Alternate Energy Not in Cards at ExxonMobil
28th October, 2005
ExxonMobil, which stunned Americans on Thursday by reporting nearly $10 billion in profit for the third quarter, says it has no plans to invest any of those earnings in developing alternative or renewable energy -- something other oil companies do.
"We're an oil and gas company. In times past, when we tried to get into other businesses, we didn't do it well. We'd rather re-invest in what we know," says Exxon spokesman Dave Gardner.
Neither will Exxon significantly step up how much money it puts into finding oil or refining it into gasoline, which could help ease tight supplies that have driven oil and gasoline prices to records this year.
Exxon's investment for those activities will total about $18 billion this year, roughly what was planned and similar to what Exxon has invested in exploration and refining in past years, Gardner says.
"We do that in good times and bad," he says. "The returns this year might look very large, but there were years when they weren't so large. In years when we had $10 (per barrel) oil, we were investing $15 billion in our business. This year, we'll invest $18 billion." Oil is about $61 a barrel.
Illustrating the feast-or-famine cycle in the oil industry, ExxonMobil earned $7.9 billion for all of 1999.
Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that the 20 big energy companies it tracks, together, earned $1.6 billion in the fourth quarter of 2001, and together earned less than $10 billion in several other quarters in 2001 and 2002.
Exxon notes it boosted the energy efficiency of its own refineries and chemical plants more than 3% last year vs. 2003, and is investing $100 million over 10 years in a Stanford University project to find energy sources not yet being considered.
Nevertheless, Exxon's huge profits and its reluctance to use them for alternative energy development are unlikely to win much applause from motorists weary of $3 gas, suspicious that the current decline in prices will be short-lived, and hoping either for plenty of gas on the market or for a cheaper alternative.
The Sierra Club, an environmental group often critical of the auto and energy industries, said Thursday: "Americans want clean sources of energy that protect public health, reduce pollution, curb global warming, and save consumers money. Instead, ExxonMobil has worked to make America more dependent on oil."
"We can debate what percentage of the profits should be plowed back into the company and what percentage belongs to the shareholders. Not being a shareholder, I'd prefer to see them err in the direction of spending a larger portion on refineries and new (oil and gas) fields and infrastructure," says Peter Beutel, author of Surviving Energy Prices and head of energy consultant Cameron Hanover.
Chevron, which is to report earnings today, plans to boost capital spending and exploration investment 20% this year, to $10 billion. Spokesman Donald Campbell says that amount has risen most years, but not by 20%.
He also notes that Chevron has spent $1 billion since 2000 developing alternative energy, renewable energy and methods of using energy more efficiently. Among those projects is a partnership with automaker Hyundai on a hydrogen-refueling station in Chino, Calif., for the handful of non-polluting fuel-cell vehicles being tested in the USA.
Investments by oil companies in alternative and renewable fuel development are common, which makes Exxon's stance stand out.
For instance Shell, which reported third-quarter earnings of $9.03 billion, up 68% from a year earlier, has a unit dedicated to solar and wind energy. It's called Shell Renewables, and the energy company considers it one of its five core business operations.
Shell also has a global hydrogen unit. Among other projects, it operates a hydrogen-refueling station for fuel-cell cars in suburban Washington, D.C.