In 1999, Enron CEO Jeff Skilling mocked ExxonMobil, the largest U.S. oil and gas company, calling it a “dinosaur.” Yet Exxon lumbered on, churning out steady profits, even after Enron collapsed in bankruptcy two years later and Skilling went to prison for fraud. But now, as the planet continues to heat up, COVID-19 has blasted into Exxon’s finances like some giant asteroid.
The energy industry is evolving, and large fossil fuel producers like Exxon must transform or get left behind. While its major rivals such as BP and Shell have invested in renewables, like wind and solar, or shifted to producing more natural gas, which emits less carbon, Exxon has insisted on staying the course even as investors and consumers increasingly turn away from dependence on oil.
“Exxon had these valuable reserves, but right now, the market says reserves in the ground may not be worth very much,” said Clark Williams-Derry, an analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “This has led to a rethinking of the economics of oil and how you value oil companies.”