COPENHAGEN — More than almost any other industry, oil has a lot hanging in the balance as world leaders meet here to discuss a low-carbon future. The world’s two largest publicly traded companies, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, together earned nearly $8 billion in the last quarter alone. They are leaders in an industry that employed more than 350 lobbyists in Washington during the first six months of 2009. Shell secured the lobbying expertise of a former U.S. senator. Exxon hired a former staffer for the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Each company now has proxies here in Copenhagen who sit through meetings and participate on panels. Yet unlike most industries, their representatives have shied away from discussing what they want from the talks and whether they think they’ll get it. The industry-backed International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association is scheduled to hold a side event next week featuring Chevron, Canada’s Nexen, Brazil’s Petrobras, Norway’s Statoil, and France’s Total — some of the biggest names in the biz. But an association rep declined to discuss the industry’s message with ICIJ.
In fact, no one seems to be talking. Officials from Exxon and Shell declined to be interviewed in Copenhagen, though they spoke with ICIJ during the October climate negotiations in Bangkok.
“This isn’t a place for lobbying,” Exxon’s Brian Flannery told us back then. “All the industry associations recognize their key issue is to work at home, with their governments, in their capitals.” Flannery said he attends the talks to network — which in turn makes it easier for his company to lobby at home. “You form contacts all over the world, people you know who will answer the phone because they respect you.”
Royal Dutch Shell sees carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a cornerstone of the solution — as do many countries and most carbon-intensive industries. While Shell refused to speak with ICIJ here, its climate change adviser David Hone was also more talkative in Bangkok. Shell wants CCS included as a way for companies to offset their emissions. Brazil — a country less likely to benefit from the technology — doesn’t agree. Hone described Shell’s response: “We have put some effort into talking with the Brazilian government to understand their concerns and see if there’s a way around that,” he explained. “It’s a combination of sitting down with delegates or legislators, organizing presentations for groups of them or their staff… Talking to the delegates opens doors for people back in Shell Brazil, who may then go and have a follow-up conversation.”
In contrast to the oil lobby in Copenhagen, some coal industry officials here are more talkative. The coal lobby is a major force on climate policy from China and Australia to the EU and the United States. Consider the comments of Jim Rogers of Duke Energy, a top U.S. electric power company. More than 50 percent of Duke’s energy comes from coal. Rogers, in fact, points out that if his company were considered one of the 192 countries at the talks this week, it would rank 41st in emissions. “We’re not applying for country status,” he jokes, “although maybe we should to be part of the negotiations.”
Rogers is eager to discuss how his company works to reduce its carbon footprint while shaping U.S. policy. “The conventional wisdom here is there will not be any meaningful agreement unless the U.S. is prepared to deal,” he says of Copenhagen. “My mission here is to let people know we’re serious about this, but there are some serious issues to resolve, like credit for reforestation, China, and India.”
“My belief is the coal industry ought to be supporting sensible policy,” he adds, “and putting all of their energy in coming up with technology that allows us to use their product in a low-carbon world.”
Rogers says he had the opportunity to discuss his concerns during a Wednesday meeting with President Obama. His goal: to help get a sympathetic group of senators to push a climate bill through the U.S. Congress. “My strategy is to focus on 15 to 17 moderate Democratic senators and eight to 10 moderate Republicans,” he explains. “I do think they’ve been receptive.”