Shell’s falling oil output ends century-long business model

Hydrogen station Image: Chung Chow

Royal Dutch Shell plc said its carbon emissions and oil production have peaked and will decline in the coming years as the company laid out a detailed plan for its transition to cleaner energy.

In a sign of how much the petroleum industry has shifted away from its mantra of growth and exploration, Shell said its oil production will fall by one per cent to two per cent a year. Assuming an annual reduction on the upper end of that range, the oil major’s production would fall by 18 per cent by the end of the decade. Output of “traditional fuels” will be 55 per cent lower by 2030.

In a wide-ranging strategy update published on Thursday, the Anglo-Dutch company set new targets for electric-car charging, carbon capture and storage, and electricity sales. It also sought to reassure investors that it could maintain returns through the energy transition, reiterating its pledge for an annual dividend increase of about four per cent and the resumption of share buybacks once its net-debt target has been achieved.

“Our accelerated strategy will drive down carbon emissions and will deliver value for our shareholders, our customers and wider society,” Shell chief executive officer Ben van Beurden said in a statement.

Shell’s measured approach to the energy transition stands apart from its peers BP Plc and Total SE, which have announced large deals to rapidly boost its clean-energy capacity. BP has promised to slash its oil production by 40 per cent and ramp up low-carbon spending to $5 billion annually by the end of the decade, prompting some to say the firm is overpaying for renewables. Meanwhile, Shell’s investments in the space will remain at $2 billion to $3 billion a year.

“Shell has set off on a different path” than other European majors, Adam Matthews, director of ethics and engagement for the Church of England Pensions Board said in a statement. “Different companies have different strategies and we now need to test the veracity of these.”

Shell said its net carbon intensity will fall by six per cent to eight per cent in 2023, compared with 2016. That reduction will widen to 20 per cent in 2030, 45 per cent in 2035 and 100 per cent by 2050.

Shell’s B shares were down 2.3 per cent to 1,276 pence at 12:14 pm in London. Rivals Total and BP were also trading lower.

Critics at environmental groups Greenpeace and the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth argued the oil and gas major is leaning too heavily on reforestation and carbon capture and storage. Shell plans to add 25 million tons a year of CCS capacity by 2035 and to offset 120 million tons a year of emissions by the end of the decade. It will invest $100 million in so-called nature-based solutions, such as forests and wetlands to store carbon.

Power sales

Power will remain central to Shell’s future business, targeting 560 terawatt hours a year of electricity sales by the end of the decade. That’s double what it sells currently. It’s also aiming for a rapid expansion in electrical vehicle charge points to half a million points by 2025, from 60,000 today.

Shell recently bought the U.K.’s largest public EV charging network and has previously stated an ambition of becoming the world’s biggest power company. In a conference call, Van Beurden reiterated that view. “We want to be a leading power player in the world. That hasn’t changed.”

Hydrogen will also have a larger role in Shell’s portfolio, although it is still a “minuscule market,” Van Beurden said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “We think it is at the inflection point where it will take off.” The firm expects to further develop its hydrogen hubs to serve industry and heavy-duty transport and is targeting a double-digit share of clean hydrogen sales worldwide.

Later this year at the firm’s annual general meeting, it will submit an energy transition plan for an advisory vote to the shareholder.

“This new plan is somewhat nuanced, and offers no real change to the near-term financial metrics; rather the emphasis is put on the pathway to lower (unit) carbon emissions, Alastair Syme, analyst at Citigroup said in a note Thursday. “We doubt whether this framework is incrementally enough to change the market view.”

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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