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Greenpeace: Big Tech won’t reach emissions goals until it cuts ties with Big Oil

Microsoft, Google, and Amazon all have pledges and initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, but the companies’ contracts with oil and gas offset any efficiencies to data centers and offices, according to a new report from Greenpeace.

“Despite the high-level commitments that Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have made to address their own carbon footprint, we found that they still have partnerships and contracts with the oil and gas sector to help boost oil and gas production or help them find oil and gas deposits underground, all through big data contracts or machine learning capabilities,” Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner for Greenpeace USA, told Digital Trends.

After the organization released the report on Tuesday, Google issued a statement saying it would no longer build custom artificial intelligence or machine learning tools for oil and gas companies trying to extract more fossil fuels. “We hope that they will terminate the ongoing contracts that they have in place,” Jardim said. “But we certainly welcome that step.” A Google spokesperson told Digital Trends that it will honor its existing contracts, “But we will not, for instance, build custom A.I./ML algorithms to facilitate upstream extraction in the oil and gas industry.”

Oil and gas exploration has long relied on seismic data to find potential sources, a difficult and intensive process. Using machine learning to assist geoscientists in interpreting a large amount of complex data “in a faster and more accurate manner represent[s] vital importance for the development of the exploration industry,” according to a 2018 paper from IBM researchers.

Jardim said it can be difficult to know how much efficiency this type of technology is adding to the extraction process. But in the case of Microsoft’s contract with ExxonMobil, “we’re actually able to see that, based on the fact that Microsoft said they want to produce an additional 50,000 barrels a day for Exxon in the Permian Basin by 2025,” she said. Based on that target, the Greenpeace report projects ExxonMobil’s anticipated oil production from the Permian oil basin that year could add as much as 3.4 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere.

In a statement responding to the Greenpeace report, Microsoft reiterated its pledge to be carbon negative by 2030. In its report, Greenpeace said the increased production from ExxonMobil in the Permian “alone could lead to emissions greater than 20% of Microsoft’s annual carbon footprint.”

In a statement on its “positions page,” Amazon said, “We will continue to provide cloud services to companies in the energy industry to make their legacy businesses less carbon intensive and help them accelerate development of renewable energy businesses.” The Greenpeace report found only one example of promoting renewable energy.

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