Mixed messages from BP about the low-carbon energy transition

We are getting mixed messages about BP and their approach to clean energy. This week, many news outlets have reported that BP plans significant investments in renewable energy and has plans for a future with more electrical generation. But Madeleine Cuff had an exclusive article on the inews website this week that shows a somewhat different picture. An investigation by Unearthed, Greenpeace UK’s investigative journalism unit, has discovered the fund is being used to invest in firms supporting the fossil fuel sector. As we know, only a couple of decades ago BP was promoting itself as beyond petroleum. No one said the low-carbon energy transition would be easy.

 

BP using fund meant for low-carbon technology to invest in fossil fuels

BP is using a venture capital fund set up to accelerate the firm’s transition to a low-carbon world to back fossil fuel technologies.

BP Ventures was set up in 2006 to provide seed investments in technology firms that will “help BP transition to a low-carbon company”. But an investigation by Unearthed, Greenpeace UK’s investigative journalism unit, has discovered the fund is being used to invest in firms supporting the fossil fuel sector.

Unearthed used the market data platform CB Insights to analyse BP Ventures’ portfolio. The analysis showed BP has invested $20m (£15m) into US firm, Beyond Limits, which uses artificial intelligence to find new places to drill for oil.

BP has also made two investments in a US firm called Belmont Technology, which runs an AI platform known as Sandy that helps engineers optimise oil extraction. The most recent investment in Belmont Technology was made in April 2020.

A ‘masterclass in greenwashing’

One of BP Ventures’ biggest sole investments is with a company called Calysta. BP put $30m into this firm last summer. The firm uses micro-organisms to convert methane into animal feed. But the technology is not guaranteed to reduce emissions, according to analysis by the Carbon Trust.

Calysta said the benefits of its technology are not limited to carbon reduction, pointing out it can also help alleviate pressure on land use.

Unearthed claims that BP Ventures has spent at least $95m on shares in companies which help find, extract or use fossil fuels.

Greenpeace climate campaigner Mel Evans said BP had executed a “masterclass in greenwash”.

“Since chief executive Bernard Looney has just reaffirmed his commitment to tackling climate change, he should explain to his shareholders how using AI to find new oil is going to help with that,” she said.

A spokesperson for BP said only around 10 per cent of investments by BP Ventures had been into businesses operating in the “traditional upstream sector”. It insisted BP Ventures was supporting its ambition to become a net-zero emissions company by 2050. “We expect our venturing business to play a vital role in helping achieve this,” it said.

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4 thoughts on “Mixed messages from BP about the low-carbon energy transition

  1. In 1982 BP Energy was the UK’s largest company providing ESCO services, under the slogan “Use Less BP.” Whilst in Wales BP had co-ownership of the Pencoed mineral fibre plant with the Danish firm Rockwool, the world’s second largest insulation manufacturer
    Within five years, BP had pulled out of the UK sustainable energy market. Will history repeat itself forty years on?

    1. It really would be good to think that they have seen the right and taken on an entirely new approach (or old one, as you refer to). If we are truly to decarbonise our economies, all these fossil fuel companies will have to evolve significantly. Let’s see. But they simply must.

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