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.


HSBC, StanChart shares fall to 22-year lows

Updated 22 September 2020

HSBC, StanChart shares fall to 22-year lows

  • Falls follow reports on movements of allegedly illicit funds; shares fall amid wider selloff in stocks

LONDON: HSBC’s shares in Hong Kong and Standard Chartered’s in London fell on Monday to their lowest since at least 1998 after media reports that they and other banks, including Barclays and Deutsche Bank, moved large sums of allegedly illicit funds over nearly two decades despite red flags about the origins of the money.

BuzzFeed and other media articles were based on leaked suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed by banks and other financial firms with the US Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen).

HSBC shares in London fell as much as 5 percent to 288 pence, their lowest intraday level since 2009, after the lender’s Hong Kong shares earlier touched a 25-year low. The stock has now nearly halved since the start of the year.

StanChart dropped as much as 4.6 percent in London to its lowest since 1998, against the backdrop of a broader sell-off in the market with the STOXX European banks index down 4.8 percent.

More than 2,100 SARs, which are in themselves not necessarily proof of wrongdoing, were obtained by BuzzFeed News and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and other media organizations.

In a statement to Reuters on Sunday, HSBC said “all of the information provided by the ICIJ is historical.” The bank said that as of 2012 it had embarked on a “multi-year journey to overhaul its ability to combat financial crime.”

StanChart said in a statement it took its “responsibility to fight financial crime extremely seriously and have invested substantially in our compliance programs.”

Barclays said it believes it has complied with “all its legal and regulatory obligations, including in relation to US sanctions.”

The most number of SARs in the cache related to Deutsche Bank, whose shares fell 5.2 percent on Monday. In a statement on Sunday, Deutsche Bank said the ICIJ had “reported on a number of historic issues.”

“We have devoted significant resources to strengthening our controls and we are very focused on meeting our responsibilities and obligations,” a spokesperson for the bank said.

London-headquartered HSBC and StanChart, among other global banks, have paid billions of dollars in fines in recent years for violating US sanctions on Iran and anti-money laundering rules.

The files contained information about more than $2 trillion worth of transactions between 1999 and 2017, which were flagged by internal compliance departments of financial institutions as suspicious. 

The ICIJ reported the leaked documents were a tiny fraction of the reports filed with FinCEN. HSBC and StanChart were among the five banks that appeared most often in the documents, the ICIJ reported.

“It confirms what we already knew — that there are huge numbers of SARs being filed with relatively low numbers of cases brought through to prosecution,” said Etelka Bogardi, a Hong Kong-based financial services regulatory partner at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.