We’re Supposed To Be Done Finding New Oil and Gas. We’re Not.

Climate Oil and Gas
We’re Supposed To Be Done Finding New Oil and Gas. We’re Not.

Oil and gas reserves discovered and approved just since 2021 would add an entire year of China’s emissions to the atmosphere. That’s according to a new analysis from Carbon Brief, using Global Energy Monitor Data, and boy is it grim.

A total of 14 billion tons of carbon dioxide are locked up in the new reserves. About 8 billion of that is in brand new discoveries just in 2022 and 2023, with the other 6 billion from previously known reserves newly approved in the last few years. This fossil fuel bonanza is spread around the world, with some areas with brand new or burgeoning industries like Guyana and Namibia playing a big role.

This is not how it is supposed to go right now. In 2021, researchers published a study in Nature that estimated nearly 60 percent of oil and fossil gas needed to remain tucked away in the ground in order to have a chance at limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the ambitious (and now likely lost) target set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement. And that was the oil and gas we knew about then.

“Furthermore, we estimate that oil and gas production must decline globally by 3 per cent each year until 2050,” those researchers added. That’s, uh, not what’s happening so far.

Also in 2021, the International Energy Agency released its first “Net Zero by 2050” roadmap, laying out the pathway to actually decarbonize the world’s economy. In it, a familiar refrain: “Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway.”

Then, last year, from Oil Change International, an update: “As of 2023, developed oil and gas reserves alone, if fully extracted, would cause cumulative carbon emissions nearly 25% greater than the world’s remaining 1.5°C carbon budget.” The analysis went on to say that meeting the 1.5-degree target would actually require shutting down at least 20 percent of the already-developed oil and gas fields around the world.

And instead of following literally any of this advice, the Exxons and Shells and so on keep on finding more recoverable oil and gas, and keep on getting new development approved, and keep on drilling more and more of it up for us to burn. And most of the new oil and gas is, in fact, from publicly traded oil companies like those — though far and away the single biggest player is the National Iranian Oil Company, with around 5 billion barrels or so. That’s enough to produce a year of Brazil’s carbon emissions. The next three on the list are France’s TotalEnergies, ExxonMobil, and Italian oil company Eni.

At COP28 in Dubai in December, the world agreed to transition away from fossil fuels. It was a tepid agreement, rife with loopholes, but groundbreaking nonetheless — the previous 27 U.N. climate conferences had managed no such thing. The oil industry, though, simply doesn’t care. Until the countries that signed that agreement in Dubai start enforcing it in one way or another, they will simply keep doing this.

At the energy confab known as CERAWeek in Houston last month, oil executives seemed to celebrate a “visibly failing” energy transition. Exxon’s CEO Darren Woods recently blamed the public for failing to deal with climate change, and more or less admitted the industry would much rather just keep making money than change in any way. Something like $250 billion in mergers over the past year, from Chevron’s purchase of Hess to ExxonMobil’s grab of Pioneer Natural Resources, do not paint a picture of an industry in decline.

Meanwhile, March was the tenth consecutive month that was the warmest such month on record. Scientists are openly wondering if this is a blip within the broader warming trend, or if some scary new era of climate change is upon us. And apparently, no one is willing or able to get in oil industry’s way.

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