The new Greenpeace report "Oil in the Cloud: How Tech Companies are Helping Big Oil Profit from Climate Destruction" shows how internet giants are helping the oil and gas industry to further fuel climate change.
Google, Amazon, Microsoft - all three tech giants have announced ambitious climate targets in recent years. Google was one of the first technology companies to commit to 100% renewable energy. Since 2017, the company has been purchasing enough renewable energy each year to completely cover its global electricity consumption.
Google also reports on its overall energy consumption and was able to show that its carbon footprint has decreased from an estimated 4.9 million tons of CO2 to 1.2 million tons of CO2. Now Google is taking the next step and plans to banish fossil fuels from its data centres as well. Microsoft made an announcement earlier this year that it wants to become "carbon negative" by 2030, with the long-term goal of by 2050, also offsetting all of the emissions they has ever produced by investing in the development of carbon reduction, capture and removal technologies.
And Amazon also has plans to reduce their carbon footprint: in September 2019, Jeff Bezos, Amazon's CEO, announced the launching of the 10 billion USD Bezo's Earth Fund in response to increasing pressure from their employees and the public. Amazon has also itself the goal of also covering its electricity needs with 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and becoming CO2-neutral by 2040.
The new, sometimes very ambitious goals sound impressive. But neither Google's careful listing of carbon emissions nor Microsoft's or Amazon's carbon bill include the extra emissions that result from the big tech industry's links to some of the dirtiest companies in the world. This is because the corporations sell their services to the oil and gas industry, helping them to get more oil and gas out of the ground and onto the market faster and cheaper - thereby further fuelling climate change.
The latest Greenpeace report reveals the links between big tech and big oil. Setting out many examples, the authors demonstrate how big oil companies such as Shell, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and others use the services of the cloud giants and their powerful computing capacities. Greenpeace was able to find contracts between technology companies and oil and gas companies at every stage of the oil and gas production chain: cloud computing and AI software is being used to support the discovery, production, distribution, refining, and marketing of oil and gas, and technological innovations - from hydraulic fracturing to horizontal drilling - have helped to bring oil and gas reserves that were once considered too risky or expensive to exploit to production.
The clock's ticking - it's time to shoulder responsibility
The scientific community agrees that the continued increase in oil and gas production is pushing our climate targets out of reach - Microsoft, Google and Amazon's contracts with the oil industry completely undermine their newly announced climate commitments.
Microsoft seems to have the most contracts with oil and gas companies and offers AI solutions for all phases of oil production. A contract between Microsoft and ExxonMobil alone could result in additional annual emissions of 3.4 million metric tons CO2e, the equivalent of more than 20% of Microsoft’s total annual carbon footprint. Amazon primarily has contracts for pipelines, shipping and storage for oil and gas companies. And the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud is the largest in the world and is used by oil and gas companies to bring oil to market more efficiently.
As well as specific machine learning contracts for managing datasets, all three cloud companies are part of the Open Group Open Subsurface Data Universe™ (OSDU) Forum, an international group of oil and gas operators that wants to build an open data platform for the oil and gas industry. The group includes Shell, Chevron, Schlumberger, ExxonMobil, Total, BP, ConocoPhillips and Devon Energy. The oil companies are planning to use this open data platform to locate new oil deposits more efficiently and effectively and to develop these deposits using methods that were previously considered too risky or too expensive. All of this is made possible due to the machine learning and high-performance computing technologies provided by Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Amazon Web Services.
All three technology companies seem to be well aware of the discrepancy between their stated climate goals and the actual climate impact of supporting the fossil fuel sector to increase productivity and efficiency, as the Greenpeace report notes. Since public awareness of these contracts has increased, all three companies have updated their websites and now describe themselves as working with "the energy sector" in general rather than explicitly mentioning the oil and gas sector.
However, nothing has really changed yet. Greenpeace is therefore calling on cloud companies to make a public commitment to end problematic contracts that they have with the oil and gas sector that are explicitly aimed at the exploration or increased production of fossil fuels:
"If Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are serious about their roles in addressing the climate crisis, they must stop pursuing business deals that fuel the expansion of the fossil fuel industry, create fossil fuel lock-in, and further jeopardize the future of the planet."
Google recently stated that it will no longer develop custom solutions that rely on AI and machine learning to facilitate production for oil and gas companies. This is a good first step - but to really get out of the fossil energy market, tech companies will need to place and immediate moratorium on all new machine learning and high-performance computing contracts for oil and gas companies AND wind down all existing contracts with the fossil fuel industry. The tech companies should also continue to reduce their own operational emissions as quickly as possible. Considering Microsoft, Alphabet (Alphabet Inc. is a listed US holding company of the former Google LLC) and Amazon are among the five largest companies in the world by market capitalization, the leverage effect could be huge.
If you want to increase pressure on the tech giants to stop supporting pursuing business deals that fuel the growth of the fossil fuel industries, you can send an email directly to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, and Google CEO, Sundar Pichai directly through the Greenpeace website. Make yourself heard right here: Tell Tech Companies: Stop Fueling the Climate Crisis! End Big Oil Contracts!
This is a translation of an original article that first appeared on RESET's German-language site.