ConocoPhillips’s big breakaway

Phillips logoThe third-largest oil company in the U.S. calls on the government to regulate and reduce national greenhouse-gas emissions. From the Globe:

“When we minimize our environmental footprint, it’s minimizing the use of energy to develop the oil sands,” he said, “but [it’s also] limiting and reducing the amount of emissions that come with the oil sands, and then ultimately applying the technology so as to move to CO2 sequestration.”

Mr. Mulva said he hoped the U.S. would adopt a climate change strategy that would be compatible with the efforts of its international partners, including a possible cap-and-trade program that would allow corporations to manage their targets by buying and selling emissions credits on the open market.

Here’s Conoco’s news release, and here‘s the Associated Press story, which points out that British-based oil company BP and General Electric are already onside as members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, which has been urging action for a while:

In January, the CEOs of 10 major corporations, as part of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, said in their letter to Bush that the cornerstone of climate policy should be an economy-wide emissions cap-and-trade system.

Members of the group included chief executives of Alcoa Inc., DuPont Co., Caterpillar Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. The executives said mandatory reductions of heat-trapping emissions can be imposed without economic harm and would lead to economic opportunities if done across the economy and with provisions to mitigate costs.

Large oil companies aren’t run by fools, and they aren’t parochial, either. With operations worldwide, Conoco or BP might well have a better idea of the lie of the land of global climate-change policy than even the U.S. government.

A cynic might (OK, will — read the comments) say ConocoPhillips is a traitor to good sense and is merely trying to be at the table when new rules get set. A more generous interpretation is that they’ve been preparing for an oil-less future since the moment they realized the supply wasn’t infinite (yesterday, in what can’t be a coincidence, Conoco pledged $22.5 million for a biofuels research program at Iowa State University), and they’re obviously ready to go with better extraction and refining processes for themselves and alternative fuels to sell to others. They’re just holding off till somebody gives them an extra push, so they’ll get maximum bang for their investment bucks.

Update: Marketing thinker Seth Godin offers some insight into what’s in it for ConocoPhillips to change the terms of the game.

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