Oil Uplift is Back on the Menu | The Saudi Oil Demand Sustainability Program
It’s a new year, and you’re off to a red hot start by opening AND READING at least one sentence of this newsletter. Looking good!
However, we must also mention the looking bad: that New York City went 701 days without receiving so much as an inch of snow. The longest such streak for the city in modern history. And even worse (for our productivity), Rollie decided to make an Instagram video per day until the snowless streak ended.
But luckily, nine days later, New York got exactly 1.4” of snow. And THANK GOD because, given the lack of snow since, it looks like Rollie narrowly avoided making QUITE A LOT of Instagram videos.
And, of course, we are quite possibly the only newsletter in the world to put the unsubscribe button this high up in the scroll. If you must, you must:
For the rest of you sticking around:
Fly You Foels
If you’ve never heard of an “oil uplift” before, it’s probably because you haven’t watched our latest video yet.
The same team that gave us Keith McCoy speed confessing Exxon’s secret strategy to undermine climate action is back! They’re called the Centre for Climate Reporting, and this time they posed as oil investors and recorded Saudi officials detailing their:
Oil Demand Sustainability Program.
Despite all the climate action talk from Saudi Arabia, somehow they just can’t quit oil. They really, really love it. And they aren’t going to let that oil love slip away just because they made a lot of announcements and videos and speeches that make it sound like they are.
Instead, they’ve developed a 46-point plan to drive oil demand in emerging markets (re: the low income portions of Asia and Africa), including:
New car-centric infrastructure (and not the electric kind of car, the kind that blows up little dollops of gasoline in the front part of the car).
Supersonic jets that use WAY more fuel than typical air travel.
Floating power barges that can burn Heavy Fuel Oil (after it’s been banned in a lot of other places because it’s an incredible source of pollution/emissions).
And yes, we understand that Saudi Arabia depends on oil for pretty much their entire economy, and it’s not really that surprising that they want to sell more oil. So much oil that in 2021 their energy minister described their future fossil fuel plans like this:
So yes, they almost certainly know the game they’re playing by announcing climate action plans, while plotting to increase fossil fuel use in other parts of the world. Luckily we know that game too.
And even more luckily, the International Energy Agency (IEA) knows that game extremely well.
And to save some of you a trip to Wikipedia, the International Energy Agency is an intergovernmental organization whose whole job is to analyze and predict changes in the world’s energy system and issue policy recommendations to its 31 member countries and 13 association countries. They just released an updated report all about how oil and gas companies need to transition away from fossil fuels.
And more on that in a couple hundred words, but first:
A message from our sponsor, Atmos
Here’s the thing: a ton of traditional banks invest a lot of money in fossil fuels. A LOT. The world’s 60 largest banks financed over 5 TRILLION dollars between 2016 and 2022. That’s more than the GDP of any country besides the U.S. and China. Think of a country besides the U.S. and China. Yes. It’s bigger than that country’s GDP. We even did a whole episode about it.
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Click on any of these words except this one to be whisked away to Atmos to check out their offerings. And honestly: you should at least check them out. Financing is one of the pillars of the fossil fuel industry – and if that industry is unwilling to join the climate transition, then we need to find ways to move on without them.
Atmos: put your money where the Climate Mouth™️ is (the Climate Mouth™️ is a good thing that invests money in climate action).
Shut It Down: the Oil and Gas Path to Net Zero
Let’s just start this off with a couple of direct IEA quotes (bolding by us):
“The uncomfortable truth that the industry needs to come to terms with is that successful clean energy transitions require much lower demand for oil and gas, which means scaling back oil and gas operations over time – not expanding them. There is no way around this. So while all oil and gas producers [need] to reduce emissions from their own operations, including methane leaks and flaring, our call to action is much wider.”
“To escape the narrowing walls of their businesses based on traditional fuels, producers need to embrace the clean energy economy.”
You can read all that and more in the International Energy Agency’s 224-page special report entitled The Oil and Gas Industry in Net Zero Transitions. And damn, “to escape the narrowing walls of their businesses” – that’s beautiful. WAY better writing than we typically see in a report like this.
What the hell, here’s another couple chunks:
“Oil and gas producers account for only 1% of total clean energy investment globally.”
“For the moment the oil and gas industry as a whole is a marginal force in the world’s transition to a clean energy system.”
Ohhh yeah baby, for all the BP solar farm commercials and ExxonMobil algae biofuel New York Times advertorials, all the fossil fuel producers combined account for a rounding error in the renewable energy ledger.
Well that really f*cking sucks.
But there’s always hope that these companies can FINALLY change. And to illustrate that hope, the IEA created three possible scenarios:
STEPS (Stated Policies Scenario) – based on what governments and companies are currently actually doing. Carry that out to 2050.
APS (Announce Pledges Scenario) – based on what governments and companies say they’re going to do (climate pledges, etc.). And carry that out to 2050.
NZE (Net Zero Emissions) – what it would actually take to get the “global energy sector” to net zero by 2050.
And those three scenarios give us these three nice-looking charts:
Basically, to actually get to net zero energy by 2050, we need to almost completely stop exploding oil and gas. We can use some oil for aviation and diesel trucks, and we can use some (methane) gas for power generation. But the devil-may-care-exploding-anything-for-energy needs to drop off drastically. And fast.
But wait– maybe there’s another way. If emissions are such a big problem:
Why not suck that CO2 right out of the air?
Now you’re thinking like some of the most powerful corporations in the world.
It’s called direct air capture (DAC) and the idea is to pull CO2 right out of the atmosphere using New Technologies™️. And Microsoft alone has been all over the place signing deals for massive amounts of carbon removal.
But does DAC really work?
Yeah it kinda does:
In 2021, Climeworks opened a facility in Iceland that can capture 4,000 metric tons per year.
A few months ago, Heirloom opened a facility in California that can pull 1,000 metric tons of CO2 a year.
But Microsoft signed deals with both of those companies for waaaaaay more than that – they’re looking for 315,000 tons from Heirloom and 1.3 million tons from Climeworks. And that’s just the beginning for one company.
But will DAC work as much as we need it to?
Not unless we transition away from fossil fuels. Let’s run another quote:
“Some producers have argued that levels of oil and gas demand much higher than those seen in the NZE Scenario could be consistent with achieving net zero emissions by 2050 by deploying much greater levels of CCUS and DAC. The difficulties in doing this should not be underestimated.”
So what happens if we just keep burning fossil fuels like we are now?
“If oil and natural gas consumption were to evolve as in the STEPS … to achieve net zero emissions in 2050 and limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, the DAC would require around 26,000 TWh of electricity to operate, more than global electricity demand in 2022.”
“And it would require over USD 3.5 trillion in annual investments all the way from today through to mid-century, which is an amount equal to the entire industry’s annual average revenue in recent years.”
That’s right – if we want direct air capture to fix climate change for us, we would need to spend more on DAC than we currently spend on all global energy production combined. And it would require more electricity than all of the current global electricity demand. AND we have to start doing it right now – if we wait, those numbers only get higher.
So while we will ABSOLUTELY need some amount of DAC to bail us out to a certain extent (which the report includes in the net zero scenario), carbon capture alone will not save us. Not even close.
So we really have to stop exploding so much oil and gas?
In conclusion: down it ought be shut.
Lightning Round (wait, wait there’s more)
That Concorde sound. There’s nothing like an earth-shattering boom to remind you that the richest people in the world were able to get from NYC to Europe twice as fast as a normal person.
From 1976 to 2003, the Concorde was the height of spending money to go really, really fast. For around $12,000 (in 2003 dollars – around $20,000 today), you could get a round trip ticket from NYC to London or Paris, on a plane that:
Made an incredibly loud boom when it broke the sound barrier – supersonic flight over land is “currently severely restricted” because of the insanely loud sonic boom.
Could make the normally seven hour flight from NYC to Paris in three and a half hours.
Could include Paul McCartney singing his own songs with the guitar he brought on board.
Maintained an open-door policy in the cockpit, allowing passengers to say hey to the pilots whenever they felt like it.
But the sonic booms wouldn’t last forever. A 2000 crash killing 113 people, followed by a downturn in air travel demand after 9/11 and increased costs, led to the end of the Concorde as Phil Collins and Sting knew it. Sting!
But now two decades have passed. And, while no one we’ve ever talked to has ever expressed an interest in supersonic aviation making a comeback, United Airlines, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and probably others are licking their lips like they’re looking at some delicious food.
But it’s not food. It’s bringing back supersonic travel, so they can make more money.
Three beautiful deportations. Okay, let’s rip the band-aid off this story right now: the three handsome dudes were not *actually* deported from Saudi Arabia for being too alluring, despite what dozens of digital media companies loudly published.
In the salacious-but-wrong version, three absolute smokeshow hunks from Abu Dhabi, led by the glistening adonis Omar Borkan Al Gala, attended the 2013 Jenadrivah Heritage & Cultural Festival in Saudi Arabia. Women were so involuntarily turned on by the three beefcakes that a crowd formed – Saudi officials sensed a sort of Lion King gazelle stampede was imminent, and promptly deported the three men.
Now I don’t care who you are: that’s a fun story. It’s basically an international Footloose. It’s got hunks, we get to feel superior to a bunch of prudes, no one got hurt, and the best part is we have a ton of pictures of the handsome devil Omar Borkan Al Gala. It was perfect for the loosely-researched, no-fact-check-required newscycle of 2013.
ALERT: IF YOU’D RATHER LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE THEY WERE HOT AND DEPORTED, SKIP TO THE NEXT SECTION.
But for the rest of you truth-seekers, there are a couple more things going on here than meets the eye:
Deportation is a long legal process that involves lawyers, sentencing, the works. The three men were asked to leave the festival by the “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice”, but that was the extent of the reprimand. Omar Borkan Al Gala was already scheduled to fly home that day, and the combination of being asked to leave a festival, then immediately flying out of the country was evidence enough for the Internet.
We really thought that Omar himself might have started the rumors that he was deported for being too hot. He was a model/aspiring social media influencer at the time, and this was an amazingly viral incident with a tenuous connection to reality, it just seemed like an inside job. But we watched a few interviews featuring Omar, and he was surprisingly cool about the whole thing. He also explicitly states he was never deported and that it was a rumor that got out of hand. He’s beautiful, he seems nice, and we believe him.
Official Rollie (no prize). Last month’s Official Rollie (no prize) task proved to be a joyous, and somewhat challenging, event. After more than ten minutes of searching, multiple readers have been declared Official Rollie (no prize). And we also have multiple newly discovered embarrassing pictures of Al Gore to enjoy.
But this month won’t be so easy. Well it is easy, but it’s hard to complete.
To achieve the rank of Official Rollie (no prize), you must correctly predict the next time it will snow in New York City:
Send us the exact date of Central Park’s next 1” (or more) snowfall.
Be right about the date.
If you complete both of those steps, we will send you nothing. There is no prize. But you will be declared an Official Rollie (no prize), and have your name printed in this newsletter.
And here are your Official Rollie (no prize) from our last newsletter:
Amelia Fernández Rodríguez
How about that, friend?
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Also, if you think you found a mistake, let us know. We try our very best to research and review our way to full accuracy, but it's a big world out there.
Edited and additional research by: Caroline Schaper
Art by: Kelsey Bravender
Legal support from: The Civil Liberties Defense Center
Executive produced by: Rollie Williams, Ben Boult, Nicole Conlan, and Matt Nelsen
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