in the future.

    Decadal timelines for slow weaning off fossil fuels are considered to be realistic because that’s what government and corporate researchers are being fed by wealthy stockholders. Projecting fossil fuel consumption curves to begin to curve downward around 2030 is completely unrealistic if the goal is human survival.

    As many have pointed out, the obstacles for conversion to clean energy are not technical or economic, they are “political”. That’s another way of saying that the oil and coal companies have purchased the media and our government. People need to start facing that fact, and stop using euphemisms. And when we confront these truths, we will need to act on them. Now. Maybe starting at the Koch gathering in Rancho Mirage on January 30th.

  3. Pythagoras says:

    Ain’t going to happen. Conventional oil peaked in 2005. Unconventional oil(deep water, arctic, NG liquids, biofuels, tar sands) have physical constraints which won’t permit liquid fuel production to increase significantly more than that to balance the decline of existing fields.

  4. Michael Tucker says:

    Yep, tar sands are bad but look at oil shale!
    Estonia is using oil shale and Jordan would love to develop their resources. We are now firmly in the age of unconventional oil!

  5. Prokaryotes says:

    BP’s crystal ball sees more coal, gas, biofuels…
    …but mostly gas http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/01/20/bp_global_outlook_2030/

  6. catman306 says:

    Why won’t Big Oil get into renewable energy like solar, wind, tidal, and geo-thermal? They have the money and can buy the talent and can afford to build the factories to make the stuff.

    Are they brain dead or something? (Rhetorical question – no need to answer.)

  7. OregonStream says:

    I realize it’s rhetorical, Catman, but isn’t the enemy in large part us? Corporations are charged with growing their profits in any legal way. Meanwhile, consumers still like their cheap, subsidized, cost-externalized fuel, and frequently drive burly vehicles. So companies are going to go after any practical source, given that most alternatives are still relatively expensive and/or hard to scale up. How do we really fix that without some incentive/disincentive system? For America at least, it may boil down to We The People, and the elected officials we choose to actively or passively support.

  8. Jeff Huggins says:

    Give Me A Break; “for me personally”; Spotlight Needed; Where Are The News Media (New York Times??)

    Where oh where to begin?

    “My view is I am going to keep doing what we do better than anyone else in the world—finding, developing and delivering oil and gas to the world.”
    - ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, as quoted in The New York Times, July 19, 2008

    Let’s face it: The oil companies put out these projections and say, in essence, “this IS what is going to happen.” They don’t just imply this: they typically assert it. ExxonMobil has been making these sorts of projections for years, and when they do, they say, “This IS what is going to happen. Live with it!”

    They never say (witness their numerous PR pieces in The New York Times) that “this is what present trends suggest will happen IF we don’t try to change them, but we DO want them to change and will try to cause them to change in order to avert climate change”. They never say that. Have you ever heard them say that? They don’t even imply it or leave the possibility open.

    Instead, they ASSERT the forecast as if it WILL COME TO PASS. And then they proceed to build their pitch to investors, and their own explanation of their own strategy, AROUND that forecast. In other words, they use the (asserted) reality that “this WILL happen” in order to justify and explain their own strategy, a strategy that, in turn, serves to make the projection a self-fulfilling prophesy. READ THEIR PR PIECES.

    As far as I’ve seen, ExxonMobil doesn’t even bother to give us the BS that this fellow from BP wants us to swallow. Bob Dudley apparently wants us to understand that this is a “projection, not a proposition”? This is, according to him, “our dispassionate view”. (Isn’t it comforting to know that the largest companies on the planet are apparently “dispassionate” about the fate of climate stability, the biosphere, and future human generations?)

    Notice how Mr. Dudley says “for me personally” before he indicates, in his view, that this is a wake-up call. Well, what about BP’s official view? Will BP tell the public, clearly, in advertorials and public announcements, that they don’t want this forecast to come to pass, that they see it as a big “wake-up call”, and that they want to work SERIOUSLY with governments and the other oil companies to develop policies to actually ensure that it won’t come to pass? How much money has BP spent on its campaign to limit image-damage from the recent oil spill disaster? Well then, surely, BP can afford to make its views clear, to the public, that these forecasts should NOT come to pass and that society should take steps to ensure that they don’t.

    And what is ExxonMobil saying about whether they do or don’t want their forecasts (of this) to come to pass, and about whether they will or won’t GENUINELY work with governments and industry to ensure that they don’t come to pass?

    Surely, on this most important of issues (climate change), and given that ExxonMobil is the most profitable company in the U.S., that question is immensely “newsworthy”. Will The New York Times ask Mr. Tillerson, until he gives (and they get) a clear and suitable answer, whether this is a forecast that “will” come to pass or whether this is a forecast that should not come to pass and that ExxonMobil will work (with others) to ensure does not come to pass? It’s not a small question. Indeed, The New York Times has a positive DUTY to ask it and push until they get a clear answer.

    Bill Keller and Andy Revkin and Thomas Friedman and etc. etc., are you listening?

    Bill Keller, whose father was the Chairman of Chevron back when the oil industry was surely becoming aware of the climate change problem (and back when I worked at Chevron as a chemical engineer at Chevron Research) can make such decisions. Mr. Keller, will The New York Times push Mr. Tillerson for clear answers on this most important of questions? Will The New York Times actually live up to its responsibilities to serve the genuine public good on that point? Or will The New York Times leave the question unasked and unanswered? Indeed, The Times has a special responsibility to ask the question and have it answered, even above-and-beyond its normal journalistic responsibility to inform the public. Why? Because ExxonMobil uses The New York Times repeatedly as one of the main vehicles to share, with the public, these sorts of forecasts, always saying or clearly implying that the forecasts WILL come to pass: In essence, “this is the way things are and will be.”

    And Climate Progress and CAP: I would hope that you folks will push The New York Times, and ExxonMobil, relentlessly to ask and answer these questions. These forecasts are (and have been) used over and over and over again to state, or imply, that they WILL come to pass, and indeed to explain and justify why the oil companies “need” to keep searching, and drilling, and finding, and producing oil. Just look at the forecast, and then look at Rex Tillerson’s quote included above.

    Also, I’d recommend to anyone and everyone who wants to understand the oil industry on this matter: Read “Challenged By Carbon”, by Bryan Lovell, a book endorsed by Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell.

    To be clear, I do appreciate Andy Rowell’s post, here, and it’s very helpful. But if we want to succeed in addressing climate change, we are going to have to get much better at pointing out the deep (and I would say, usually unethical) hypocrisies and deceptions that at least some of the largest oil companies (including and especially ExxonMobil) are foisting upon us daily. The oil companies understand, or should understand, the difference between ‘is’ and ‘ought’. They understand, or should, the naturalistic fallacy. They understand, or should, the difference between a forecast that they DO want to be fulfilled and (on the other hand) a “wake-up call” forecast that they want to ensure does NOT come to pass. They understand, or should, the difference between justifying and developing a strategy AROUND a forecast, on the basis of an expectation that the forecast will come to pass, and (on the other hand) developing a strategy to ensure that a wake-up-call forecast does not come to pass and that another much more responsible outcome should be achieved. Trust me: the oil industry understands the difference between a forecast of phenomena and outcomes that they DON’T want to come to pass (for example, if a temperature on a heat exchanger is forecast to get out of control unless the heat exchanger receives urgent maintenance) and a forecast that they want to embrace as a PLAN and for which they develop strategies to facilitate and fulfill. The oil industry understands this difference. They are just not being honest with us or responsible in their actions. Period. Exclamation point! But it is up to us, and the media, to point this out to the general public until we prompt responsible change.

    Bill Keller, are you folks at The Times going to get to the bottom of this, and clarify the matter for the American Public? Please let us know. Better late than never.

    Jeff Huggins
    U.C. Berkeley, chemical engineering, Class of 1981
    Chevron Research Company, 1981-1984
    Harvard Business School, Class of 1986, Baker Scholar
    McKinsey and Company, 1986-1990
    Deeply concerned citizen and parent
    Fed up with the Orwellian tactics of ExxonMobil and etc.

  9. Van says:

    What is wrong with these people? Don’t they realize that they have to live on the same planet as the rest of us? Do they really think that their piles of money will protect them from the dystopian future they are helping to create? Just sayin.

  10. catman306 says:

    Sure, OregonStream, it’s all our fault.

    Rather, it would be our fault, if there had been no advertising of petroleum powered vehicles and the fuels for them during the past 100 years. It would have been our fault if automobile manufacturing companies hadn’t have purchased urban mass transit systems and ripped up the tracks of countless trolley systems throughout the US. It would have been our fault if the petroleum interests hadn’t taken over the foreign policy goals of the US and its military since before the 2nd world war. It would be our fault if each and every one of us had the money to buy the Congress and state legislatures we want for our own needs.

    Global warming / climate change is an indirect result of Standard Oil of New Jersey v. United States (1911). Oil lost the case but found better ways of controlling the market.

  11. Adam R. says:

    What is wrong with these people? Don’t they realize that they have to live on the same planet as the rest of us?

    Evidently, a total compensation number with two commas in it concentrates one’s attention on the short term.

  12. pete best says:

    For those that follow the reality of energy usage this report is essentially correct. The total energy usage of the world is 30 billion barrels of oil and coal and gas in amounts that are 10% and 20% less than oil respectively. Regardless of the stories of peak oil, coal and gas ingenuity in the field of massive fossil fuel finance and can more and potentially grow its base even though it will make up less of overall energy usage goalbally!

    The battle still to be fought is a political one and that means that science has to convince hearts and minds that ACC is a real problem for those countries that continue to push up their usage and development of these energy resources.

    You can be surprised any of you including JR. Come on, its time to prevent and adapt (if we can) and know that its 2 ppmv for the forseeable future until such a time as the case in the political realm is won and we switch energy resources.

    Fossil fuel companies are not energy companies per se, renewables are not necessarily their forte. We need to being them on board and we only have a few short years to do so.

  13. OregonStream says:

    Catman, I agree that corporate power and marketing have played a significant role, but people also fell for it. In the end they wanted the personal transit, and then bigger is better became a general rule. So much so that only oil could satisfy rapidly-growing demand.

    But that’s water under the bridge. Consumers can support initiatives to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels, but many of them are voting for the business-as-usual crowd, or not voting at all. Part of that may stem from corporate influence in politics, and a lack of awareness. But there are plenty of people who, for whatever reasons, don’t inform themselves beyond the occasional corporate newscast, and plenty who don’t see individual contributions to the problem as significant. So not sure who is going to really start breaking the pattern we’re in over the next decade or so.

  14. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Is there that much oil, coal and gas that consumption can continue to rise year on year?

    Canadian tar sands and Venezuelan sludge can only be processed so fast. Coal ports can only handle so many ships at one time and a single flood has had a big impact.

    It takes a lot of oil to move mountains to get at the coal. It takes a lot of oil and gas to process the alternative oils in Canada. Has someone invented a solar powered Haulpak?

    There is, however, enough fossil fuel left to totally wreck the climate.

  15. David Gould says:

    Rabid Doomsayer,

    As oil prices go up, more money becomes available to the oil companies to exploit unconventional sources of oil and the profit margins for doing so become attractive. While there may well be limits to how fast you can process tar sand, 50 processors will do so faster than 5. And it might become worthwhile – in an extremely limited economic sense – to put 50 in place.

  16. Leif says:

    What Jeff Huggins at 8 said.

    Leif Knutsen

  17. Solar Jim says:

    “CO2 emissions will rise by 27 percent over the next two decades, meaning an increase of about 33bn tons.”

    This and several other statements seem confusing. 33bn tons per what, of emissions? That is close to today’s totals. I assume the author means 33bn tons total increase over the coming two decades. So about an extra year’s worth.

    The deck chair’s on the good ship Titanic should be sliding soon. Darn, I thought this was Starship Enterprise. No such luck, Only One Earth (good book).

  18. Robert In New Orleans says:

    Does the term cognitive dissonance fit any where in this debate?

  19. Barry says:

    Our drunkard climate is already ralphing all over the global from Pakistan to Australia to Tennessee to Mexico to Amazon to Brazil and Sri Lanka.

    Hard to imagine from what climate science says that the climate won’t be so beastly by 2030 that humanity will be yanking the foot off the GoGo pedal and stomping on the brakes.

    And where exactly does all that endlessly increasing global wealth come from in an world of collapsing ecosystems, chaotic deluges and droughts and faltering ocean and crop food supplies?

    Who is going to pay for ever more $200 a barrel syn-crude?

    Total climate-ostrich fantasy by Big Fossil.

    My prediction is the next decade sees Big Coal, Big Frack and Big Oil duke it out between themselves over which one gets shut down so the others can keep the gravy train going a bit longer.

  20. yogi-one says:

    What is wrong with these people?

    They believe they are somebody that they are not.

    Don’t they realize they live on the same planet as the rest of us?

    They do, but they believe they are not like us, and therefore, will not have to suffer the consequences of their actions.

    Do they really think their piles of money will protect them from the dystopian future they are helping to create?

    Yes they do. And maybe they will be able to live lives of pseudo-luxury inside their little domes of carefully controlled atmosphere on a hostile, poisonous planet.

    They call that “success”.

  21. J Bowers says:

    Re. 20

    Atlas Shrugged.

  22. Kretzmann says:

    @catman306 – as to “Why won’t Big Oil get into renewable energy like solar, wind, tidal, and geo-thermal?…” read this report:


    or this article based on it:

  23. Peter Sergienko says:

    Investing millions of dollars in lobbying to maintain the status quo on the one hand while purporting to decry it on the other. Wonderful.

    Regarding the comments on the difficulty of behavioral changes, especially among the wealthy and large corporations, while I understand that many economists and other influential people, including James Hansen, prefer a carbon tax to cap and trade or to command and control, will any policy tool be adequate absent a serious cultural change?

    Assuming that we still have a few decades to get this right (and I realize many here now doubt that assumption), I wonder if a carbon tax could ever be aggressive enough to avoid climate catastrophe. If the tax does not affect behavior among the wealthiest persons, we would not get any emissions reductions from the folks who burn the most fossil fuel until technology changes filter through the system over decades. Is it enough to get the vast Western middle class to collectively reduce their emissions gradually and a little bit at a time, or would the rich and the developing countries essentially take up the slack?

    In terms of developing contries, China is doing more than we (the U.S.) are to address the issues. However, China has sunk a lot of investment into coal-fired power plants, they’ve got rapidly expanding wealthy and middle classes that are increasing demand rapidly for cars and meat (among other fossil-fuel intensive goods). China and Chinese companies are also sitting on mountains of cash and I believe that the investment of that cash needs to favor renewables and not the traditional fossil-fuel economy in order to avoid climate catastrophe.

    Since the major fossil fuel companies exist to feed this system and they are larger than most countries’ economies, it does not seem likely that the needed systemic changes can occur without leadership from the fossil fuel companies themselves.

    To encourage such leadership, could climate hawks lead a divestiture movement, similar to the movement that put pressure on companies doing business in South Africa during apartheid? Climate hawks could reach out to colleges and universities with large endowments, state and other governmental employee pension funds and other large institutional shareholders that hold stock in fossil fuel companies. Since these pension funds, endowments, etc. exist mostly to benefit middle-class people (recognizing that the managers of large university endowments may not themselves this way) that are much more at risk from global warming than the top few percent, shouldn’t these managers be reasonably responsive to this kind of appeal? Maybe one of the more useful things we could do is put pressure on state treasurers (elected officials) to manage state pension funds in ways that are consistent with the preservation of a liveable climate.

  24. Rick DeLong says:

    I think the big oil executives are worried about the climate just like the rest of us, but their corporate positions demand a behavior pattern that makes the company profitable in comparison to its competitors. It’s remarkable that the executives themselves are beginning to speak out about the subject. I think they are increasingly willing to change company actions — but only if new rules are instated and all players have to play by the same rules. Otherwise, unilaterally changing company policy would be tantamount to financial suicide.

    Everyone’s waiting for the new rules… Come on, government!