Had Exxon Mobil reported its reserves differently in 2016, investors might have taken a another view of the company’s future trajectory. The company reported its Kearl oil sands as reserves, and in 2016 was ordered to debook them by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). An important shift in its disclosures ensued in March 2017, with proved reserves cut by 3.3bn oil-equivalent barrels.
In October 2016 the company admitted that, under the SEC definition of proven reserves, certain quantities of oil, such as those associated with the Kearl oil sands operation in Canada, would not qualify as proven reserves at the end of the year.
According to Tarek Soliman, senior analyst at the CDP, a non-governmental organisation based in the UK, the systematic practice of considering climate-related risk would have resulted in a different disclosure. It would transform investor perceptions if replicated across the whole oil and gas sector. “If the company were to integrate climate risk into its assessments, it would highlight that these assets show a high propensity to become impaired. They would have been downgraded to a resource rather than a reserve, and this problem would have been foreseen,” says Soliman.