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Radically Inept
Monday, June 28, 2004
  Damn Liberal Oil Executives

I was reading the AJC yesterday, the one day of the week that I get my news primarily from the print media. Well, someone named Douglas MacKinnon.

Here it is; it was a reprint of an LATimes article, To Boldly Get Out of Here Is a Good Idea. This is the line that caught my attention:
"The second interesting news item came from the lips of Lord Ron Oxburgh, chairman of the Shell Group of Companies, who stated that he was 'really very worried for the planet.' Politics and varied views of global warming aside, Lord Oxburgh's opinion would seem to carry some weight on this subject. In an interview with the Guardian last week, he discussed the need to capture emissions of carbon dioxide and store them underground - a technique called 'carbon sequestration.' Oxburgh maintained that 'sequestration is difficult, but if we don't have sequestration, then I see very little hope for the world.'"
I knew there was growing acceptance of Global Warming in some circles of the petroleum industry (this link from OPEC.Org, so use your own judgement in reference to the 'facts'), but the head of Shell?! That's big.

From the Guardian Unlimited came an interview, which included these comments, 'I'm really very worried for the planet':
Oxburgh - strictly The Lord Oxburgh (he is a crossbench peer in the House of Lords and chairs its science and technology select committee) - was catapulted into his new role in March, replacing the ousted Philip Watts. As non-executive chairman of the UK half of the group, he is excused day-to-day running of the business, but is expected to steer it towards calmer waters, rebuilding city and public confidence along the way. Plans for the capital's latest revolving restaurant will have to wait.
And then these comments:
Attractive to oil companies and no doubt music to the ears of Shell shareholders, but to environmentalists who believe energy prospectors should be switching their attention to renewables, this increasingly desperate search for more hydrocarbons to satisfy our fossil fuel fix is a funeral dirge.

"The other major consideration that we have to take into account is the greenhouse effect and global warming," he admits.

We are on delicate territory here. Although Shell was one of the first oil companies to acknowledge the threat of climate change and has since pledged to cut its own emissions, public statements on the issue are carefully worded. Very carefully worded, and Oxburgh is more direct than the PR people further down the building might appreciate.

"No one can be comfortable at the prospect of continuing to pump out the amounts of carbon dioxide that we are at present," he says. "People are going to go on allowing this atmospheric carbon dioxide to build up, with consequences that we really can't predict, but are probably not good."

He believes the solution is something called sequestration, in which carbon dioxide from cars and power stations is captured and stored. "Sequestration is difficult," he says. "But if we don't have sequestration I see very little hope for the world."

It's an astonishing admission from someone - non-executive or not - at the head of one of the world's largest fossil fuel companies. The Norwegian company Statoil has been sequestering carbon dioxide underneath the North Sea for several years, but that is relatively pure gas released from a natural source nearby. Devising the technology to grab the gas from engine or boiler exhaust streams and finding the billions of pounds needed to pipe millions of tons offshore is another matter entirely.

"You might be right, the timescale might be impossible," he says. "In which case I'm really very worried for the planet." Oxburgh is unrepentant: "You can't slip a piece of paper between David King [the government's chief science adviser who said climate change was a bigger threat than terrorism] and me on this position."
So, if the head of one of the biggest oil companies on the planet thinks that "climate change was a bigger threat than terrorism", do you think it's based on 'Sound Science'?

Anyway, somehow, I do feel a little more hopeful to see Lord Oxburgh saying this to the media. Now, how quick change will come, or how much money Shell spends on sequestration and other 'environmental' activities will be interesting to watch.
 
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