Op-ed: A $100 billion Big Oil divestiture plan is coming

The Johan Sverdrup oil discipline within the North Sea, operated by Equinor, is the third-largest oil discipline on the Norwegian continental shelf, with 2.7 billion barrels of oil equal. Equinor is planning to chop the carbon-intensity of vitality merchandise it sells by not less than 50% as a part of the vitality transition associated to local weather change.


Energy transition has climbed in the direction of the highest of the agenda within the boardrooms of the world’s largest oil and fuel firms. With electrification and renewable vitality on the rise, Big Oil is striving to adapt to a change that would finally render their enterprise out of date if they do not latch on to the alternatives it brings. The consequence may very well be an enormous sell-off of property as the largest petroleum gamers focus their oil and fuel manufacturing to the international locations the place oil and fuel is least expensive and best to provide.

The transition to renewable vitality poses a risk to grease and fuel manufacturing in the long term as photo voltaic and wind energy is increasing on the vitality provide aspect, whereas lower-cost electric vehicles and better battery technology are driving massive modifications on the worldwide oil demand aspect. Big oil firms have robust abilities inside vitality and personal property globally that they’ll use to stay aggressive because the transition proceeds. Some oil gamers can also select to only keep on with oil and fuel solely, however then they clearly have to be among the many greatest on this sport.

Regardless of technique, the large oil firms must scale down their world presence in oil and fuel by specializing in international locations with development potential the place oil and fuel manufacturing can ship important money circulate and revenue on the lowest doable value and carbon footprint.

Where $100 billion is up for grabs globally

Our evaluation of the geographic unfold and want for elevated focus for the big listed firms, additionally known as “Majors+” — U.S.-based ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips, and European gamers BP, Shell, Total, Eni and Equinor — concludes that these eight firms collectively might wish to promote asset value greater than $100 billion to focus on their most promising nation holdings. 

The oil majors have a protracted historical past of going wherever there’s cash to be made on oil and fuel, and have established presence in nearly each nook of the world. However, competitors has stiffened in lots of international locations as nationwide oil firms and governments have taken extra management of nationwide sources and the variety of small and medium-sized firms has elevated. We see this for instance in Indonesia and Malaysia, with state-owned firms Pertamina and Petronas, respectively, or in Norway and the United Kingdom, the place independents have elevated their function considerably.

This pattern has been happening for a few years, however now the vitality transition is placing much more strain on the majors as they see that renewables will even require a rising a part of future funding budgets. Equinor expects 15-20% of its investments to be directed in the direction of new energy solutions by 2030. BP whole capital expenditures in 2020 are anticipated to be round $12 billion, with the bulk spent on upstream oil and fuel targets, however it plans to increase its investments in low carbon projects to round $3-Four billion a yr by 2025 and $5 billion a yr by 2030.

They are nicely conscious of the necessity to focus their portfolios to enhance money circulate, effectivity and competitiveness because the vitality transition accelerates — however the steps they’ve taken up to now could also be too small or too gradual.

The broad geographical presence of the Majors+ means that also they are spreading their technical and administration sources out over numerous international locations. We have seemed on the dimension of the money circulate and development potential in every nation per firm, and mixed this with how the nation development potential ranks globally. Based on this we see that the largest eight publicly listed oil and fuel firms might search to exit 203 nation positions, shedding all of the property held in a rustic.

All the businesses would preserve a presence within the U.S., which has by far the most important development potential as a result of shale revolution. Canada would additionally see many firms keep for comparable causes, however most would exit the carbon-intensive oil sand manufacturing. On the opposite finish of the dimensions, we count on fairly a couple of international locations the place just one oil main can be more likely to keep. For instance: Argentina (BP), Ghana (Eni) and Guyana (ExxonMobil). In a few of these international locations it may very well be tempting for others to remain or enhance their presence because the competitors could also be extra restricted, equivalent to in Guyana, the place ExxonMobil has established a really robust place.

The high eight publicly listed oil and fuel firms on the earth might shed as a lot as $100 billion in property world wide, in accordance with a brand new evaluation from Rystad Energy, however that doesn’t imply they’re strolling away from fossil fuels in a rush.

Rystad Energy

In latest months we now have seen that the majors already are placing bigger portfolios up on the market. ExxonMobil has exited Norway and is planning a number of nation exits together with the U.Ok., Romania and Indonesia, whereas Royal Dutch Shell tried to exit a key LNG asset in Indonesia in 2019. This exhibits that they’re nicely conscious of the necessity to focus their portfolios to enhance money circulate, effectivity and competitiveness because the vitality transition accelerates — however the steps they’ve taken up to now could also be too small or too gradual.

Exiting international locations would liberate money that the majors may use to put money into renewables, if that’s their key development technique, or to pay dividends to their shareholders, even in difficult Covid-19 instances. If they do not wish to go down the renewable route, the capital may very well be used to strengthen prioritized nation positions by shopping for property from their friends or swapping property with different gamers.  

U.S.-based Big Oil is behind

A key purpose why some firms are much less aggressive on investing in renewables is the strategic perception that there’s a want for oil and fuel for a very long time, and so long as they’re among the many greatest in oil and fuel associated to profitability and emissions, they are going to do nicely. Another purpose may very well be that with all of the modifications happening throughout the renewable enterprise, they could select to be a follower somewhat than an early mover, who don’t at all times find yourself because the winners.

We count on many of those majors to promote extra of the property with high-emission depth to fulfill long-term targets for decreasing emissions and assist finance extra investments in renewables. This offers a double impact if emissions are measured per vitality unit being produced. This technique is already underway for European majors equivalent to Total, Shell and Equinor, which have dedicated to cut back the carbon depth from the vitality merchandise they promote by 50% to 60%. Eni aims to cut absolute emissions by 80% by 2050 and BP aims to be net zero on an absolute foundation throughout the carbon in its upstream oil and fuel manufacturing by 2050.

Compared with their Europe-based friends, the U.S. majors ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips are speaking decrease ambitions on carbon emissions.

For these firms, the result of the upcoming U.S. presidential election might have a major affect on their technique, as we count on the policies of a Democratic administration might search to cut back greenhouse fuel emissions from petroleum manufacturing and different sources extra quickly than these of a continued Republican administration. However, it’s not essentially simple for a brand new administration to make many modifications too rapidly in vitality politics on the local weather aspect, as additionally they might have to contemplate results on economics and vitality safety.

The problem and alternative for the Big Oil going ahead shall be to maneuver with vitality transition rushing up, with an enormous push for the renewables and decreasing emissions, however nonetheless additionally a big demand for oil and fuel, all in a context of modifications within the world energy steadiness and results of the continued Covid-19 epidemic.     

By Tore Guldbrandsøy, senior vp, and Ilka Haarmann, analyst, at Rystad Energy

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