• ExxonMobil doubling down on oil while Shell looks to attract investors and Sinopec steps up hydrogen efforts

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

China’s Sinopec, Shell, and ExxonMobil have all been in Financial Times news in the last few weeks for different reasons, together giving an interesting picture of the state of the oil industry. Exxon, once the world’s most value company by market valuation, consistently profitable, posted its third straight quarterly loss last week, yet is doubling down on oil, “plotting a huge surge in output”, in the words of the FT. Its chief executive, Darren Woods, told staff in late October that while coronavirus and climate change considerations have led some to conclude that demand for oil will not recover from its present lows, “as we look closely at the facts and the various expert assessments, we conclude that the needs of society will drive more energy use in the years ahead — and an ongoing need for the products we produce.” To fit into the need for lower greenhouse gas emissions in the future, the company is looking to carbon capture and biofuels technologies, though because of its belief in oil, its cost of capital is increasing. Meanwhile, Shell, which is taking a more pessimistic view of the future demand for oil (rhetorically, at least) and planning to become a more general energy company, has raised the size of the dividend it pays shareholders, assumedly to avert any further reduction in the value of its shares, after a fall of around 60% since the start of the year (a fall typical of many oil and gas companies this year). The dividend had been reduced in April, but Shell now insists its finances justify raising it again. Chief executive Ben van Beurden said that the company is “starting a new era of dividend growth” and that Shell’s “sector-leading cash flows will enable us to grow our businesses of the future while increasing shareholder distributions, making us a compelling investment case.” The announcement raised the share price 4%. Finally, another aspect to the industry was exhibited in Sinopec’s announcement that it would “reallocate some of our resources all along the hydrogen chain”, which is being interpreted as part of China’s national aim to reduce its reliance on oil imports, the country currently being the world’s largest importer. If hydrogen can be produced domestically (from renewable electricity, perhaps), and replace oil as a transportation fuel, then it would be of strategic importance for China’s future, having an impact on global oil demand. Altogether, the picture is a highly complex one.