Over the past decade, opaque private equity firms have quietly bought up a substantial portion of the oil and gas industry, creating the conditions for false progress, and even regression, in the transition to a clean energy economy, the New York Times reports. Since 2010, private equity has invested at least $1.1 trillion into the energy sector — double the market cap of Exxon, Chevron, and Shell combined — with just 12% going to renewable energy.
The acquisitions are driven in part because “oil majors [are] feeling the heat,” Alyssa Giachino of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project told the Times. Companies are eager to get oil and gas operations, and their climate pollution, off their books, while “private equity is quietly picking up the dregs, perpetuating operations of the least desirable assets.”
With their hyper focus on profit and often without the considerations of reputational risk that keep traditional oil companies from polluting with abandon, private equity firms have become some of the country’s biggest methane polluters — a problem exacerbated when firms use weak disclosure requirements and complex bankruptcy and restructuring proceedings to evade cleanup requirements. “And when these largely anonymous firms collapse,” Ludovic Phalippou, a financial economics professor at Oxford’s Saïd Business School, noted, “you don’t even know who to be angry at, because you don’t even know who they are.” (New York Times $)