HOUSTON—The oil and gas industry has faced ongoing scrutiny over its role in climate change, but Royal Dutch Shell’s (NYSE: RDS.A) CEO said the company has put the issue at the top of its concerns.
At CERAWeek by IHS Markit on March 7, Ben van Beurden outlined how Shell executives have focused on initiatives to combat carbon emissions as climate change concerns continue to alarm the industry.
Van Beurden said Shell has shifted strategy to focus on becoming a world-class investment case and thriving through the upcoming changes in the energy system, all the while being environmentally sound in its actions.
“Shell’s net carbon footprint ambition is aimed at keeping the company in step with society’s progress. We aim to bring down the net carbon footprint of our energy products by around half by 2050,” he said. “The ambition goes far beyond just improving the energy efficiency of our assets.”
Stuck between the conundrums—presented by critics—of reevaluating the extraction of the 1.9 million barrels per day (MMbbl/d) of oil that Shell produces or focusing on the 6 MMbbl/d that is put into society each day, van Beurden said it was an easy choice.
In fact, he said Shell plans to transform its product mix by upping natural gas from 50% to 75% in the mix. Van Beurden said less than 15% of greenhouse gases come from Shell bringing its product to market, while the lingering 85% is due to use by Shell consumers. By changing the mix of it products, he said the company will make the biggest difference on emissions.
These efforts are in response to, not just critic, but also van Beurden’s growing concern that the issue has become “fatally undermined.”
“There is no other issue with the potential to seriously disrupt our industry on such deep and fundamental levels as climate change,” van Beurden said.
To start, van Beurden said becoming a world-class investment case starts with discipline in capex and operational expenditures; program of divestments; the high grading of their portfolio; and in ramping up new profitable projects.
For Shell, he said discipline in those areas results in strong free cash flow, high returns on investments and lower debt. “All of these add up to financial strength which maximizes our distributions to shareholders,” van Beurden said.
“Achieving the best total shareholder return in the sector is what we [Shell] is aiming for and how we will measure our success, and sustaining it overtime should result in Shell again becoming and remaining the most valuable company in the sector.”
Alongside driving financial success, van Beurden intends to strive for a lower carbon future simultaneously. In his view, the two are “inseparable.”
Without abandoning oil and gas—since there will always be a global need in his view—van Beurden said the goal is to find the business opportunities during the inevitable changes that will arise.
For example, an idea he divulged was offsetting emissions with nature-based solutions like replanting forests in parts of the world where costumers would pay 1 cent to 2 cents per liter at the pump to fund the effort, which he called “decarbonizing operations.”
Decarbonizing operations falls in line with the last ambition of the company, which is being valued for making real contributions in both people’s lives and in the industry.
Whether it is through providing jobs, creating more energy but less carbon and/or making it globally easier to access cleaner energy, he said it’s all about the costumer considering Shell products impacts people’s lives.
Adamant about the alarming nature of climate change and the even more dangerous issue of ignoring the issue, van Beurden warned attendees that “the energy landscape is changing fast, so we must change.”
But he insisted, “change is an opportunity as well.”
May Holcomb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.