Alaska’s Partners in the News: LNG Sales, AI and Funding Climate Research

Santos Targets Asia LNG Growth With $1.4 Billion Conoco Deal
James Thornhill, Bloomberg, October 13, 2019

Santos Ltd. agreed to buy ConocoPhillips’ northern Australia business for $1.4 billion in a deal that will boost the Adelaide-based oil and gas producer’s position in the growing Asian liquefied natural gas market.  The transaction may allow Santos to become the country’s largest independent energy producer and capitalize on a push by Asian consumers, including China, to switch to cleaner burning natural gas away from coal. Conoco is selling its operating interests in the Darwin LNG processing plant and the Bayu-Undan, Barossa and Poseidon gas fields.  Conoco is the second U.S. energy major to announce plans to sell down its interests in Australia after Exxon Mobil Corp. in September said it would start a process to find a buyer for its Bass Strait producing assets off the coast of southeast Australia. Conoco completed the sale of its stake in the Greater Sunrise field to Timor-Leste’s government for $350 million earlier this year, and the Santos deal will free up capital to invest in U.S. shale and return cash to shareholders, two of its priorities in recent years.

Oil and Gas Companies Turn to AI to Cut Costs
Neanda Salvaterra, The Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2019

Amid a growing push to cut operating costs, big oil is looking to artificial intelligence for help with automating functions, predicting equipment problems and increasing the output of oil and gas.  AI tools can quickly find solutions for the costly problems that can disrupt the business of searching for and extracting hydrocarbons. For example, a faulty well pump at an unmanned platform in the North Sea repeatedly disrupted production earlier this year for Aker BP, a Norwegian oil company in which BP owns a stake. The company finally fixed the problem by installing an AI program that monitors data from sensors attached to the pump and flags glitches before they cause a shutdown, says Lars Atle Andersen, vice president of operations for technology and digitalization. Engineers now can fly in to fix such problems ahead of time and avert a shutdown, Mr. Andersen says.

Facing climate change, ExxonMobil ramps up energy research
Amy Harder, Axios, October 14, 2019

ExxonMobil is expanding its research efforts with the stated goal of producing more — but cleaner — energy in the face of climate change.  Driving the news: The world’s biggest publicly traded oil company has been creating new partnerships with American and foreign universities in recent years totaling at least $75 million, and it just inked another, unprecedented $100 million deal with the U.S. Energy Department.

The big picture: Oil and gas companies have been funding energy and climate research at universities and other entities for years. Exxon’s recent moves are an expansion of this trend at a time of heightened scrutiny facing oil companies and their role fueling climate change.

  • To critics, this corporate funding casts doubt on the scientific independence of research, especially from oil and gas producers with bottom lines to protect in the face of policies targeting their products.
  • To academics and executives involved, the partnerships are genuine and mutually beneficial as oil companies seek to adopt cleaner energy technologies and universities get deep pockets of money and expertise.