Saturday, August 8, 2009

ExxonMobil: Green Company of the Year

Oil from algae? Just a sideshow, Exxon's real thrust into green energy is a big bet on natural gas.

Sea of green: In Qatar, Exxon is building the world's largest plants to make liquefied natural gas.

Christopher Helman, 08.05.09, 06:00 PM EDT Forbes Magazine dated August 24, 2009
Oil from algae? Just a sideshow, Exxon's real thrust into green energy is a big bet on natural gas.
Sea of green: In Qatar, Exxon is building the world's largest plants to make liquefied natural gas.
There are two ways for a big oil company to go green. There is the political approach and there is the engineer's approach.

Purely political: the grand announcement in July that ExxonMobil would put $600 million into algae farms that would turn sunlight into automotive fuel. It takes a leap of faith to think tanks of algae can compete with oil wells, even allowing for the advantage that biofuels would have in a world of carbon permits (or carbon taxes). But the algae project buys ExxonMobil some peace with environmentalists. Since taking the helm in 2006, ExxonMobil boss Rex W. Tillerson has worked hard to soften the company's stance on climate change; he is not as gruff and forceful as his predecessor Lee R. Raymond in dismissing global-warming alarmists.
The engineering solution to the matter of carbon in the atmosphere: Drill for natural gas. Per unit of energy delivered, methane releases 40% to 50% less carbon dioxide than coal and a quarter less than petroleum. Coal fuels half of U.S. power generation. Replacing all of it with methane would cut CO2 emissions by 1 billion tons a year. Could windmills come close to that in reducing greenhouse gases? Not easily. To get the same emissions reduction you would have to replace half of power plant coal with 80,000 giant turbines covering 400,000 acres of ground. "Natural gas is the answer to green-energy low-carbon concerns," says Neil Duffin, president of ExxonMobil's project development company.
ExxonMobil's bet on natural gas best comes into focus 7,900 miles away from its Irving, Tex. headquarters, in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. There ExxonMobil is nearing completion of a $30 billion project to develop the world's biggest natural gas field. Four giant plants, the biggest of their kind, will chill the gas into liquefied natural gas for loading onto thermos-bottle tankers (also the biggest) and shipment to ports around the world.
The Qatar megaproject will by next year boost ExxonMobil's gas production 12% to 9.9 billion cubic feet a day, and vault the company into first place as the world's biggest natural gas producer not controlled by a government. Qatar volumes will help increase total oil and gas output roughly 5% to the energy equivalent of 4.3 million barrels of oil a day. The country will contribute an estimated 7% of ExxonMobil's pretax earnings (which were $55 billion in the last 12 months). All the big oil companies are drifting away from petroleum into natural gas, and for the same two reasons that Exxon is: Gas is cleaner-burning and still plentiful. With Qatar, Exxon has gotten ahead of its competition.
At the moment natural gas looks like a terrible business. The recession has led to a 10% drop this year in industrial demand. In the U.S. the price of gas has plunged to $3.50 per million British thermal units (more or less the same as 1,000 cubic feet), from a peak of $11 a year ago. This contributed to Exxon's 66% plunge in second-quarter earnings. A surge in supply could send prices even lower. New projects in such countries as Yemen, Russia and Indonesia are expected to push up volumes of liquefied natural gas 50% in the next two years. At that point LNG will account for 12% of global gas supply. Meanwhile, drillers are using innovative rock-cracking techniques in the tricky shale deposits of Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere; in five years they've found at least 500 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas, roughly 20 years of U.S. demand.

Page: 1 2 Next >

No comments: