Yes you read that correctly.
The hideously large oil munching, coal smoking, petroleum burning behemoth that is ExxonMobil has snapped the Green Company of the Year award, ahead of that charming new solar power startup that just opened up in your town. Apparently, being one of the world’s largest emitters of carbon dioxide gas doesn’t exclude you from being green, according to Forbes. And its not for the $600 million investment recently spent on algae powered biofuels, its actually for a $30 billion project in Qatar, to build the world’s largest natural gas field.
OK, astonishment aside, there is logic here. Using natural gas to produce energy releases around half of the emissions compared to burning coal. Coal is without a doubt a dirty fuel, and using natural gas is a far better alternative. ExxonMobil argues that using the natural gas from its Qatar project in place of coal will release 70 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is undoubtedly the right thing to do – America needs energy and there are currently no alternatives to fossil fuels ready for large scale deployment – so lets use the less polluting fossil fuel. But one has to surprised with the prize Forbes has bestowed upon them. Its readily apparent that this is a business decision as Forbes points out it is “inspired more by the difficulty of finding petroleum than by any love for the environment”. Also, natural gas is currently more expensive than coal but with any kind of carbon tax on emissions it will become more competitive and possibly cheaper. Greater supply of natural gas that will come online in the coming years is also expected to make natural gass even more affordable.
Transitioning America to natural gas instead of coal is an important step. Its one of the cheapest ways to significantly reduce carbon emissions without making many sacrifices, in contrast with transitioning to electric vehicles, for example. However, its still jumping from one non renewable source to another. What we really need from one of the world’s biggest energy producers is serious research into renewable technologies. The biofuel investment mentioned above is just a fraction of the amount they are spending on natural gas. Perhaps next time Forbes will give recognition to a company that is actually working on a sustainable energy source.