While oversupply is the driving force behind today's low prices, Shell's long-term concern actually has to do with weak demand. The U.K., France, Germany, Norway, China and India are all moving to phase out internal combustion-engined vehicles, and Volvo has pledged to go all-electric by the end of the decade. With electric cars on the rise, van Buerden expects that the need for fossil fuels is going to plateau as early as the 2030s — much sooner than predicted by organizations like the International Energy Agency.
Van Buerden doesn't see this as a bad thing — far from it. He told Bloomberg TV that he thinks electric vehicles are an important part of the effort to limit global climate change. "We need to be at a much higher degree of electric vehicle penetration — or hydrogen or gas vehicles — if we want to stay within the 2 degrees Celsius outcome," he said, referring to the commonly accepted threshold for dangerous warming. He intends to do his own part by buying a plug-in hybrid Mercedes-Benz S500e.
In keeping with this perspective, Shell intends to invest another $1bn per year on new energy sources like biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells, among other technologies. It is also advancing gradually into the field of renewable electrical power. This does not mean that it will cease to be an oil major — its recent acquisition of BG Group affirms its role as a leader in oil and gas — but it will be making ready for a future where fossil fuels play a role alongside other alternatives.
Shell says that it is already well-positioned to profit in an environment of low oil prices.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.