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Google pledges not to build more custom AI for fossil fuel extraction

The pledge follows a Greenpeace report on Big Tech's oil contracts

Google says it won’t create new custom AI tools that help oil and gas companies extract fossil fuels — unlike its cloud computing rivals Microsoft and Amazon.

The pledge came in response to a Greenpeace report on Big Tech’s Big Oil problem, which exposed 14 contracts that the three companies had with major oil firms.

The environmental organization called on the firms to publicly commit to ending these relationships — and Google was first to answer.

A company spokesperson told OneZero that the company will not “build custom AI/ML algorithms to facilitate upstream extraction in the oil and gas industry,” and would instead focus on solutions for the renewables sector.

[Read: UK to combat air pollution with AI-powered traffic lights]

That means no more customized AI for finding fossil fuel deposits and speeding up the production process.

Google’s tech help fossil fuel giants find and extract more oil. Credit: Greenpeace

However, the company will honor its existing contracts, and still allow oil and gas companies to use its cloud computing for data storage and general IT operations.

Greenpeace nonetheless welcomed the move.

“While Google still has a few legacy contracts with oil and gas firms, we welcome this indication from Google that it will no longer build custom solutions for upstream oil and gas extraction,” said Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner for Greenpeace USA.

Oil in the cloud

Cutting its ties with Big Oil shouldn’t cause too much pain for the company. In 2019, the company said its revenues from oil and gas companies was about $65 million — less than 1% of Google Cloud’s total revenues.

Greenpeace’s analysis suggests that Microsoft and Amazon hold far more of these contracts.

Google is the first cloud giant to answer Greenpeace's call to end its oil and gas contracts
Credit: Greenpiece
Google is the first cloud giant to answer Greenpeace’s call to end its oil and gas contracts. Credit: Greenpeace

Greenpeace says that “Microsoft appears to be leading the way with the most oil and contracts, offering AI capabilities in all phases of oil production,” while Amazon‘s contracts focus on “pipelines, shipping, and storage for oil and gas companies.”

Neither company has matched Google‘s commitment to end these deals, undermining the headline-grabbing climate commitments that they’ve made in recent months.

Published May 20, 2020 — 12:13 UTC