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A Year Before the Pope's US Visit, MPC’s CEO Appealed to the Vatican

As Pope Francis visits the U.S., the rhetoric about carbon emissions and global warming has been peaking. There is much merit to the discussion of energy efficiency and emissions overall, but at times, important issues have been put to the side.

About a year ago, Marathon Petroleum Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer Gary R. Heminger sent a letter to Pope Francis highlighting these important issues – relief of poverty chief among them – as pressure groups encouraged the Vatican to divest from fossil fuel investments. Below is the letter Heminger sent to the Pope.

Most Holy Father,

As a member of the Holy Mother Church who has worked for more than 40 years in the petroleum industry, I would like to express to Your Holiness my concerns about vocal advocates who are pressuring the Vatican to withdraw its investments from fossil fuel companies that provide energy to billions of our fellow human beings. I address this subject not only from the standpoint of a petroleum company executive, but more importantly, as a Catholic who believes that every man, woman and child on God’s Earth is infinitely valuable.

I believe that advocates of fossil fuel divestment may, in their enthusiasm, inadvertently overlook the damage their policy objectives would cause to some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, especially in developing countries. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide face energy poverty, which correlates directly with high infant mortality, low life expectancy, illiteracy and a host of other social ills. A statement from World Bank Vice President Rachel Kyte captures the sentiment succinctly:

“Access to energy is absolutely fundamental in the struggle against poverty. It is energy that lights the lamp that lets you do your homework, that keeps the heat on in a hospital, that lights the small businesses where most people work. Without energy, there is no economic growth, there is no dynamism, and there is no opportunity.”

I would add to that list the ability to transport people, food, building materials, water, and so many more of our lives’ essential building blocks. The mobility that fossil fuels provide – by air, road, rail, river and ocean – has unlocked unprecedented prosperity around the world.

But even today, 1.2 billion people have no electricity, and 2.8 billion rely on wood and other biomass fuels for indoor cooking, causing an estimated 3.5 million deaths each year – primarily among women and children – from respiratory illnesses. The tragedy of energy poverty is appalling, and far more immediate than theoretical catastrophes that may or may not manifest due to climate change.

It is my fear that in their zeal to address the possibility of weather-related problems in the future, advocates of fossil-fuel divestment are ignoring the immediate threats to health and well-being faced by our most vulnerable brethren around the world. For people suffering energy poverty today, access to energy is a real, daily concern that can have life-or-death consequences. Immediate suffering and death can be alleviated through affordable fuel technologies that exist today and have been proven effective for more than a century. Although certainly solar, wind, and other alternative power sources can play a role, only fossil fuels can meet the challenge of energy poverty on the scale that is currently needed, and will continue to be needed for decades to come.

The International Energy Agency notes that bringing electricity and clean cooking to those who need it will require tens of billions of investment dollars, and “All sources and forms of investment have their part to play… the private sector needing to grow the most.” In other words, investments in the companies that bring energy to the world – including fossil fuel companies – is critical to millions of our fellow human beings’ health, happiness, and even their survival.

This reality is in stark contrast to the calls for fossil-fuel divestment. The fact that fossil fuels can provide energy to make hundreds of millions of lives better – and in some instances even save lives – is not addressed by those who advocate divestment. As a result, I fear the anti-fossil fuel advocates are taking a position in which “The human person and human dignity risk being turned into vague abstractions…”

These latter words were spoken by Your Holiness in June 2013 at the 38th Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. At that time, Your Holiness was referring to the challenges of war, malnutrition, marginalization, violence and financial speculation that can victimize individuals. In this circumstance, I believe that a single-minded call to divest from fossil fuels risks treating hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings as “vague abstractions” – as merely collateral damage in service to an ideological policy agenda.

Fossil fuels provide power to hospitals, schools, homes and businesses. They enable farmers to till, irrigate, plant and harvest crops to feed themselves and their communities. Reliable and affordable fuels empower people with the freedom to transport themselves to markets, schools, medical facilities and community events. Diesel and gasoline allow businesses to provide goods and services, as these fuels’ affordability and reliability, relative to alternatives, enhance the efficiency of every link along the value chain – transportation of raw materials, manufacturing of goods, and transporting goods to those who need them.

Cold winters and hot summers are less hazardous when safe, affordable fuels allow heating and cooling systems to more effectively hold temperature extremes at bay. Recovery from natural disasters is quicker and safer with hydrocarbon-fueled ambulances, fire trucks, and law-enforcement resources; as power at hospitals and markets is quickly restored with gasoline- and diesel-powered generators; as food, medical supplies and construction materials arrive in trucks, aircraft and marine vessels powered by hydrocarbon fuels.

While energy poverty makes virtually every aspect of life more difficult, reliable and affordable energy can make self-sufficiency possible, improve the quality of life, and even help sustain life.

At the same time, I would like to draw on my decades of experience in the petroleum industry to emphasize to Your Holiness that our industry’s technological advances have enabled us to provide increasing amounts of energy to consumers around the world while continually reducing our environmental footprint. We all share God’s gift of Creation – the land, air and water we all cherish; our industry is committed to providing the energy that billions of people rely on while serving as responsible stewards of Creation.

When considering the issue of fossil fuel investments, I humbly request Your Holiness to consider the plight of millions who face the reality of energy poverty today. I ask Your Holiness not on behalf of the company for which I work; rather, I ask on behalf of those who would be ill-served by the lack of investment in fossil fuel energy, which the world needs more of, not less.

I have the honor to profess myself, with the most profound respect, Your Holiness’ most obedient and humble servant.


Gary R. Heminger