Google to Stop Making AI Tools for Oil and Gas Extraction

(Photo Credit: Worksite Ltd., Unsplash)

by | May 21, 2020

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Google to Stop Making AI Tools for Oil and Gas Extraction

(Photo Credit: Worksite Ltd., Unsplash)

Google agreed to stop making artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms for oil and gas extraction. The move came shortly after Greenpeace called out several tech companies for helping major oil companies find, extract, refine, and distribute fossil fuels.

Greenpeace published “Oil in the Cloud: How Tech Companies are Helping Big Oil Profit from Climate Destruction” this week. The report examines how Amazon, Microsoft, and Google work with major oil companies including Shell, BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil to use artificial intelligence technologies to unlock oil and gas deposits globally.

“All three tech companies appear to be aware of the disconnect between their stated climate goals and the real world climate impact of aiding the fossil fuel sector in becoming more productive and efficient,” the report said.

Last year Google Cloud received around $65 million from oil and gas companies, accounting for under 1% of total revenue, a Google spokesperson told CNBC.

On Tuesday, Google issued a statement to the Medium publication OneZero: “We will not…build custom AI/ML algorithms to facilitate upstream extraction in the oil and gas industry.” As Rachel Sandler explained in Forbes, the change applies to technology that can predict where companies would likely find crude oil.

Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner for Greenpeace USA, praised the decision. “While Google still has legacy contracts with oil and gas firms that we hope they will terminate, we welcome Google’s move to no longer create custom solutions for upstream oil and gas extraction,” she told CNBC. “We hope Microsoft and Amazon will quickly follow with commitments to end AI partnerships with oil and gas firms, as these contracts contradict their stated climate goals and accelerate the climate crisis.”

Sandler said that Amazon responded to the Greenpeace report by directing reporters to their website. “We will continue to provide cloud services to companies in the energy industry to make their legacy businesses less carbon intensive and help them accelerate development of renewable energy businesses,” the corporate website says. “We support sustainability programs for our own business, and work with partners to reduce their demand for carbon fuel sources.”

Microsoft issued a statement on its blog. “The reality is that the world’s energy currently comes from fossil fuels and, as standards of living around the world improve, the world will require even more energy,” the company said. “That makes realizing a zero-carbon future one of the most complex transitions in human history.” The tech giant also emphasized its plan to become carbon negative.

“We’re encouraged by the growing number of energy sector commitments to transitioning to cleaner energy and lowering carbon emissions, but they can’t do it alone,” the company concluded.

Citing data from the firm HG Insights, CNBC reported that the oil and gas sector is expected to spend $1.3 billion on cloud computing this year.

Investors are putting increased pressure on major oil and gas corporations to address climate change, leading to seemingly contradictory strategies. Last year BP’s board agreed to show how their strategy aligns with the Paris Agreement. They also invested $100 million in carbon emissions-reduction projects from their oil and natural gas operations. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil and Chevron are investing in massive renewable energy projects to power their oil field operations.

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