Big Tech and Oil Production, a new-found relationship

Big Tech Companies have always publicized themselves as fierce opponents of pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. They often associate themselves with climate activism and, during panels and conferences their “Green” Initiatives are always presented to the public to remind us their concern for the environment.

While all of this is well-known there are certain aspects of these companies that may question their actual commitment to the environmental cause.

Google, Amazon and Microsoft are the subjects of this article; their CEOs, especially the former’s and the latter’s, have expressed their personal concern for the environment and, that they want to take an active part in the development of clean energy solution for the planet.

If this is their mission, why did these 3 company sign contracts with oil giants to automate and improve oil production? Is there a moral problem with such contracts?

Starting from 2018 the tech giants have moved towards the oil business which has discovered their help to be highly beneficial.

Oil production has been through the years a race against technology; in the past every couple of decades it is announced that sources of oil and gas are going to run out soon but, as of today, they keep increasing their expected supply. Their extended lifetime doesn’t come out of the blue obviously but, comes from new methods in the research and extraction of natural resources.

One of the most recent methods which helped US production to increase again was the highly controversial “Fracking”. This extraction method consists in fracturing the underground using pressurized water, sand and chemicals which then free the fossil fuel previously trapped inside the terrain. This method has, and still is, receiving wide criticism because it wastes a lot of water and the potential to damage drinkable water sources is quite high.

In this highly competitive market, which is always hunting for more efficient ways of producing resources automation and machine learning have found a new ground to implement themselves.

Amazon and Microsoft are working mainly in the automation field, they are partnering respectively with Shell and Exxon to automize certain jobs in the field, they are also providing a lot of services to these companies to allow better extraction, predictive maintenance and internet of things.

Google, maybe the most passionate to environmental causes of the three, is contributing not only to the output but also to the input. It has partnered with Total to find new oil reserves; oil companies have scanned earth’s crust many times during the decades to find clues suggesting the presence of oil in the ground, they have gained massive amounts of data which is being fed right to machine learning algorithms. This part of AI is capable of teaching itself through the use of big amounts of data and is much better and more effective in finding oil reserves than humans.

From a pure market view there isn’t anything to discuss here, they are just private companies making deals with each other to increase profits but, since they have stated again over the years their climate concerns aren’t these moves controversial?

Should we consider them part of the problem if they contribute to the extraction of oil?

Are their visions for the future based on true will of changing the planet or a very convenient marketing strategy?

Tommaso Celani

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