ExxonMobil CEO warns vilifying oil industry hinders path to net zero emissions

Kevin Crowley, Bloomberg November 15, 2023

(Bloomberg) — ExxonMobil Corp. cautioned that branding the oil industry as “villains” and attempting to limit the supply of fossil fuels will impede progress toward achieving net zero emissions, potentially perpetuating poverty for millions in the developing world.

“The solutions to climate change have been too focused on reducing supply,” CEO Darren Woods said in a speech at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in San Francisco Wednesday. “That’s a recipe, for human hardship and a poorer world.”

Woods called for governments to “harness the industry’s capabilities for change” by providing taxpayer support for emissions-reducing technologies like carbon capture before market forces can take over. Attacking oil and gas companies for their role in climate change will only serve to keep net zero as an “aspiration” rather than a reality, he said. 

Exxon has ramped up its energy transition efforts over the past two years after losing a bruising proxy battle with activist investor Engine No. 1 at the height of the ESG movement. It plans to spend $17 billion over six years on low-carbon initiatives, and it recently acquired Denbury Inc., the largest carbon dioxide pipeline operator in the US, for about $5 billion. 

But Exxon is also spending big on oil and gas. It agreed to buy US shale driller Pioneer Natural Resources Co. last month in a deal valued at about $62 billion.

Woods is adamant that Exxon won’t reduce oil and gas production or invest heavily in renewable energy as his European peers have done. Instead, the Texas oil giant will invest in low-carbon technologies that complement fossil fuels such as carbon capture and hydrogen. 

“Oil and gas companies reliably provide affordable products essential to modern life,” he said. “Making them into villains is easy. But it does nothing – absolutely nothing – to accomplish the goal of reducing emissions.”

In unusually personal remarks, Woods talked about his commitment to the environment. 

“I’m a father and grandfather – who cares about his family, their quality of life, and their futures,” he said. “Which means I care very much about our environment and the health of our planet.”

He also attempted to draw a line under the multiple climate lawsuits that have dogged Exxon for much of the last decade. 

“I’m fully aware that there are many who question ExxonMobil’s commitment because of what was said over 30 years ago – or what they think Exxon knew back then,” he said. 

“Frankly, I’m more interested in what ExxonMobil knows today. Climate change is real. Human activity plays a major role.”

Woods ended the speech with an attempt to reverse the “ExxonKnew” slogan used by environmentalists to draw attention to the company’s efforts to downplay the impacts of climate change.

“We’ve got the tools, the skills, the size, and the intellectual and financial resources, to bend the curve on emissions,” he said. “That’s what ExxonMobil knows.”

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