By Daniel Gilbert
Exxon Mobil Corp. says future regulations to protect the climate don't threaten the value of its oil and gas reserves, arguing that economies will need the fuels too much to embrace drastic cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.
In response to shareholder pressure, the U.S.'s biggest energy company, published two reports Monday affirming that climate change poses a risk to society. But Exxon pushed back against investor concerns that potential restrictions on burning fossil fuels will make it too expensive for Exxon to pump its oil and gas, calling such a scenario "highly unlikely."
"We are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become 'stranded,'" Exxon said in one report published on its website, responding to a request from several sustainability-focused groups representing shareholders.
Exxon's view came as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report Monday that found that global warming is already having an impact and called for steps to slow its effects. Separately, the White House last week directed federal agencies to limit greenhouse-gas emissions as part of a broader effort to tackle climate change.
Investors will continue to push the company to account for increased restrictions on carbon emissions, said Andrew Logan of Ceres, an advocacy group that helped coordinate proposals seeking disclosure on climate change.
Exxon has long assumed that regulations will make it more expensive to produce oil and gas, and estimates a cost of $80 a ton of carbon emissions by 2040 in Western countries. But the company said that cutting such emissions by 80% through that time frame, a target some scientists say is needed to slow global warming, would cost the average U.S. household almost $2,350 a year in additional energy expenses.
While such a scenario is possible, Exxon said, "it is difficult to envision governments choosing this path in light of the negative implications for economic growth and prosperity that such a course poses."
The Irving, Texas-based oil company estimates that the world will consume 35% more energy in 2040 than today and contends renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar power, aren't enough to meet that demand. Instead, Exxon is focusing on burning energy more efficiently and cutting emissions.
Footnoted in the two reports are hints of how Exxon plans to use concerns over climate to its advantage, by promoting natural gas as a fuel that gives off fewer emissions than coal or oil. The U.S.'s biggest gas producer, Exxon is among several companies seeking permits to export the fuel abroad where prices are higher.
Allowing U.S. companies to export domestic gas, Exxon noted, "could further the adoption of this cleaner-burning fuel by countries that currently rely on more carbon-intensive forms of energy."
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