Oil and gas industry officials tell of ‘climate backlash’

Despite holding over half the world’s oil and gas reserves, the Middle East and North Africa region is responsible for just a third of oil production and a sixth of gas, as the industry struggles to stay competitive. (AFP)
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Updated 19 December 2019

Oil and gas industry officials tell of ‘climate backlash’

  • Concerns about climate change are 'causing the energy sector to be unfairly maligned'
  • 'Carbon emissions will continue' as long as Asian keeps building coal-fired power stations

DUBAI: Signs are starting to emerge of a backlash against the oil and gas sector for its contribution to global warming, putting the industry at risk of being labeled the “new Big Tobacco,” according to prominent energy industry figures.

Majid Jafar, CEO of Crescent Petroleum, the region’s first and largest privately owned oil and gas company, made the observation while taking part in a panel discussion on Tuesday at the SALT conference in Abu Dhabi.

Speaking as someone who was “proud to work in an industry that has transformed human standards of living over the last century,” Jafar said the oil and gas sector was being “unfairly maligned,” especially with the advent of electric vehicles, and that its role was being “misconstrued” by activists and the press.

Citing figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA), he added: “While many people are focusing on electric cars, the reality is that natural gas substituting for coal has had 100 times greater impact in lowering emissions over the last five years than the 5 million electric cars today.”

Jafar advised the public to “go beyond the headlines” in order to understand the bottom line of the impact the industry is having on climate change.

While he supports young people in the West trying to campaign and draw attention to the threat of climate change, he said carbon emissions would continue, and might increase, as long as Asia keep on building coal-fired power stations.

In the current scenario, any efforts by the West to curb carbon emissions would be akin to “rearranging the furniture in a bedroom while the living room is on fire,” he said, adding that the climate crisis is in need of global action.

Jafar’s concerns were amplified by David Darst, chief investment officer at The Family Office, who said in a separate session at the SALT conference that the oil sector has been “tobaccoized.”

Discussing the challenge of “managing change in a time of digital transformations,” Darst said it was important to understand the difference in the levels of influence commanded by “big data” companies and the largest oil and gas companies.

“The market capitalization of Apple alone is $1.1 trillion. This is equal to the market cap of the entire energy sector of the US, which includes such oil companies as ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips,” he added.

Were Apple to disappear, people would move on to Samsung, Darst said. But if the same happened to ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, “the world would be on its knees.”

Even so, signs of a backlash against energy companies can be seen in the case of the University of California investment system, Darst said, pointing out that the university, which has a $17 billion endowment and a $70 billion pension fund for its employees, recently took its assets out of hydrocarbon stocks. 

Against this backdrop of mounting challenges, Jafar pointed to developments such as Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering as a new model of partnerships with the private sector that could help the energy industry regain its competitiveness once again.

The Middle East and North Africa region, which holds half of the world’s oil and gas reserves, is responsible for a third of the world’s oil production and a sixth of its gas production, he said.

“We’re punching way below our weight,” Jafar said, adding that over the last decade, the Middle East oil and gas industry had given up a significant amount of its market share to its American counterparts.

SALT, run by Scaramucci, who as well as working at the White House  was also a successful financier, is holding its first conference in the Middle East in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Global Market, aiming to identify global collaboration opportunities in finance, technology and geopolitics.


New emissions blow for VW as German court backs damages claims

Updated 26 May 2020

New emissions blow for VW as German court backs damages claims

  • Scandal has already cost firm more than €30 billion; ruling serves as template for about 60,000 cases

KARLSRUHE, Germany: Volkswagen must pay compensation to owners of vehicles with rigged diesel engines in Germany, a court ruled on Monday, dealing a fresh blow to the automaker almost 5 years after its emissions scandal erupted.

The ruling by Germany’s highest court for civil disputes, which will allow owners to return vehicles for a partial refund of the purchase price, serves as a template for about 60,000 lawsuits that are still pending with lower German courts.

Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 to cheating in emissions tests on diesel engines, a scandal which has already cost it more than €30 billion ($33 billion) in regulatory fines and vehicle refits, mostly in the US.

US authorities banned the affected cars after the cheat software was discovered, triggering claims for compensation.

But in Europe vehicles remained on the roads, leading Volkswagen to argue compensation claims there were without merit. European authorities instead forced the company to update its engine control software and fined it for fraud and administrative lapses.

Volkswagen said on Monday it would work urgently with motorists on an agreement that would see them hold on to the vehicles for a one-off compensation payment.

It did not give an estimate of how much the ruling by the German federal court, the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), might cost it.

Volkswagen shares were 0.5 percent lower. The BGH’s presiding judge had signaled earlier this month he saw grounds for compensation.

Costs mount

“The verdict by the BGH draws a final line. It creates clarity on the BGH’s views on the underlying questions in the diesel proceedings for most of the 60,000 cases still pending,” Volkswagen said.

A lower court in the city of Koblenz had previously ruled the owner of a VW Sharan minivan had suffered pre-meditated damage, entitling him to reimbursement minus a discount for the mileage the motorist had already
benefited from.

The court at the time said he should be awarded €25,600 for the used-car purchase he made for €31,500 in 2014.

“We have in principle confirmed the verdict from the Koblenz upper regional court,” said BGH presiding federal judge Stephan Seiters.

Volkswagen had petitioned for the ruling to be quashed altogether by the higher court, while the plaintiff had appealed to have the deduction removed.

A Volkswagen spokesman said that outside Germany, more than 100,000 claims for damages were still pending, of which 90,000 cases were in Britain.

The carmaker also said it had paid out a total of €750 million to more than 200,000 separate claimants in Germany who had opted against individual claims and instead joined a class action lawsuit brought by a German consumer group.

The carmaker said last month it would set aside a total of 830 million for that deal.

In a separate court, Volkswagen agreed last week to pay €9 million to end proceedings against its chairman and chief executive, who were accused of withholding market-moving information before the emissions scandal came to light.