The world’s biggest fossil fuel firms are quietly planning scores of oil and gas projects that would drive the climate past internationally agreed temperature limits with catastrophic impacts.
The lure of colossal payouts in the years to come appears to be irresistible to the oil companies, despite the world’s climate scientists stating in February that further delay in cutting fossil fuel use would mean missing our last chance “to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all”.
The Guardian’s investigation has found that in the next seven or so years, they are likely to start producing oil and gas from projects that would ultimately deliver 192bn barrels, the equivalent of a decade of today’s emissions from China.
A third of the short-term expansion plans of oil and gas would come from “unconventional” and riskier sources. These include fracking and ultra-deep offshore drilling, which are inherently more dangerous – as the oil and gas companies drill deeper, the number of spills, injuries and blowouts increase.
The 192bn barrels are split roughly 50:50 between liquids, including crude oil, and gas. Burning this would produce 73bn tonnes of CO. But methane routinely leaks from gas operations and is a powerful greenhouse gas, trapping 86 times more heat than CO over 20 years. Including this impact, at a standard supply-chain leak rate of 2.3%, means the equivalent of 97bn tonnes of CO added to the atmosphere and driving faster towards climate hell.
Asad Rehman, a leading climate justice activist, explained, “Only the colonial mindset of political leaders in rich countries can make the brutal calculation that the interest of fossil fuel giants and their billions in profit is more important than the lives of people who are overwhelmingly black, brown and poor.”
The fossil fuel industry’s short-term expansion plans involve the start of oil and gas projects that will produce greenhouse gases equivalent to a decade of CO emissions from China, the world’s biggest polluter.
These plans include 195 carbon bombs, gigantic oil and gas projects that would each result in at least a billion tonnes of CO emissions over their lifetimes, in total equivalent to about 18 years of current global COemissions. About 60% of these have already started pumping.
The dozen biggest oil companies are on track to spend $103m a day for the rest of the decade exploiting new fields of oil and gas that cannot be burned if global heating is to be limited to well under 2C.
The Middle East and Russia often attract the most attention in relation to future oil and gas production but the US, Canada and Australia are among the countries with the biggest expansion plans and the highest number of carbon bombs. The US, Canada and Australia also give some of the world’s biggest subsidies for fossil fuels per capita.
The US, the world’s largest extractor of oil, is poised to unleash these fossil fuels in spectacular volumes. Planned drilling projects across US land and waters will release 140bn metric tons of planet-heating gases if fully realised, placing the world on track for disastrous climate change.