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Two companies in the energy space made headlines this past week. First it was Exxon Mobil who experienced a legal defeat in court when trying to block activist pro climate investors from taking board seats. A court granted these investors two seats in the 2 members Exxon board. Investors are part of Engine No. 1, a small hedge fund whose mission is to push energy companies into green technologies. and away from fossil fuels. On European shores of the Atlantic, a Dutch court ruled that Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, has failed to deploy enough resources into the reduction of carbon emissions and thus must redouble efforts. Both decisions mark the end of the oil era and that of the guardians of the fossil fuel propelled energy matrix.
Were one to find a single differentiating characteristic for the 20th century that would be oil . T Petroleum made transportation more efficient and effective. Petroleum brought the flame of civilization to many under developed lands while prompting one of the greatest showers of innovation generated by humankind in developed countries. The oil era was fostered by seven corporations known as the Seven Sisters of simply the Majors. These companies were British Petroleum ( born Anglo Persian); Royal Dutch Shell; Standard Oil of California ( today Chevron); Gulf Oil ( now Chevron); Texaco ( now Chevron); Esso ( now Exxon Mobil) and Standard Oil Company of New York (now Exxon-Mobil)
These companies singlehandedly built the worldwide oil based energy matrix. And from the dawn of the 20th century up and until the 1970s they controlled the world’s energy architecture. . And they established a stable and effective oil market As demand continued to grow driven by a post WW II growth wave seldom seen before in history, the Seven Sisters were regarded as the holders of the keys to development But , alas the innovation genie, the entrepreneurial spirit of other Americans, Europeans and the development drive of professional leaders in oil producing countries worked together to enhance participation in the oil industry thereby punctuating a perfect oligopoly that failed to adapt to change and lead the new wave.
Indeed, by the 1960’s two emerging markets (Venezuela and Iran) that had benefitted from the post WWI oil boom and the ensuing demand peak during and after WWII sparked the flame of producing countries’ participation in the oil industry. In Iran by the 1920s, the national oil industry had matured, an enormous refinery had been built in Abadan on the Persian Gulf, and Iran was among the top five oil producers in the world, accounting for 5-6% of world production. In Venezuela oil was discovered in 1914 when the Zumaque well was tapped. But it was the blowout of the Barroso No. 2 well in Cabimas in 1922 that launched Venezuela into the major oil producing leagues. By 1928 Venezuela became the world’s leading oil exporter. As senior oil producing nations Venezuela and Iran had created a bustling middle class with professionals educated in the US and Europe who became industry leaders once graduated. This development oriented professional class was incarnated by Juan Pablo Perez-Alfonzo in Venezuela and Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran. They rallied to create OPEC. And OPEC became the first and most significant threat to the Seven Sisters. By 1973 the world oil market had two major players: the seven Sisters and OPEC. But far from treating the new reality as a promise, the Seven Sisters saw these developments as a threat. Accordingly they decided to engage in merging activities within themselves while conducting the most brilliant lobbying operations in every capital city of developed countries to fight regulation and environmental concerns.
As a result they built their own incarceration by deepening their dependence on oil while failing to effectively penetrate new and more environmental friendly sources of energy. As worldwide concerns over climate change mount their bands are equated with environmental disasters such as the Exxon-Valdez catastrophe in Alaska and BP’s Gulf of Mexico’s oil spill, the largest in history. And as photovoltaic; waste to energy and hydrogen continue to make inroads into the energy market the now Four Sisters continue to march towards oblivion. Courts all over the world are telling us that.
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