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Shell takes $22 billion hit on lower oil, gas prices

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LONDON (AP) — Energy producer Royal Dutch Shell warned Tuesday it will slash the value of its assets by $22 billion to account for lower oil and gas prices amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the virus outbreak hurting the long-term prospects of the global economy, the company said it continues “to adapt to ensure the business remains resilient” in challenging times. Earlier this month, its competitor BP, also cut the value of its own assets by up to $17.5 billion.

The pandemic has hit the wider energy industry hard because it has placed onerous limits on business, travel and public life. There is little need in aviation for fuel, for example, since most planes are grounded.

Supply of oil and gas was particularly high when the outbreak began, creating a perfect storm for the industry. With storage facilities filling up, the U.S. price of oil went below zero in April for the first time ever.

Shell predicted prices for Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, would be at $50 dollars a barrel in 2022, having earlier predicted a price of $60 a barrel. On Tuesday, it was trading near $41 a barrel.

Shares in the company dropped 2.5% on the news.

“In a world of falling oil demand and a bigger push towards renewables, these energy titans increasingly look like creatures from another era, something which should give investors pause for thought,” said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG.

“While neither Shell nor BP will be going anywhere soon, their importance as dividend payers will likely diminish relative to other sectors, and yield-hungry investors need to be prepared for this eventuality.”

The Anglo-Dutch company told investors in April that it intended to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2050. BP made a similar announcement in February.

Shell also said it intended to set a stricter target to reduce the net carbon footprint of its energy products by 30% by 2030, from 20% currently, and aim for a cut of 65% by 2050, from 50% at present.

Emissions of carbon dioxide and methane from the extraction, refining and burning of fossil fuels are one of the main drivers of man-made global warming.

Michael Bradshaw, a professor of global energy at Warwick Business School, said the pandemic is forcing a turning point of sorts for both policymakers and the industry. Even as environmental groups seek to keep the Paris agreement on reducing carbon emissions from becoming a casualty of the pandemic, Bradshaw said the demand for oil may never return to its previous highs.

Air travel, for example, may never be the same. Ditto going to the office. All of which will be a challenge to big oil.

“After the financial crash in 2008, there was a rapid rebound in the use of fossil fuels. Within two years we returned to the same path of growing carbon emissions we would have been on if the crisis never happened,” Bradshaw said.

“World leaders face a similar decision this time. They could aim for another quick and dirty recovery, increasing fossil fuel consumption to get the economy back on track, or they can double down on the promises of clean, green growth outlined in the Paris agreement and treat the recovery as an opportunity to decarbonize their economies.”

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