Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI New staff
NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — There’s no bigger player in the fossil-fuel industry than ExxonMobil. The world’s largest oil company extracts nearly 100 million barrels of fuel daily and has no plans of stopping.
Exxon’s executive in charge of oil and gas drilling around the world, Stephen Greenlee, spoke Aug. 27, not far from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography where he earned his master’s degree in 1981. Greenlee’s message of “a case for exploration” in “an era of resource abundance,” adapted from a quarterly shareholder report, conflicts with the view shared by many environmentalists and climate scientists who call for a wholesale shift away fossil-fuel exploration and extraction in order to achieve dramatic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.
Greenlee used industry terms such as “unconventional technologies” and “tight oil” to describe natural-gas and oil extraction from the relatively new practices of horizontal drilling, fracking shale gas, and tar sands drilling. “Shooting seismic” means sonar surveys for offshore drilling.
From this perspective, it shows what is driving the growth in new natural-gas power plants (woods of Burrillville), liquefaction projects (Providence waterfront), and other fossil-fuel infrastructure around the world.
Scientists maintain that climate emissions have to cease, while Exxon projects they will stay flat. Instead of investing in wind and solar energy, Exxon believes that emerging technologies such as algae biofuels and carbon capture will keep the global temperature from reaching the benchmark 2-degree-Celsius increase.
Greenlee described the rebound from losing the drilling project in the Arctic Circle in 2014 because of U.S. sanctions against Russia. Exxon also lost drilling sites in Kurdistan, Iraq, and Liberia due to geopolitical factors.
Most audience members seemed to appreciate Greenlee’s vision for fossil-fuel exploration. However, there were questions about climate change and oil and gas drilling in developing countries like Guyana and Papua New Guinea.
“I go to jail if there are any bribes,” Greenlee said.
When asked about climate change, Greenlee discussed the struggle between demand for fossil fuels and carbon emissions.
“It’s a super-hard question and none of us can answer that,” he said.
Greenlee made the case for exploration off the coastal United States to know what reserves are available.
“At some point it might be useful to know what's out there,” he said.