Oil and gas industry officials tell of ‘climate backlash’

Despite holding over half the world’s oil and gas reserves, the Middle East and North Africa region is responsible for just a third of oil production and a sixth of gas, as the industry struggles to stay competitive. (AFP)
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Updated 19 December 2019

Oil and gas industry officials tell of ‘climate backlash’

  • Concerns about climate change are 'causing the energy sector to be unfairly maligned'
  • 'Carbon emissions will continue' as long as Asian keeps building coal-fired power stations

DUBAI: Signs are starting to emerge of a backlash against the oil and gas sector for its contribution to global warming, putting the industry at risk of being labeled the “new Big Tobacco,” according to prominent energy industry figures.

Majid Jafar, CEO of Crescent Petroleum, the region’s first and largest privately owned oil and gas company, made the observation while taking part in a panel discussion on Tuesday at the SALT conference in Abu Dhabi.

Speaking as someone who was “proud to work in an industry that has transformed human standards of living over the last century,” Jafar said the oil and gas sector was being “unfairly maligned,” especially with the advent of electric vehicles, and that its role was being “misconstrued” by activists and the press.

Citing figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA), he added: “While many people are focusing on electric cars, the reality is that natural gas substituting for coal has had 100 times greater impact in lowering emissions over the last five years than the 5 million electric cars today.”

Jafar advised the public to “go beyond the headlines” in order to understand the bottom line of the impact the industry is having on climate change.

While he supports young people in the West trying to campaign and draw attention to the threat of climate change, he said carbon emissions would continue, and might increase, as long as Asia keep on building coal-fired power stations.

In the current scenario, any efforts by the West to curb carbon emissions would be akin to “rearranging the furniture in a bedroom while the living room is on fire,” he said, adding that the climate crisis is in need of global action.

Jafar’s concerns were amplified by David Darst, chief investment officer at The Family Office, who said in a separate session at the SALT conference that the oil sector has been “tobaccoized.”

Discussing the challenge of “managing change in a time of digital transformations,” Darst said it was important to understand the difference in the levels of influence commanded by “big data” companies and the largest oil and gas companies.

“The market capitalization of Apple alone is $1.1 trillion. This is equal to the market cap of the entire energy sector of the US, which includes such oil companies as ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips,” he added.

Were Apple to disappear, people would move on to Samsung, Darst said. But if the same happened to ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, “the world would be on its knees.”

Even so, signs of a backlash against energy companies can be seen in the case of the University of California investment system, Darst said, pointing out that the university, which has a $17 billion endowment and a $70 billion pension fund for its employees, recently took its assets out of hydrocarbon stocks. 

Against this backdrop of mounting challenges, Jafar pointed to developments such as Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering as a new model of partnerships with the private sector that could help the energy industry regain its competitiveness once again.

The Middle East and North Africa region, which holds half of the world’s oil and gas reserves, is responsible for a third of the world’s oil production and a sixth of its gas production, he said.

“We’re punching way below our weight,” Jafar said, adding that over the last decade, the Middle East oil and gas industry had given up a significant amount of its market share to its American counterparts.

SALT, run by Scaramucci, who as well as working at the White House  was also a successful financier, is holding its first conference in the Middle East in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Global Market, aiming to identify global collaboration opportunities in finance, technology and geopolitics.


Minister: ‘Mind-blowing’ prospects for Saudi mining

Updated 25 January 2020

Minister: ‘Mind-blowing’ prospects for Saudi mining

  • Bandar Alkhorayef, the Kingdom’s minister for industry, says multibillion riyal program underway

DAVOS: The opportunities presented by Saudi Arabia’s mining industry are “mind-blowing,” the country’s minister for industry and mineral resources told Arab News.

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bandar Alkhorayef — who was appointed to the newly created post last summer — said many of the Kingdom’s mineral resources were “untapped,” and that a multibillion-riyal investment program was now underway to find and exploit new sources of natural wealth.

Saudi Arabia has launched a five-year geological survey of its natural resources, hoping to identify and quantify new wealth in the form of gold, phosphates and other valuable minerals.

Some experts believe that the Kingdom could be a source of precious earth metals valued in hi-tech production processes.

If these are found in significant quantities, it could help stimulate domestic high-tech manufacturing processes in Saudi Arabia.

“The government has linked mining with industry. We’ll export raw materials of course, but we’re more interested in the wider value chain,” Alkhorayef said.

A new mining law will soon be enacted, allowing for a revamped regulatory regime in the mining industry, and new investment in mining infrastructure that could reach tens of billions of riyals, he said, adding: “It shows you how serious we are about the mining industry.”

He joined the government after 26 years at the top of private sector business, with the Alkhorayef Group industrial conglomerate.

“The core of the Vision 2030 strategy is to diversify the economy, and industry and mining are key parts of that. My view as a minister is to be an enabler for the transformation of those sectors,” he said.

A key agency is the Saudi Industrial Development Fund, which aims to distribute funds to the private sector to encourage expansion.

Its available capital has been increased from SR65 billion ($17.3 billion) to $100 billion, and its mandate has changed to cover new industrial and technological sectors, Alkhorayef said.

“Both industry and mining are capital intensive and need long-term stability and visibility. Our aim is to be profitable in order to compensate investors for the risk they take,” he added.

 

“Investors always look at risk and return, and they make decisions based on that. Our vision is to open up opportunities for local and foreign investors.”

His ministry is also closely involved in the rollout of the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program, the big strategy to transform the Saudi economy launched a year ago by encouraging investment in economic growth via the creation of special economic zones across the Kingdom.

“It’s going great,” Alkhorayef said. Two zones have already been opened in Riyadh and Jeddah, and there are further projects under review.

He met with investors in the logistics sector while in Davos, and further investment is expected.

He said in Saudi Arabia’s case, the advantages presented to investors by the Kingdom’s natural resources, demographics and geographical location outweigh any geopolitical risk.

Alkhorayef added that it is relatively risk-free in terms of currency fluctuations because of the dollar peg and freedom of capital. “I worked in a global company, so I understand those kinds of risks,” he said.

Decoder

Saudi Arabia’s National Industrial Development and Logistics Program

The National Industrial Development and Logistics Program aims to transform the Saudi economy by encouraging investment in economic growth via the creation of special economic zones across the Kingdom.