Former Enron Trader Sees Change in Houston Oil Patch

(Bloomberg) — For John Arnold, the billionaire philanthropist who made his fortune betting on natural gas prices, Houston’s fossil-fuel industry seems finally ready to move on.

A year ago, talk in the Texas energy hub was mostly about defending oil and gas and denouncing renewables, Arnold, 47, said Monday on his Twitter account. Now, much of the discussion has shifted to clean-energy topics including wind, solar and batteries.

There’s been seismic shift in the Houston energy industry of late. A year ago, there was a lot of defending the oil & gas sector and denouncing renewables. Anecdotally, about 75% of the talk was O&G and 25% clean energy. It feels like those numbers have reversed.

— John Arnold (@JohnArnoldFndtn) April 19, 2021

“Even those who are not ideological believers are taking the cues from the financial markets, which have no interest in oil production growth anymore,” said Arnold, the former head of natural-gas derivatives at Enron Corp.

He also said capital available to oil and gas has dried up while “every” private equity firm in Houston is raising money for clean energy. “The markets are rewarding those in a growth industry (zero carbon energy) vs one in secular decline.”

Arnold said the shift has made him more optimistic about the speed of decarbonization, which requires the scale and financial resources that large companies possess. “The fossil fuel industry has that expertise and is now focusing on a low carbon future.”

One example of the energy industry moving itself forward is a recent proposal by Exxon Mobil Corp. for a $100 billion hub to capture carbon dioxide emissions along the U.S. Gulf Coast in Texas, said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The leader of America’s fourth-biggest city, which bills itself as the energy capital of the world, said Houston isn’t trying to move away from the energy industry that the city was built on — but rather, move forward with it.

“This is an example of the city of Houston leading in energy transition, and for the energy industry — our hydrocarbon companies, this is a seismic shift,” said Turner, who is chairman of the national nonprofit group Climate Mayors. “The recognition that we can’t continue to do business as we have done it in the past is sinking in.”

Arnold founded hedge fund Centaurus Advisors LLC in 2003 after leaving Enron, and the Houston-based fund gained fame betting against Amaranth Advisors LLC, which collapsed in 2006 after losing $6.6 billion on bad bets in the natural gas market. He closed the fund in 2012 at age 38 to pursue philanthropy with his wife Laura Arnold, a lawyer and former oil company executive, with the couple extending their influence through Arnold Ventures out of Houston.

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