As mentioned yesterday, ExxonMobil just announced the 2015 Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040, our set of projections about energy markets and the economy. We’ve been making the Outlook public in recent years as a service to policymakers. And we’ve been updating it internally for decades because it serves as the basis for our corporation’s business planning.
For the latter reason, obviously, it is crucial for us that our projections be as sober and objective as possible. Because tens of billions of investment dollars are at stake, the Outlook is not a picture of how we wish or hope the world will look, but how we expect it to.
Not everyone gets that point. An activist group called Oil Change International responded with a report taking aim at the Outlook.
The group’s chief complaint centers on the Outlook’s prediction that worldwide oil and natural gas consumption is expected to continue growing well into the middle of the century. To OCI, this and other projections in our Outlook (particularly those about renewables) are a “fantasy” based on “some very questionable assumptions.”
Speaking of questionable, let’s remember that Oil Change International is the group responsible for the odious “Exxon Hates Your Children” campaign that surfaced earlier this year. So perhaps it’s understandable that a group with a questionable grasp of both basic facts and simple decorum might be tempted to view our Outlook as wishful thinking on our part.
We don’t expect OCI to discontinue making false claims about us. But while the group soldiers on with allegations about the motives behind our Outlook projections, I will note that those projections are essentially in-line with those offered by a number of other non-corporate experts, like the International Energy Agency and the Energy Information Administration.
That is particularly helpful to keep in mind because both the IEA and the EIA are cited throughout the Oil Change International report as credible sources.
Consider two salient facts:
- ExxonMobil’s Outlook for Energy posits that 77 percent of global energy demand will be met by fossil fuels in 2040. The IEA’s World Energy Outlook, meanwhile, predicts that fossil fuels’ share will be 74 percent.
- ExxonMobil’s Outlook predicts that renewable energy like wind and solar will account for 3 percent of global energy use in 2040. The IEA’s prediction is hardly different at 5 percent.
There are some differences within the numbers, of course. For example, the IEA predicts that coal use will be higher in 2040 than we do. And we think there will be more natural gas used for electricity generation than IEA.
But by and large the numbers are far more similar than different.
Oil Change International suggests our Outlook should be treated “merely as a view of the company’s desired outcomes, based on convenient and collectively-unlikely assumptions.”
Their charge is rooted in a belief that we have a financial incentive to game the numbers.
As I explained above, given our skin in the game we have every incentive not to do that.
Still, here’s what has me puzzled: Oil Change International chalks up our numbers to supposed corporate greed and malfeasance by a large oil company. So what is their explanation for the extremely similar estimates offered by the International Energy Agency?
Update (12/11/14) – I notice that the World Wildlife Fund has issued a similarly off-base assessment of our Outlook. A WWF representative is quoted in a Bloomberg report saying, “ExxonMobil’s outlook is a company wish list fashioned up as a serious energy forecast… It tells us how the company wants to see the future, rather than a plausible projection of what might happen.”
Needless to say, the arguments that refute Oil Change International’s criticism apply here as well. Our projections need to be as exact as possible because we have billions of dollars of investments riding on them. It makes no sense for us to sketch out how we wish things might turn out, and a company that operates that way probably won’t stay in business too long.
I’ll ask WWF the same question I asked Oil Change International: Why does the International Energy Agency’s forecast of global energy trends differ so little from ours?