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March 4, 2021 1:45 PM, EST

Exxon CEO Eyes Money-Making Potential of Low-Carbon World

Exxon CEO Darren Woods at the World Gas Conference in Washington, D.C., in 2018. (Bloomberg News)Exxon CEO Darren Woods at the World Gas Conference in Washington, D.C., in 2018. (Bloomberg News)

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ExxonMobil Corp. sees multiple money-making opportunities in a low-emissions world and is targeting partnerships with venture funds to help finance growth in its carbon capture business, CEO Darren Woods said.

“We’re seeing tech funds, venture funds investing in this space looking for opportunities to invest in carbon reduction opportunities,” Woods said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on March 4. “This I think is an opportunity for our Low Carbon Solutions business.”

Exxon sees itself as a leader in carbon capture and sequestration, a process whereby the planet-warming gas is taken from the air or emissions sources and locked away underground. Governments setting a price on carbon dioxide could open up a range of lucrative opportunities for tax credits and offset trading for companies like Exxon with storage capabilities. Partnerships with outside investors would mean Exxon would not need to fund large projects solely with its own cash.

“Part of what our Low Carbon Solutions business is really going to be focused on is finding people who are potentially interested in partnering and leveraging the capabilities that ExxonMobil can bring to this space to make the investments and reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere,” Woods said.

Occidental Petroleum Corp. has plans to build the world’s biggest facility that will capture carbon dioxide directly from the air and then pump it into the ground either for storage or to enhance oil recovery. Crucially, it’s funding the venture, at least in part, with other people’s money, capitalizing on the boom in clean energy investing. Rusheen Capital Management and United Airlines Holdings Inc. are helping finance the project.

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Under pressure from investors to reduce its own emissions and ready itself for the energy transition, Exxon launched the Low Carbon Solutions business earlier this year and is ready to spend $3 billion on it through 2025. While this is less than 5% of Exxon’s total capital spending, most of which goes toward fossil fuels, it marked a shift in tone for the U.S. oil giant, which has been criticized for lagging its European peers on climate change.

Exxon has been in the carbon capture space for more than a decade but has been unwilling to commit significant amounts of capital to projects due to low returns, regulatory uncertainty and technological constraints. The recently expanded 45Q tax credit makes the technology more appealing, but a carbon tax or other proposals being put to the Biden administration could dramatically boost the sector’s profitability.

The American Petroleum Institute, of which Exxon is a member, is considering throwing its weight behind a government-imposed price on carbon emissions, according to people familiar with the discussions, in what would be a major policy shift by the oil industry’s top trade group. That would help incentivize a market for carbon offsets, which would be by airlines, cement manufacturers and other industries with limited options for paring emissions today.

“Companies that are in sectors that are difficult to decarbonize are looking for opportunities to offset their carbon emissions and we think that’s an opportunity,” Woods said. “We’ll be looking at that angle as well as the investment angle.”

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