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oil is so last century...
Dieter Helm advises the world’s energy leaders. So, when he says ‘big oil’ has had its day it is worth listening, reports Jillian Ambrose
“I usually put a £5 bet on the oil price — and I’m collecting,” smiles Professor Dieter Helm. It’s not difficult to imagine his tally of modest wagers adding up. The highly regarded Oxford University economics professor is a long-time industry observer. Today, he is in central London after taking meetings with major oil executives. He is also a familiar face in Whitehall and Brussels, where he advises, both formally and informally, on the trends reshaping the global energy markets.
Still, his stakes will be trillions of dollars lower than the energy leaders he advises.
If Helm is to be believed the oil market downturn is only getting started. The latest collapse is the harbinger of a global energy revolution which could spell the end-game for fossil fuels. These theories were laughable less than a decade ago when oil prices grazed highs of more than $140 a barrel. But the burn out of the oil industry is approaching quicker than was first thought, and the most senior leaders within the industry are beginning to take note.
In the past, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has faced down criticism that its global energy market forecasts have overestimated the role of oil and underplayed the boom in renewable energy sources. But last month the tone changed. The agency warned oil and gas companies that failing to adapt to the climate policy shift away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy would leave a total of $1 trillion in oil assets and $300bn in natural gas assets stranded.
For oil companies who heed Helm’s advice, the route ahead is a ruthless harvest-and-exit strategy. This would mean an aggressive slashing of capital expenditure, pumping of remaining oil reserves while keeping costs to the floor and paying out very high dividends.
“They’d never do it because no company board would contemplate running a smaller company tomorrow than today. It’s not in the zeitgeist of the corporate world we’re in, but that’s what they should do,” Helm says.
BP and Royal Dutch Shell are slowly shifting from oil to gas and making even more tentative steps in the direction of low-carbon energy. But Helm is not entirely convinced that oil companies have grasped the speed with which the industry is undergoing irrevocable change.
Down forever, no last hoorah: Why the market for fossil fuels is all burnt out | Financial Post (external - login to view)