Environmental organizations have been shining a harsh light on banks—specifically, the fact that they have been lending hundreds of billions of dollars to gas and oil companies in recent years. In the past three years, for instance, JPMorgan Chase alone lent over $268 billion to gas and oil companies. One Chase-funded project will lay 337 miles of oil pipeline across Minnesota. Such projects have led to rising calls for financial institutions to drop their investments in fossil fuels.
Even before the crash in demand brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, oil was losing momentum. In 2019, energy was the worst-performing sector on the S&P, with analysts predicting that declining gas consumption would lead to decreased oil demand by the early 2030s. Any company that does not adapt to the new energy reality “will fail to exist,” according to the heads of the Banks of England and France.
Some oil companies, like ExxonMobil and Chevron, have stayed true to oil, hoping to outlast competitors. Shell, by contrast, has sought to continue with oil and gas while also expanding into other sectors such as plastics and electric power. And last year, Shell made a notable pledge: It committed to reducing its emissions by up to 3% by 2021 and by about 65% by 2050, and the organization tied its executives’ compensations to those targets. “The future of energy needs to evolve as something else, and we find a role for ourselves in it,” Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told Time.
Shell’s decision to cut emissions followed heavy pressure from investors as well as protests and rising consumer sentiment against Big Oil. But oil companies will have to navigate a tricky path between a growing number of investors wary of having oil in their portfolio and shareholders eager to reap rewards from their bets on a risk-rich sector.
“This article appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of IQ Insigniam Quarterly, with the headline “Financing Fossil Fuels.” To begin receiving IQ, go here.”