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New Greenpeace Report Exposes Big Tech Connection to Big Oil

by Valentina Stackl

May 19, 2020

The report, Oil in the Cloud: How Tech Companies are Helping Big Oil Profit from Climate Destruction, shows how Silicon Valley is helping Big Oil make the climate crisis worse.

© Les Stone / Greenpeace

May 19th, 2020. San Francisco, California. A new Greenpeace USA report shows how Silicon Valley is helping Big Oil make the climate crisis worse. The report, Oil in the Cloud: How Tech Companies are Helping Big Oil Profit from Climate Destruction [1],  exposes how the world’s biggest cloud companies are helping oil corporations discover, extract, refine, and distribute oil and gas. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are getting rich through lucrative contracts for cloud computing and other artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for oil and gas companies while at the same time undermining their own climate goals. At present, the carbon emissions from these contracts are out of scope of the tech companies’ carbon reporting, thus concealing the impact their technologies have on our changing climate. 

As the oil and gas industry confronts the end of the oil age and deteriorating earnings, major oil corporations such as Shell, BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil have turned to the cloud giants and their high powered computing capabilities to find and extract more oil and gas and reduce production costs. Oil companies are already spending billions on cloud computing and advanced analytics, and despite the current crash in the price of oil, this spending is expected to increase to over $15 billion in the next decade [2].

Greenpeace USA Senior Climate Campaigner Elizabeth Jardim said:

“Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have all made public commitments to cut their carbon emissions, yet, they are at the same time supporting the very industry we have to blame for global warming. These lucrative contracts completely undermine their own climate goals.

“The oil and gas industry accounts for billions of dollars in profits for big tech companies, yet the carbon emissions related to these contracts are not reflected in any of the tech companies’ published footprint data. The big three cloud companies must publicly commit to no longer offer solutions to the oil and gas sector to find, extract, refine, or distribute fossil fuels.” 

Report findings:

Greenpeace examined 14 contracts between Amazon, Google, and Microsoft with major oil and gas companies:

  • Microsoft appears to have the most contracts with oil and gas companies, offering AI capabilities in all phases of oil production. We estimate a single contract with ExxonMobil in the Permian Basin to result in additional annual emissions of 3.4 million metric tons CO2e, the equivalent of more than 20% of Microsoft’s total annual carbon footprint [3]. Microsoft can never truly achieve its recently announced “Carbon Negative” goal while continuing to aid the oil and gas sector with exploration and production.
  • Amazon continues to market its cloud services to help oil and gas firms boost production despite rebranding its website to target the more palatable “Energy Sector” [4]. These contracts showcase Amazon’s ongoing duplicity: on the one hand announcing its Climate Pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040, while on the other offering an ongoing lifeline to oil and gas companies. In addition to ending these contracts, Amazon must do more to protect warehouse and distribution workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and stop retaliating against employees for speaking out about these problems.
  • Google has undergone personnel and structural changes that show it is deprioritizing contracts, stating recently it will no longer “develop custom AI/ML solutions to facilitate upstream extraction” for the oil and gas industry [5]. While this is a good first step, Google still needs to account for its existing involvement with oil and gas companies and publicly commit to end these contracts.

Today’s virtual Microsoft Build event, one of many moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shows how increasingly reliant we all are on major tech firms.  With the recent oil price crash and reduced global demand, the near-term outlook for the oil and gas industry is bleak. These AI partnerships represent a critical toolkit that fossil fuel companies will use to bounce back from this downturn. The science is clear that the continued expansion of oil and gas production is placing our climate goals out of reach. We must implement a managed decline for the fossil fuel industry, while rapidly deploying clean energy solutions. Such a plan must be centered around strong, just transition policies to ensure that workers and communities are left better off through the energy transition [6].

 

ENDS

 

Notes: 

[1] The full report: Oil in the Cloud: How Tech Companies are Helping Big Oil Profit from Climate Destruction https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/reports/oil-in-the-cloud/

[2] https://about.bnef.com/blog/oil-sector-to-spend-16b-by-2030-on-cloud-analytics/

[3] Appendix A of Report https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/reports/oil-in-the-cloud/

[4]  https://aws.amazon.com/energy/resources/?nc=sn&loc=4

[5] Google Cloud managing director Will Grannis in a recent interview with theCUBE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f14xGesaz9o

[6] A petition to tell tech companies to stop fueling the climate crisis and end big oil contracts is available here: https://engage.us.greenpeace.org/onlineactions/SlFqxlUJqUKwnfy6P2H2YA2

Valentina Stackl

By Valentina Stackl

Valentina Stackl is a multi-lingual and multi-cultural communications specialist and storyteller. As Senior Communications Officer, Valentina works on Democracy (including criminalization of protest) and Climate for media, storytelling, and other communications projects.

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