Unconventional oil and gas will fry climate: ExxonMobil report

ExxonMobil's influential global energy report, "The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040", says that new technologies like fracking and tar sands are unlocking a gusher of oil and natural gas.

Our ability to extract new sources of fossilized carbon is growing even faster than we can burn them up. ExxonMobil reports that the amazing surge in "unconventional" sources of oil and natural gas is so great that humanity can continue to burn ever increasing amounts of fossil carbon for well over a century.

And that is exactly what they expect the world will do.

The oil and gas giant expects humanity will meet two-thirds of our increased energy demand by choosing to burn even more oil and gas than we do now.

In contrast, they expect people to choose new renewable energy sources for less than a quarter of our new energy supply.

The result will be that renewable energy sources will continue to lose ground to fossil fuels through 2040 and beyond. The energy production gap between fossil fuels and renewable energy will grow 35% larger than it is today.

ExxonMobil's report paints a big, bright, beautiful picture of the future made possible by burning ever increasing amounts of fossil carbon. The pages of their report brim with happy people gazing at shimmering cell phones and jelly bean pretty charts.

Off the climate cliff

Unfortunately for most of humanity, all that extra fossil fuel burning also comes with one very big downside. If we do burn that much more fossil carbon the resulting climate pollution will crank the global thermostat up by 4OC. And that, scientists and global leaders say, will inflict climate misery on humanity for thousands of years.

ExxonMobil includes a colourful chart showing the surge in climate pollution that will result from burning all that extra oil and gas. They even provide the numerical data in a table at the end of the report.

What they don't talk about, however, is what all the climate pollution means for your future. They never mention how hot the planet will get or what changes that is expected to bring.

The missing chart

To find out what their expected levels of climate pollution will mean for us I turned to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA publishes three climate pollution scenarios that will lead to global warming of +2OC, +4OC and +6OC respectively.

My chart below shows ExxonMobil's emissions projections in the context of the IEA's three global warming scenarios. Take a look:


As you can see, ExxonMobil's projections closely match the IEA pathway to a planet that is 4OC hotter.

Their projections also closely match BP's "most likely" projections made last year. It seems the economic energy models of the oil supermajors agree that humanity will continue to burn ever more fossil carbon instead of switching to cleaner energy sources to preserve a safe climate future.

Climate scientists say that the threshold for "dangerous" climate changes and tipping points is +2OC. The nations of the world, including Canada and the USA, have pledged to keep global warming below this dangerous +2OC threshold.


The World Bank says the +4OC world we are headed for will be "devastating" for humanity. Their own recent study calls such a future a "climate catastrophe" that "simply must not be allowed to occur" because "there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible."

The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says climate changes at that level would pose an "existential challenge for the whole human race - our way of life, our plans for the future."

International Monetary Fund director stated bluntly that in a world that hot, "future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled."

Biz-as-usual will be even worse

Amazingly, ExxonMobil's emissions projections aren't a "business-as-usual" scenario.

They assume "that governments will continue to gradually adopt a wide variety of more stringent policies to help stem GHG emissions." This includes a carbon price rising to $80 per tonne of CO2 (tCO2) in OECD nations, like Canada and the USA.

A carbon price of $80 is much too low to prevent climate disaster according to ExxonMobil. And yet it is also far above what we have the political will for so far.

BC, Alberta and Canada

For example, here in BC we have one of the highest carbon prices in the world at $30 per tCO2. We would need to increase that $2 every year for twenty five years in a row to get to $80 by 2040. But the political will to increase it has evaporated. The current Clark government has declared a multi-year freeze on it.

As ExxonMobil's economic and energy modelling shows, $80 per tCO2 isn't a lot. Raising the BC Carbon Tax to $80 will increase gasoline prices by 9%. Gasoline prices in BC have increased ten times more than that in just the last few years. Over in the UK, gas taxes are 80 cents higher per litre than in BC. The BC Carbon Tax would need to rocket beyond $350 per tCO2 before our gasoline prices matched what the English already pay today.

These examples show why carbon prices will need to be higher than $80 to ensure a safe climate future.

Meanwhile, Alberta next door charged a carbon price of less than $1 per tonne of CO2 in their province last year. (Math: $160m paid in emissions compliance divided by 210m tCO2 from fossil fuel burning = $0.76 per tCO2).

Environment Canada projects that Alberta's extremely low carbon pricing will result in such a huge surge in climate pollution that the province will single-handedly wipe out all the climate cuts in all the rest of Canada.


Despite clear warning that their weak policies are leading to national failure, Alberta has never raised their carbon price. Even discussing charging more than their current $1 per tCO2 in the future is proving to be politically toxic.

At the national level, the Harper government has vilified carbon pricing for years as a socialist scheme that will destroy the economy. Recently, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that his long-promised climate regulations for our oil and gas sector would be delayed yet again. This time "indefinitely".

ExxonMobil reaps benefit, shirks responsibility

ExxonMobil benefits from selling fossil fuels but appears to take no responsibility for any of the climate damage their products cause.

They sold over a trillion dollars in fossil fuel products in the last three years. Profits approached a billion dollars a week. And yet the responsibility they assume for the megatonnes of CO2 their products will cause is zero. Their report mirrors this benefit-responsibility disconnect. They spend many pages talking about the benefits of their products and not a single word about the climate consequences of using them.

Studies show that the disconnect between who benefits from fossil fuels and who takes responsibility for the resulting CO2 is growing ever wider in recent years. More than 60% of global economic benefit from fossil fuels is now out of sync with the UN's decades-old carbon accounting system for CO2 responsibility.

The UN accounting system puts all the CO2 responsibility onto the nations that burn fossil fuels. But nations also benefit from selling fossil fuels to others and from consuming products and services made elsewhere using fossil fuels. The explosion in global trade in fossil fuels, products and services means that assigning all the CO2 responsibility to those burning fossil fuels no longer accurately reflects who benefits. The accounting system is full of "carbon responsibility leakages".

If we are going to avoid the "climate catastrophe" ExxonMobil's own data shows we are headed for, everyone who benefits from fossil fuels will need to start shouldering some of the responsibility for the climate pollution. That needs to happen for moral, fairness and successful policy reasons.

The outlook for different energy sources

I'll wrap up with a brief look at how ExxonMobil expects the different energy sources to evolve...

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Echoes of the 2013 BP Energy Report

Thank you for this sobering report. Both Esso and BP have reached the same conclusions:

Huge quantities of dirty oil are available.

They will make huge profits on this oil.

The consequences of burning all this dirty oil are seriously dangerous for all life on the planet.

They did warn us!



But the IPCC just told us that over the past 15 years the Earth has cooled! All the model were wrong, and we are saving so called scientists from the ice (in the middle of summer) in the Antartic. When did science become a religion? I thought it was about facts.

There is nothing to replace fossil fuels and nuclear...

Without them we starve in the dark....Slow motion apocalypse ...


Jeffrey Simpson wrote:

Thank you for this sobering report. Both Esso and BP have reached the same conclusions:

Huge quantities of dirty oil are available.

They will make huge profits on this oil.

The consequences of burning all this dirty oil are seriously dangerous for all life on the planet.

They did warn us!


The good news is that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere aids the growth of all plants, thus helps in the greening of the world.  Since for the past 16 to 18 years there has been an obvious disconnect between the increasing CO2 levels and the non-increase of global temperature, it's pretty clear that the models have to either be thrown out or at the least, greatly modified.  When the experiment doesn't support the hypothesis, the hypothesis is proven wrong in science.  Time to get back to science in this analysis.


CO2 accumulation models

I run my own models for atmospheric accumulation of CO2.

Under the rosiest of scenarios (modest population increases and eventual 90% reduction of CO2 emissions per capita), the atmospheric level rises to 600ppm by 2100.

Under "business as usual" conditions for population growth and per capita emissions, we are headed well past 1500ppm.

The first result is dangerous, but the second one is a harbinger of complete climate disaster, at least as far as the human population is concerned.

I'm too old to see 2100, but my grandson is not.  I greatly fear for his future.


Unconventional oil...

Jeffrey Simpson wrote:

Thank you for this sobering report. Both Esso and BP have reached the same conclusions:

Huge quantities of dirty oil are available.

They will make huge profits on this oil.

The consequences of burning all this dirty oil are seriously dangerous for all life on the planet.

They did warn us!

Be relaxed - you are being hyped to death by misinformation. The climate sensitiviey of CO2 has been hopelessly overhpyed and the role of water vapour in moderating the anticipated GHG effect has not even been part of the discussion; water vapour is the most important GHG!

No global warming in 16+ years – a fact acknowledged by all global expert climate institutions -  HadCRUT, NOAA, NASA, IPCC

No extreme weather trends, other than a trend toward more cold snaps in formerly tropical places. (Roger Pielke, Jr. US Senate Testimony; Madhav Khandekar “Extreme Weather...”)

No 97% consensus on AGW – only 1-3% of scientists stated any catastrophic view in 3 of 4 ‘consensus’ surveys; most scientists thought natural factors more influential and the greatest number did not express an opinion.

No global temperature rise despite a significant rise in carbon dioxide (CO2).

No sea level rise due to climate factors; in some places land is sinking or ‘rebounding’ from previous ice age and tilting (i.e. southern England down, northern Scotland up); or sinking due to land subsidence from ground water extraction. These factors are unrelated to climate change or global warming.

No such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’  Carbon is what you are made of – and you breath it out at 40,000 parts per million (ppm) with every breath.  Beer and champagne and soda are full of carbon dioxide; dance floors feature fog from dry ice carbon dioxide.