By Chris Lang
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that by 2030 it would remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits. The company aims to do so by using negative emission technologies, including tree planting, soil carbon sequestration, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCs), and direct air capture.
All of these technologies are problematic. The biggest problem is that they are a dangerous distraction from the need to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
Microsoft has partnered with a start-up offsetting company called Pachama. Microsoft “politely declined” to answer REDD-Monitor’s questions about this partnership. REDD-Monitor interviewed Pachama’s CEO Diego Saez-Gil, but he revealed little about why Microsoft had hired his firm.
Microsoft and the oil industry
Meanwhile, Microsoft is working with some of the biggest polluters in the world: Chevron, Shell, BP, Equinor, and ExxonMobil.
And Microsoft has no intention of changing this. In a blog post about its carbon plans, Microsoft President Brad Smith writes that,
The significance and complexity of the task ahead is incredible and will require contributions from every person and organization on the planet. That’s why we are committed to continuing to work with all our customers, including those in the oil and gas business, to help them meet today’s business demands while innovating together to achieve the business needs of a net zero carbon future.
The day before Microsoft made its “carbon negative” announcement, the 12th International Petroleum Technology Conference finished in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Microsoft was the “digital transformation partner” of the conference. The company had a booth at the conference. Microsoft’s regional director of energy and manufacturing for the Middle East and Africa, Omar Saleh, took part in a panel discussion on “The Role of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Developing the Oil and Gas Sector”.
The “fourth industrial revolution” refers to the way companies are using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cloud computing to analyse huge amounts of data. Self learning computer algorithms can automate new discoveries of fossil fuels and speed up extraction. Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are all working with fossil fuel corporations:
Journalist Patrick Galey wrote a great thread on Twitter about this “gargantuan, boisterous elephant in the room” in January 2020:
Here’s a timeline of some of Microsoft’s deals with climate destroyers.
In September 2017, the US Air Force gave a US$1 billion contract to a team of companies: Dell EMC, General Dynamics, and Microsoft. The deal follows a US$296 million contract in 2015 to supply the Microsoft 365 cloud platform to the Air Force.
Announced Monday, the multi-year partnership establishes Microsoft Azure as Chevron’s primary cloud and is part of Chevron’s efforts to digitize its oil fields and accelerate deployment of new technologies that can increase revenues, reduce costs and improve the safety and reliability of operations.
Microsoft will “develop products that solve Chevron’s business challenges”. In a press statement about the deal, Tom Keane, head of global infrastructure for Microsoft Azure explains that the aim of the partnership is more efficient oil exploration.
Microsoft is helping Chevron boost output from its Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan from 600,000 barrels a day to one million. Chevron is also keen to use Microsoft software to spy on its low-wage workers via existing CCTV cameras. An anonymous Microsoft engineer writes that Chevron “wanted a way to squeeze as much work as they could from each worker”.
In September 2018, Microsoft sold Azure cloud platform software to Shell for its Video Analytics for Downstream Retail project to monitor its 44,000 petrol stations in more than 75 countries.
In its press release about the contract with Shell, Microsoft focusses on the safety aspect. Machine vision technology and automated image processing and analysis allows Microsoft’s technology to send an alert to a Shell petrol station manager if, for example, someone lights up a cigarette in the petrol station. The petrol station manager can then switch off the petrol pump until the cigarette is put out.
Shell is using Microsoft software to monitor Shell’s 30 million daily customers while in its petrol stations. The software will no doubt also keep an eye on Shell’s employees. And safety isn’t Shell’s only interest. Shell is, of course, also looking at ways to increase its profits.
Daniel Jeavons is a General Manager of data science at Shell. In a promotional video, he confirms that the Microsoft deal is about selling more petrol, and saving costs:
“If we can leverage this technology at scale we can start to change the way that we do business. And that means making things more effective, reducing cost, and also improving safety. And that’s great for us. It’s a huge opportunity.”
In June 2018, Microsoft and Equinor signed a seven-year partnership agreement. Equinor provides “industry knowledge and business needs to support Microsoft in developing new solutions for our industry”. Microsoft provides, “expertise to accelerate Equinor’s IT development and establish new data center regions in Stavanger and in Oslo”.
In December 2018, Microsoft sold its Azure Machine Learning service to BP to speed up the calculation of how much can be extracted from an oil reservoir. This is known as the recovery factor.
Using Microsoft’s machine learning can dramatically reduce the time needed to predict recovery factors – from weeks down to days or days to hours according to Manish Naik, BP’s principal for digital innovation.
In February 2019, ExxonMobil signed a deal with Microsoft aimed at increasing output from its Permian Basin operation by 50,000 barrels of oil a day by 2025.
In May 2019, the Guardian reported that Microsoft had joined the oil industry in an attempt to stop climate change lawsuits:
Microsoft has joined a conservative-led group that demands fossil fuel companies be granted legal immunity from attempts to claw back damages from the climate change they helped cause.
The Climate Leadership Council’s founding members include BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, and ConocoPhillips.
In June 2019, Microsoft held an Oil and Gas Leadership Summit in Houston, Texas. Writing about the event on Microsoft’s website, Ashley Haynes-Gaspar, General Manager, Business Applications, Microsoft, concludes that,
“Ultimately, we’re at an important moment in the oil and gas industry. As we continue to see disruption in energy, it’s time to transform technology, processes, and culture so we can unleash agility, top line growth, and operating profit expansion like never before.”
In September 2019, Schlumberger, Chevron, and Microsoft announced a partnership “to accelerate creation of innovative petrotechnical and digital technologies”.
In a press release, Chevron’s Joseph C. Geagea, explains that,
“We believe this industry-first advancement will dramatically accelerate the speed with which we can analyze data to generate new exploration opportunities and bring prospects to development more quickly and with more certainty.
Microsoft is part of the problem
All of these deals between Microsoft and the oil industry are about getting oil out of the ground faster and selling more fossil fuel products. Which is precisely the opposite of what we need to do to address the climate crisis.
Indi Samarajiva writes that,
A company that does not divest from fossil fuels is not an ally. They are part of the problem. It doesn’t matter how green their office is or how many bushes they take photographs in front of. They are making blood money, and trying to wash their hands in the press.
Microsoft’s oil industry deals reveal that its climate plans are pure bullshit.
PHOTO Credit: Microsoft advert in the IPTC Daily, Day 2 – the official show daily of the International Petroleum Technology Conference.