It’s no surprise to anyone that the Biden administration came in hot with executive orders and agency directions prioritizing actions to address climate change. What may have surprised you: the short window we — the oil and gas industry — have to seize the leadership opportunity this presents.
It was the WSJ subheader that put our problem into sharp relief for me: President to suspend new oil and gas leasing on federal land, setting stage for confrontation with energy sector. If we play our assigned part in this drama, we are doomed. This oil-and-gas-is-partisan drama has played out before with predictable (abhorrent) results. And now that our industry faces the disruptors I’ve been telling you about since The Gamechangers Playbook was published, “confrontation” will make things even worse this time.
The public and investor focus on climate is directional. When It comes to the energy future, no political pendulum will swing back. Innovation and progress are moving inevitably and with increasing speed toward decarbonization. The oil and gas industry must lead this shift.
We have a short moment to recast our part by doing what we do best — rising to leadership and calling for innovation. We must rush to the front of the crowd and recast ourselves as the leading protagonist, the conductor of the U.S. climate train.
Business-as-Usual Responses: The Shrinking Side of a Losing War
But as President Biden directs his team and agencies into climate action, here is the response of business-as-usual oil and gas:
- These actions threaten [fill-in-the-number] of jobs.
- Oil and gas are too important to [fill-in-the-type] security.
- You’re putting [fill-in-the-geography] states in an impossible financial and political squeeze.
- You, [fill-in-the-actor], don’t have the authority.
- We will sue.
- (And quietly: We just must survive … 2 years, 4 years … until we regain political power.)
I didn’t read our media responses; I don’t have to. I’ve made all these arguments historically myself as Colorado oil and gas politics went from red to purple to blue to green.
Oil and gas business-as-usual puts us on the shrinking side of a losing war. A problem to be solved. A set of emissions to be squeezed out. A fuel of the past. History.
There is only one viable option, and oil and gas leaders must embrace it with zeal. And fast.
How Gamechangers Are Responding
The disruptors have demonstrated that the focus on climate is directional. Remember, this isn’t political. Your investors are in the first car on the climate train. There is not a political pendulum that will swing back when it comes to the role of oil and gas in the energy future. The only choice remaining: We must lead.
Here’s what your responses should sound like — if you’re a gamechanger:
- Share the aspiration. “We share the Biden administration’s sense of urgency on addressing climate change and accelerating decarbonization.”
- Take the first step. “We plan to work closely with the Biden administration on advancing clean energy innovation and execution. Addressing climate change happens better, faster, and cheaper with the oil and gas industry at the table. We bring millions of scientists and engineers, billions of dollars, world-class R&D, and millions of miles of existing infrastructure to the challenge at hand.”
- Show promise. “The first thing we want to collaborate with the administration on is ensuring that oil and gas development on federal lands is the most environmentally sustainable in the world, with the smallest footprint and the fastest path to decarbonization. This will allow the U.S. to be a global climate leader while managing the realities of economies, fuel and energy demand, available alternatives, and geopolitics.”
- Embrace the leadership vacuum. “Our industry is unique in that it can bring the resources, existing infrastructure, talent, R&D capabilities, and 150 years of entrepreneurial excellence to partner with the Biden administration to achieve our shared vision for a decarbonizing energy future.”
It’s long past time to throw out the old-school industry political playbook. Let’s do what we are good at and lead into the energy future.
Occasionally I will share my urgent thoughts on what is Coming in Hot outside of our Both of These Things are True weekly cadence. Let me know what you think.