Just Days Ahead of Employee Climate Strike, Microsoft Announces Partnership with Chevron to Accelerate Oil Extraction

By Brian Merchant on at

Mere days before Microsoft workers are set to walk out of their jobs and publicly call on their employer to reduce carbon emissions and sever its ties with fossil fuel companies, the tech giant has announced a major partnership with two of the biggest corporations in the oil industry. Microsoft employees have responded with a fiery statement condemning the partnership and calling on fellow employees to join them in walking out on September 20th.

When hundreds of Amazon workers announced last week that they would be walking out to protest their company’s inadequate climate policies, Microsoft employees were quick to join their fellow Seattleites. On September 9, a group called Microsoft Workers 4 Good tweeted “Microsoft workers will be joining millions of people around the world by participating in the youth-led Global Climate Strike on September 20th to demand an end to the age of fossil fuels.”

The workers’ demands are straightforward: “Zero carbon emissions by 2030. Zero contracts with fossil fuel companies. Zero funding of climate denial lobbying or other efforts. Zero harm to climate refugees and frontline communities.”

Google, Facebook, and others pledged support for the multi-city walkout, some of which is being organised through the burgeoning Tech Workers Coalition. Then, on September 17, just three days before the well-publicised climate events, Microsoft announced that it had partnered with Chevron, the oil giant, and Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services provider, to accelerate oil field development and extraction of fossil fuels.

It is, as Microsoft stated in its release yesterday, “the industry’s first three-party collaboration to accelerate creation of innovative petrotechnical and digital technologies.”

The partnership will “dramatically accelerate the speed with which we can analyse data to generate new exploration opportunities and bring prospects to development more quickly and with more certainty,” said Joseph C. Geagea, an executive vice president at Chevron, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Essentially, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform Azure will host Schlumberger’s DELFI “cognitive exploration and production environment,” and the two companies will work with Chevron to build AI-powered applications native to both. If successful, the project’s stakeholders have stated they hope to expand the technology and make it available to other oil companies, too.

It is, in other words, a project explicitly designed to improve the speed at which oil companies can develop new sites for fossil fuel extraction, as well as the rates of extraction at existing sites. The partnership aims to ensure more oil is extracted and burned, more efficiently. It would help increase carbon emissions, and it’s a new contract with a fossil fuel company—a stark affront to the first two asks of the tech worker climate organisers.

“This is a bad look,” tweeted Calvin Jones, a senior product manager at Microsoft, when the news broke. Indeed, the announcement angered a number of employees. One Microsoft worker, who was granted anonymity, told me he was “enraged” by the announcement. “To me it really highlights where Microsoft’s priorities are,” he said. “Needless to say, it is money that drives the company and its actions. But this is starting to be at the expense of our planet.”

It also outraged the employees who have been helping to organise the walkout, driving them to release a powerful, sometimes emotional statement urging more Microsoft workers to join them.

“With this kind of news making headlines just three days before the Global Climate Strike,” it reads, “it’s no longer possible for us to ignore Microsoft’s complicity in the climate crisis.”

It continues:

“Microsoft makes millions of dollars in profits by helping fossil fuel companies extract more oil. In this week’s company-wide all-hands, our CEO, Satya Nadella, defended our contracts with Big Oil by suggesting that our technology helps them in their R&D efforts to develop sustainable energy. Yet, this is in clear contradiction to the ambitions of fossil fuel-CEOs and even other Microsoft leaders: Azure Executive Tom Keane, in discussing Microsoft’s multimillion dollar contract with Chevron, asked “How can we [..] more efficiently do oil exploration? Or more efficiently do sensor management from an offshore oil rig?”

“As Microsoft workers, we’ve been made complicit.”

“If we want to make real impact, all of us need to mobilise, work together, and demand a fundamental change in Microsoft’s priorities,” it continues, “It is imperative that all tech companies stand together, denounce the usage of Cloud and AI services for non-renewable energy extraction, and work together to put an end to fossil fuel consumption.”

Gizmodo obtained a copy of the statement, which was first sent to internal channels, then posted on GitHub, where it can now be read in full here.

This kind of partnership is not new to the company. Microsoft has been aggressively courting the oil industry, forming partnerships with ExxonMobil and hosting exhibitions like “Empowering Oil & Gas with AI” at industry conferences. Yet the timing of this announcement seems particularly aggressive, given the well-publicised stake that Microsoft employees have in the climate strike.

It also remains remarkable that Microsoft’s very public founder, Bill Gates, has made climate change a central focus of his philanthropy, and that he has made no public statement regarding the shift of the company he started towards embracing the oil industry. At this point, of the big five tech companies, Microsoft is perhaps doing the most to explicitly accelerate climate change.

“This statement was necessary because we need to do more,” one of its authors, also a Microsoft employee, told me. “Microsoft has so many resources and people power to make great change and emerge as a leader in sustainability. We need to stand with Amazon and Google as a united front and prove that together, we’re an unstoppable force. The Global Climate Strike on September 20th is our chance to show just that. And this statement is calling on everyone, Microsoft employee or not, to come out and show their support.”

Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment.

Featured image: Sean Gallup (Getty)

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