EcoWatch: Big Oil is in Big Trouble (The Dumbest Article Ever Written About ExxonMobil)

Guest post by David Middleton


With the most divisive presidential election in U.S. history just days away from concluding, it is easy to understand why more is not being made of the news, but just to tell you something seismic happened on Friday last week.

The world’s largest listed oil company, Exxon, announced that it was going to have to cut its reported proved reserves by just under a fifth—by 19 percent.

It would be the biggest reserve revision in the history of the oil industry. It is yet another sign that Big Oil is in big trouble.

For years people have been warning that Big Oil’s business model was fundamentally flawed and was not only putting the climate at risk, but millions of dollars of shareholders’ money.

For years the industry’s critics warned the industry was ignoring the risks of climate change and was just caring on drilling regardless.

But the oilmen did what the oilmen do: find oil and gas, no matter the consequences.

And the worst oil company has been Exxon which for decades has denied climate change and the impact that climate change will have on its business.

For decades it could have invested wisely in renewables but it carried on looking for oil and gas—including unconventional oil which is even more carbon intensive than conventional oil. Its critics warned this was pure folly: but the oilmen carried on drilling anyway.

Big Oil is used to doing things its own way.

The warnings have kept coming, but the boys from Exxon didn’t listen. Oil Change International,, Carbon Tracker and many others in the #keepintheground movement have been saying for years that large swathes of oil reserves must stay in the ground.

They warned that fossil fuel reserves will become “stranded assets.”

Exxon often dismissed its critics as irrelevant lentil-eating, sandal wearing hippies, who wanted to take humanity back to the stone age.



ExxonMobil has very good reasons for dismissing these sorts of critics “as irrelevant lentil-eating, sandal wearing hippies, who wanted to take humanity back to the stone age”… Although this would actually be unfair to “irrelevant lentil-eating, sandal wearing hippies.”  The folks at EcoWatch clearly are dumber than “irrelevant lentil-eating, sandal wearing hippies.”  It’s very appropriate that the mental health awareness ribbon is green, because “all shades of green” seems to be a form of mental illness.

ExxonMobil’s potential reserve revision has nothing to do with “keeping it in the ground” or stranded assets.

Exxon Facing Historic Reserves Reduction as Slump Persists

Joe Carroll

October 28, 2016

Exxon Mobil Corp. warned it may be facing the biggest reserves revision in its history as production sank to a seven-year low and profit slid amid a prolonged slump in energy markets.

About 3.6 billion barrels of reserves in the Canadian oil sands and the equivalent of another 1 billion barrels of oil in other North American fields may be in jeopardy if the average energy prices seen during the first nine months of 2016 persist, Exxon said in a statement on Friday. That would equate to 19 percent of Exxon’s reserves and would be the largest de-booking since the 1999 merger that created the company in its modern form.

Exxon’s accounting has prompted a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into whether the company should have written down assets as a result of the oil slump, a person with knowledge of the matter said last month. The company didn’t say on Friday whether removing reserves from the books would result in asset-impairment charges that could hurt its financial results.

“The fact that everyone else has recorded charges and they have not created a red flag,” said Brian Youngberg, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis. “In the big picture, it doesn’t mean those reserves won’t eventually get produced.”



The phrase “proved reserves” has a very precise and legally binding definition.  In order to book reserves as proved, they have to be economically recoverable using the current strip prices.

Among other changes, the SEC Final Rule requires companies to estimate proved reserves using oil and natural gas prices based on the 12-month historical average of the beginning-of-month prices. Prior to the 2008 ruling the SEC rules required that a single-day, fiscal year-end spot price be used to determine economic producibility and future cash flows of oil and gas reserves. The SEC Final Rule changed this requirement to a 12-month average price, calculated as the unweighted arithmetic average of the first-day-of-the-month price for each month within the 12-month period prior to the end of the reporting period, unless prices are defined by contractual arrangements, excluding escalations based upon future conditions.2

The SEC Final Rule defines the term “proved oil and gas reserves” as “those quantities of oil and gas, which, by analysis of geoscience and engineering data, can be estimated with reasonable certainty to be economically producible, from a given date forward, from known reservoirs, and under existing economic conditions, operating methods, and government regulations, prior to the time at which contracts providing the right to operate expire, unless evidence indicates that renewal is reasonably certain regardless of whether deterministic or probabilistic methods are used for the estimation.”3


Reserves that were proved at $100/bbl aren’t proved at $50/bbl if they are not economically recoverable at $50/bbl.  The reserves don’t vanish, they don’t become stranded and if they are already developed and producing, companies generally don’t shut them in and stop producing them.  Production decisions are generally made on a “cost-forward” basis.  Taking reserves off the books frequently results in impairments, forcing companies to take write-downs against earnings.

Proved (1P) and probable (2P) oil & gas reserves are accounting measures used in the valuation oil companies.  Proved developed producing (PDP) reserves are worth more than proved developed non-producing (PDNP) reserves, which are worth more than proved undeveloped reserves (PUD).  Product price movements routinely prove and disprove reserves.

I was going to use this as my featured image; but decided it was in poor taste.

95 thoughts on “EcoWatch: Big Oil is in Big Trouble (The Dumbest Article Ever Written About ExxonMobil)

    • Yes, I get the idea that arguing for weeks about “hanging chads” will be a best case scenario…

    • I still fear an administrative decision to suspend the election. Since most GOP leadership seems to be more in Clinton’s pocket than has Trump’s back, such a decision to postpone – perhaps until the next federal election cycle 2 years from now, probably would be more acceptable to them than potential AG investigations from an administration that didn’t appreciate the lack of campaign support. That is, if there was a reason to be concerned about such investigations. 😉

      • They don’t have the authority to do so, and any attempt of that sort would be political suicide, and might lead to riots or violence. If Obama tries it, I am quite serious when I say to expect a military coup and complete collapse of both political parties.

      • I understand that an election can be postponed up to 42 months. Consider the things which could justify. Claimed Russian involvement, middleeast war, racial unrest, health issue. If it happens there will be an upturn in interest in prophesy.

      • What says an election can be postponed for 42 months? The constitution certainly doesn’t say anything like that. What the constitution does say is:
        “The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

      • Gee guys, I was just hinting that the Electoral College vote is the true ending and even that may not settle it. It could go to the House.

      • Elections weren’t suspended even during the World Wars or the Civil War. There;s no chance of suspension.
        “l With the most divisive presidential election in U.S. history”
        When I read a superlative statement like that, I immediately try to think of a counter example
        The 1860 election may be one, the 1876 Hayes-Tilden election may be another.

  1. Those reserves were added to the book as prices rose over the last 15 years and most of those reserves will be recovered as prices rise again. There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation being put out by all sides, but what can’t be disputed is that prices today are twice what they were in the late 90’s, and that a lot of what’s left in the ground does require today’s $50 per barrel. Furthermore, most OPEC nations can’t survive at prices below $75 per barrel. This means they’ll eventually end their current price war and stabilize production. When they do the natural decline in non OPEC nations will create a gap, and we may even see a price spike. The long term will be up.

  2. What else did you expect from them during the quiet phase of Peak Oil and other failed scarcity stories? They either don’t know resource cycles in the economy and technology or they refuse to learn.

    • How much you want to bet someone that within a week, someone will pipe up claiming that this big drop in “proven reserves” is proof that peak oil is either just around the corner or has already happened.

    • Thanks DRH, I was going to add the same thing. It is why they have such a stable investment , no “wild catting” with their predictions like penny stocks.

  3. Of course the Greens pretend the reserves “disappeared” and since most people don’t know what is meant by proven, it probably works. Thank you for letting people know how this works.
    How Exxon could have gotten into “renewables” without using oil and gas is questionable. As far as I know, there is little or no mining equipment that runs exclusively on electricity produced by turbines and panels, there are no manufacturing plants for the turbines are the fully renewable electric, no construction equipment to install the turbines that are electric, and no electric transportation vehicles that deliver parts to the plant site. It would be a real trick to get wind turbines and solar panels without using billions of barrels of oil.

    • And there’s the rub. So-called “renewables” AREN’T “sustainable,” and never will be, because they simply can’t provide the energy required to produce and transport and erect what humanity needs. People simply take for granted all that they have thanks to so-called “fossil fuels,” and they really need to be reminded, as in hit over the head with it 1,000 times until it sinks in.

      • Nor are there enough “rare earth metals” to support the number of panels and wind mills needed, much less the batteries that would be required to “make it through the night,” or the next “hottest day evah.”

      • Rare earth metals are not used in making silicon or poly-silicon solar panels. Also, rare earth magnets are not used in wind turbines with gearboxes (non-direct drive designs)

    • What they meant by ‘getting into renewables’ is that they expect the oil companies to (in the best socialist tradition) share the wealth, and provide $billions$ for renewable programs. Why do you think whenever we see this kind of thing it’s always aimed at Exxon? BP already handed over the Danegeld, and so has Shell.
      It’s a mandatory Tithe. And you withhold what the Greens consider their rightful share at your own peril.

  4. because “all shades of green” seems to be a form of mental illness

    I’d like to object to this blanket statement. Personally, I think CAGW is BS, but I’m very keen on the environment and have been recycling since before it became fashionable. I consider myself to be a “shade of green”, just not watermelon green.

  5. Kind of ironic that if pricing of carbon has the desired effect the price of oil will go up, which will make more of the reserves economically available, therefore less oil in the ground.

  6. The Stupid, it burns. Or is it just garden variety lying? Hard to tell with Warmunists. A bit of both perhaps.

  7. Great post (and spot on). The nutters obviously know nothing about petroleum and natural gas reserve reports or economics (what else is new?). They clearly are ignorant of Securities and Exchange reserve reporting regulations and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (“GAAP”).
    P.S., Unfortunately, the advertisements are disrupting the website. The newest batch are particularly obnoxious and intrusive.

  8. Actually learning such improper subjects as accounting standards is against the green religion, just like learning real climate science or ecology.

    • Tom G(ologist),
      Very interesting article. Skimmed it, but will have to go back and read through it later. Never visited your site before, but it will now become one I will check regularly.
      By the way, read and enjoyed John McPhee’s book years ago (may still have it somewhere), although he spelled it “terrain.”

      • In Suspect Terrain. Great book. Check out the collected geology works Annals of the Former World. John McPhee’s books are all highly read-worthy.

      • Phil,
        I read “Annals of the Former World” for the first time more than ten years ago. I read it again just a few months ago, this time in order from the oldest to youngest geological eras represented in the lower 48 of continental United States. A truly entertaining read and a remarkable, detailed story well written by a non-geologist.

  9. I wonder what “wise investments in renewables” they are talking about? Exxon is an oil company.
    They aren’t able to compete building windmills nor solar panels and we hardly need another windmill or solar panel factory – they all get destroyed by foreign competition. The Feds invested hundred of millions in solar panel factores and they went belly up. Another “wise investment in renewables” I suppose. Not a single detail about what those wise investments might be from these near sighted green folks from down under.

    • Well here’s some examples of oil companies, including Exxon, investing in renewables:
      “While fossil fuel companies have been dabbling in clean energy for years, they typically stayed close to their roots by focusing on ethanol and other biofuels. This round of investments takes them into the heart of the clean-energy industry. As crude prices struggle to recover and growth projections for renewables soar, oil companies see a chance to diversify.”
      Or there’s this:

      • Saying the same thing twice doesn’t make it more true. To put Total’s move into perspective, it’s like someone making $50,000 a year dropping $500 on something. Once.

      • Too fracking funny…

        Total’s strategy in renewable energy hasn’t been to build or buy companies outright, something BP (NYSE:BP) failed at in solar energy. Chevron (NYSE:CVX) also decided renewables weren’t worth the time or risk when it shut down or sold most of its domestic renewable energy group in 2014 and is reportedly prepping to sell $3 billion in geothermal assets in Asia this year. Instead, Total has taken stakes in companies it saw as leaders in the space. The theory is that these companies are more able to innovate within the rapidly changing market as independent companies, and Total could presumably buy them outright when the markets they serve are more established.

        Or dump them like bad habits after p!$$ing away a tiny fraction of their capital budget.
        Total SA announced that they would “invest” $500 million per year in renewable energy. In response to low oil prices, Total trimmed its capital budget by 15% to $19 billion. $500 million is 2.6% of $19 billion.
        A little more perspective:
        Millions of USD 2015
        Total Revenue $143,421.00… $500 million is 0.3% of Total’s 2015 depressed gross revenue.
        Gross Profit $47,863.00… $500 million is 1% of Total’s 2015 depressed gross profit.
        Total Operating Expense $138,698.00… $500 million is 0.4% of Total’s 2015 operating expenses.
        Net Income $5,087.00… $500 million is 9.8% of Total’s 2015 extremely depressed net income.

      • “…like someone making $50,000 a year dropping $500 on something.”
        Perhaps you’ve never lived on $50,000 a year. For somebody on that sort of income, $500 is a lot of money.

    • Another means of getting money to fund renewable energy projects. Force companies into a business they don’t want to be in. Trash companies that don’t want to supply funding for renewable energy projects.
      Exxon is not the only company that has been caught up in this scheme.

  10. Give EcoWatch a break, they don’t understand the free market, basic economics, ordinary logic of economizing, math, running a business, free voluntary action or the idea that one ought to know something before one starts talking about it. If I had those handicaps, I’d sound dumb too!

  11. That article showed up in my newsfeed, too. I almost gave it the knee-jerk response, “Of course their reserves are lower. They are trying to raise the price of oil.”
    EcoWatch has a history of really bad articles. When you respond by citing scientific reports, the faithful respond with comments about how anti-science you are.

    • I am assuming this comment is sarcastic…

      “Of course their reserves are lower. They are trying to raise the price of oil.”

      Because it’s even more ignorant than the EcoWatch article.

  12. ….”irrelevant lentil-eating, sandal wearing hippies, who wanted to take humanity back to the stone age”.
    Are you sure they haven’t plagiarised this phrase from some alarmists CV?

  13. “the most divisive presidential election in U.S. history”
    Sorry, folks. 2016 is not even in the same county as 1860.

      • It got pretty ugly when Federalists started jailing their political opponents. If Shrillary gets in, watch for an attempted repeat.

      • Trump never said that.
        This is what he said…

        “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your (missing email) situation,” Trump said, “because there has never been so many lies, so much deception.”

        “I will say this, Hillary Clinton has got to go to jail,” Trump told supporters here as he slammed Clinton’s foreign policy speech earlier in the day in which Clinton called Trump dangerous and “temperamentally unfit” to be president.
        “Folks, honestly, she’s guilty as hell,” Trump said of the Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.
        Trump has previously accused Clinton of breaking federal law, but his comments on Thursday are his most direct call yet for Clinton to face jail time over her use of private email to conduct official State Department affairs.
        The FBI is investigating Clinton’s use of a private emails to determine whether anyone improperly handled classified information.
        At a news conference earlier this week, Trump declined to say whether he believes Clinton’s private email use amounted to a felony.
        Trump also suggested Thursday that if Clinton is not indicted over her email use, he would direct his attorney general to investigate her.
        “Five years’ statute of limitations, if I win. Everything is going to be fair but I’m sure the attorney general will take a very good look at it,” Trump said.

      • The person who falsely claims that Trump lies, is now lying about what Trump said.
        Why am I not surprised?

    • or 1828 for that matter. At least we haven’t had accusations that one candidates spouse is a prostitute and subsequent challenges to duels. Well, maybe not, but it’s been pretty darn close.

  14. “Oil Change International,, Carbon Tracker and many others in the #keepintheground movement have been saying for years that large swathes of oil reserves must stay in the ground.”
    I think we should put all the idiots who think we should keep fossil fuels in the ground into the ground themselves, for good – or at least until they turn into fossil fuels themselves, at which point they’ll actually be useful for something and future generations can dig them up. ;-D

    • “keep fossil fuels in the ground”
      Better yet, anybody who uses this as a hashtag, should be sent to Antarctica. Australia has the biggest territorial claims there and would be happy to devote a large part of it to keeping these idiots. Unfortunately, since the entire Antarctic area is a protected area, they wouldn’t be allowed to heat themselves with oil, coal or gas. Only with solar and wind power.
      Remember the way South Australia went dark because the wind went too high and forced the bird choppers to cut out to protect themselves? The wind in Antarctica is much higher than that all the time.

  15. The biggest irony is that those “reserves” do not actually disappear. Eventually the price will go back up (as inevitable as the sun rising), and voila! There is another 3.6 billion barrels!

  16. “Big Oil is used to doing things its own way.
    The warnings have kept coming, but the boys from Exxon didn’t listen.”
    Sounds like the South Park episode @ CAGW.

  17. One of the biggest frustrations relating to oil and gas projects and reserve estimation is future pricing. The SPE(society of petroleum engineers) and the SEC have strict rules relating to reserve estimation, these are good rules and make a lot of sense. I would usually try to underestimate reserves to accelerate the tax write off. One other point major oil company research organizations are very good – your ideas and work get tested in the real world of dollars and if these do not work they are discarded.

  18. The greatest loss from this misguided focus on CO2, (CO2 has no significant effect on climate) is that it has distracted humanity from the real problem which is burgeoning irrigation. Irrigation accounts for about 97% of the measured increasing water vapor . Increased water vapor counters planet cooling (a good thing) but increases risk of rain/flooding.
    By far the most ominous issue is depletion of fresh water aquifers. As the aquifers run out there will be a comparatively sudden decline in irrigation and food production. What humanity should be doing, instead of this CO2 nonsense, is developing infrastructure and methods for the rational management of fresh water.

    • Dan, I give you California as a poignant example that you’re exactly right on that. Here we have one of the most populace states in the US, the 10th largest economy in the world, vapidly inviting all comers, selling proven desert at margins that would shock an oil company, taxing it’s populace at usurious rates, and making no investment at all in water infrastructure.
      It’s the sort of scam you see in Baja California Sur all the time, and now it’s come to roost in California. These are the works of Governor Moonbeam and his ”irrelevant lentil-eating, sandal wearing hippies, who wanted to take humanity back to the stone age”.

  19. Exxon often dismissed its critics as irrelevant lentil-eating, sandal wearing hippies, who wanted to take humanity back to the stone age. I just love this .

  20. The puzzle is that a “small” global carbon tax is supposed to persuade all of humanity to reduce hydrocarbon use – to the point of solving all the perceived problems of DAGW.
    Since the millennium (just 16 short years) energy prices first quadrupled – apparently without solving DAGW – and then halved. Yet the alarmists have serenely persisted with their meme that a small upwards price adjustment of “carbon” will fix everything.
    The outcomes of the recent gyrations in global oil prices have conclusively refuted the theoretical argument for a global carbon tax.

    • We call this “empirical evidence” in the sciences Barry. It doesn’t fly among the climate elite. For some unknown reason there’s a mental disconnect there between perception and action. My personal belief is it’s associated with the Zika virus; my theory is the virus actually invaded humans right around 1990 and it’s effected millennials by reducing the size of their brains to the point they’ve become practically useless. I fear the next generation will be flesh eating zombies.

    • So Griff, you understand that will only increase the price of fossil fuels produced by those companies? Because we’ve already, very successfully, demonstrated “renewables” don’t work? So the companies you mention will essentially pay an indulgence to the AGW religion and pass the savings on to the customer?
      Brilliant plan. I feel much better now.

      • all I can tell you is that oil/energy compnies think it is commercially worthwhile to invest in renewables…
        The Times today tells me shell has predicted demand for oil will reach peak demand in 5 to 15 years and that Shell is well placed to make a profit selling oil substitutes.

  21. And the worst oil company has been Exxon which for decades has d*nied climate change

    I must be missing something – I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen any sort of d*nial from Exxon. If anyone has a record of such a thing – please post it in this thread.
    That was a major quibble. This is a minor quibble: how can anyone have d*nied or even referred to climate change “for decades”? As I recall, the term came about, almost certainly less than a decade ago, when it became clear that “global warming” wasn’t warming fast (possibly not even warming at all, but how do we know when we are only fed adjusted temperature data) enough to support the massive edifice of impending disaster scenarios that were built on its rather shaky foundations.
    If you think about it for a minute, “climate change” is a term that is so utterly devoid of any real meaning, that it’s not really possible to “d*ny” it at all. As such, I suppose it makes a good slogan; anything at all can be used as “proof” that “climate change is real, here, now……” (etc. etc. ad nauseam).

    • They called it cooling first, then warming, now change.
      The trick is simply to provoke the opponent into denying the cause is human, but they’ve cleverly conflated the AGW hypothesis, which is rooted in human activity, with any change at all. So now, when you try to argue there’s no poof humans are responsible they turn on you and accuse you of denying change happens. It’s clever in an underhanded, abusive and blatantly manipulative way. It’s morally and intellectually bankrupt, and it works.
      It’s very much like the entire AGW hypothesis itself, which is founded on the correlation between two variables that appear to rise together, much like “global average” temperature and pork belly prices, or the cost of a deck of smokes; they all go up together. It’s fait accompli in the minds of most people and they just depend on that association. It’s “the big lie” and it’s the perfect trap for the intellectually challenged.

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