Occidental Shareholders Vote for Climate Proposal

In a first at a major U.S. oil-and-gas company, shareholders of Occidental Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: OXY) voted Friday to ask that the company assess the long-term impacts of climate change on its business.

Occidental opposed the proposal, which calls for an annual report starting in 2018 that includes environment-related scenario planning. One of those evaluations would be assessing the risks the company could face under efforts to limit global warming to a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius.

The company hasn't yet disclosed what percentage of votes the climate resolution received, but acknowledged the shareholder support for it. Occidental said it would release that percentage in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission within four business days.

"We look forward to continuing our shareholder engagement on the topic and providing additional disclosure about the company's assessment and management of climate-related risks and opportunities," said Eugene L. Batchelder, Occidental's chairman.

The proposal that passed is nonbinding. Occidental is among a number of U.S. oil and gas producers under increasing pressure from shareholders to address climate change and other environmental risks to their businesses. The company is a significant oil producer in the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, and also has drilling operations outside the U.S. in places like Colombia, Oman and Qatar.

The Nathan Cummings Foundation, which led the proposal along with Wespath Investment Management, said Friday's passing vote puts the oil-and-gas industry on notice that investors are looking more seriously at climate issues.

"It's hugely significant," said Laura S. Campos, director of corporate and political accountability at the Nathan Cummings Foundation. "It's the first, but it's not going to be the last."

Occidental, in its proxy, urged investors to vote against the proposal, saying it was already working to expand its disclosure of how climate-related issues are relevant to its risk management practices and to explicitly incorporate climate-related risks and opportunities into its scenario planning process.

BlackRock Inc. (NYSE: BLK), the world's largest asset manager, supported the climate resolution, an early indication that financial management firms are beginning to think differently about their energy investments. This is the first time BlackRock voted for a shareholder proposal on climate risk that company management opposed.

Shanna Cleveland, director of carbon asset risk at Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit group that promotes sustainable business practices, lauded the proposal's passing as a big win.

When such proposals first began popping up, they got little support. A database of shareholder resolutions kept by Ceres shows that in 2011 a proposal to add an independent environmental expert to Occidental's board got only 5.3% approval from investors, but one last year asking Occidental to report on carbon asset risk scenarios only narrowly failed with 49% of the vote.

"One of the things it signals is that investors recognize that while political winds may be shifting, market forces are heading in the same direction -- and that's toward an energy transition," Ms. Cleveland said.

Several of the world's biggest oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, have started to produce research about climate risks for investors, although the amount of disclosure has varied by company. In some cases, certain activists have been critical of the conclusions, which have largely found that the companies face limited risks even from scenarios in which carbon emissions are dramatically reduced in the future.

Exxon and others continue to face pressure on the issue. Exxon and Chevron shareholders will vote on a number of proposals in annual meetings at the end of the month. One resolution seeks more detailed disclosures from Exxon about how new technology and climate change regulation will affect its assets. A Chevron proposal requests that the company begin to report on how it will transition to a low carbon economy.

Exxon and Chevron have recommended votes against the proposals, saying they are carefully planning for the future and have already made significant disclosures on the matter. Exxon recently released a new report about environmental risks and held a shareholder webcast on the issue Thursday.

Bradley Olson contributed to this article.

Write to Erin Ailworth at Erin.Ailworth@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 12, 2017 17:24 ET (21:24 GMT)