CarbonBombs.org was created by a consortium of non-profit organizations that analyze and transform public data into accessible tools to raise awareness of the key levers for halting climate change.
Our approach is based on three pillars:
- Open source: the code is available here.
- Collaborative: Reach out to contribute or suggest improvements.
- Dynamic: Our database is regularly updated to incorporate new insights and to enhance its accuracy.
CarbonBombs.org creates connections between three existing public databases:
- Kuhne et al. (2022) published a database identifying the 425 largest fossil fuel extraction projects globally, defined as those with more than 1 gigaton potential CO₂ emissions. This database provides project names, locations and status, based on a 2020 version of the commercial database Rystad. The paper also calculates their potential emissions, which exceed the global 1.5°C carbon budget (see "Carbon Bombs" - Mapping key fossil fuel projects, Kühne and co-authors, 2022, Energy Policy )
- Global Energy Monitor (GEM) tracks oil extraction fields, fossil gas, and coal mines, offering open-source information supporting the clean energy movement. GEM's databases link these projects with the companies owning or operating them:
- Global Oil and Gas Extraction Tracker, Global Energy Monitor, July 2023
- Global Coal Mine Tracker, Global Energy Monitor, October 2023 release, for more details consult the methodology
- The Banking on Climate Chaos database 2023 report analyzes how the world's 60 largest banks finance fossil fuel companies. It covers lending, underwriting of debt and equity issuances for the entire fossil fuel sector, top industry expanders, and specific sectors. The assessment spans from January 1, 2016, to December 31, 2022, using data primarily from Bloomberg Finance L.P., with additional project finance data from the IJGlobal database. More information on methodology here.
Methodology used to match databases
- Methodology for defining the scope of “carbon bombs”
- Oil & Gas Reserves: Kuhne et al. utilized the Rystad UCube commercial database to identify projects with more than 2.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent reserves or 400 billion cubic meters of gas equivalent reserves. Projects were defined as practical aggregations of assets, such as those in the same basin or state for US onshore projects. After calculating emissions potential, projects emitting less than 1 gigaton of CO₂ were excluded.
- Coal Reserves: For coal reserves, countries with over 375 million tons of coal reserves from the BP Statistical Review of Energy (BP, 2019) were identified. The US Energy Information Administration's estimates (EIA, 2021) were consulted to identify specific coal mines exceeding the carbon bomb threshold. Reports from governments, companies, and industry news were used to gather reserve figures. Global Energy Monitor's Global Coal Mine Tracker (Global Energy Monitor, 2021) was also cross-referenced for additional information.
- Methodology for matching carbon bombs and GEM databases:
- Coal and Conventional Oil & Gas: Each carbon bomb project corresponds to a single project on GEM trackers, showing the operating companies. Matching is done using project names.
- Unconventional Oil & Gas: One carbon bomb covers all the projects located in a specific geological basin (e.g., a gas shale). Companies are listed based on relevant GEM projects located within the scope of the geological basin, then crosschecked with Reclaim’s finance computation based on Rystad data when possible.
- Missing GEM information: If a project is not listed in GEM (which may happen when it is too recent to be identified, or when information is simply not available), it is displayed on the map without company information.
- Methodology for identifying companies involved in “carbon bombs” projects:
- When GEM data is available: If GEM provides data, the project is assigned to the parent companies (company that owns the companies owning the field). If information is missing, the project is attributed to the operating companies (company that is the designated operator of the unit). If GEM lacks any company information on the project page, "no information" is displayed. The methodology relies on updates from the GEM database, refreshed three times annually.
- Multiple subsidiaries: When a company is involved in multiple carbon bombs through different subsidiaries, these branches are manually matched to treat them as a single company. It may happen that some subsidiaries could not be linked to their parent companies due to lack of transparency.
- Completeness: The companies identified on the map represent the minimum number of companies involved in carbon bomb projects. It is likely that many other companies own or operate carbon bombs, but they could not be identified due to the lack of public data on their activities. If you would like to delve deeper into a specific project, one possible option is to use Perplexity AI, an artificial intelligence that cites its sources and enables complex searches.
On GEM, the existing statuses are as follows:
- Discovered: A field is considered discovered when drilling has occurred, yielding a significant quantity of oil and/or gas. Economic viability is not assured at this stage.
- In Development: After discovery, the process of moving towards commercial production begins. Indicators include seeking approval for commercial production, reaching the Final Investment Decision (FID), publishing a final environmental impact statement, and initiating development-related activities (e.g., drilling development wells, expanding infrastructure).
- Cancelled: A discovered or in-development field that doesn't progress to commercial production, confirmed by a formal acknowledgment of the project's abandonment by the involved company.
- Operating: Commercial production of oil/gas is ongoing, with quantities being sold on the market.
- Shut In: Temporary shutdown of operations, with the possibility of restart.
- Abandoned: Operations have ceased, but standard decommissioning steps like well plugging have not been completed.
- Decommissioned: Operations have permanently ceased, and infrastructure is typically removed.
CarbonBombs.org status categories:
- Not Started: Includes "not started," "in development," "proposed," "discovered," and "shelved" projects.
- In Operation: Encompasses projects categorized as "operating".
- Stopped: Covers "cancelled," "mothballed," and "shut in" projects.
For shales with projects at different development stages, if 10% of the projects are in operation ("operating"), the shale is displayed as operating on CarbonBombs.org.
- Emission calculation details can be found in Kühne et al.'s paper on carbon bombs. They use “IPCC emissions factors for direct CO₂ emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels (Eggleston et al., 2006). Projects in operation are included if they still have more than 1 gigaton of CO₂ emissions in remaining reserves. The aim is to estimate the potential climate impact, not precise emissions over a project's lifetime. Extraction projects are included, while transport infrastructure and demand-side infrastructure (e.g., power plants) are excluded to avoid double counting.”
- For estimating average emissions of fossil fuel reserves, Kühne et al. indicate that their approach “is based on the Production Gap Report (SEI et al., 2019), with adjustments for fugitive emissions and non-energy uses. However, this approach does not include adjustments working in opposite directions. The numbers are labeled as potential emissions, representing emissions if all reserves were burnt. Methane leakage is excluded, slightly underestimating global warming potential, especially for gas carbon bombs. Non-energy uses (e.g., plastics, fertilizer) where carbon may not reach the atmosphere as CO₂ are also excluded, slightly overestimating emissions in real-life use cases.”
Emission allocation to companies:
- On a company's page, the cumulative lifetime CO₂ emissions of projects in which the company is involved (whether alone or with other companies) are shown. The calculation takes into account all potential emissions for each project in which the company is involved. The CO₂ emissions figure shall not be considered as a reporting figure, since the methodology chose not to proceed to any allocation of emissions.
- As a result, one should be careful when manipulating those numbers: they cannot be taken as absolute numbers allocated to a company as they include double counting when several companies are involved in the same project.
Potential limitations to our methodology
We did our best to provide reliable, clear and up-to-date information about carbon bombs and the players behind them. However, in spite of our efforts, some limitations should be pointed out:
First of all, the freshness of the data depends on the update frequency of our three sources:
- Our information is based on GEM downloadable datasets which are updated once to twice a year (Coal extraction database yearly in April - Oil and Gas database twice a year - last update in July 2023). On the other hand, the information displayed on GEM website can be updated on a daily basis and thus is more up to date than the downloadable dataset we use. This can create a temporary discrepancy between our data and GEM’s website data.
- Banking On Climate Chaos, which provides the connections between banks and companies, is updated once a year (last update: 2023).
- Kjell Kühne’s research paper was published in 2022, based on a 2020 version of the Rystad commercial database.
This might lead to outdated data, but it is the most accurate consolidated publicly available data we found as of today. For data consistency reasons, and to make sure we treat all players with the same methodology, we did not make any manual adjustment to our original datasets when we noticed outdated information, but we added an information panel about it on the specific concerned pages our website. If you notice any outdated information, please let us know in the “Contact” section.
Secondly, we might miss links between companies and carbon bombs as we could only map the connections that are publicly documented. As the links between companies and fossil fuel extraction projects are sometimes opaque, our work may underestimate the amount of companies involved in projects. It only reveals the links that GEM could evidence from public sources. Besides, part of the data we display is based on GEM database, which works as a wiki: users can update the project details if they can back their modification proposals with reliable public sources. Finally, we could also miss connections between companies and carbon bombs by missing the project in GEM (i.e. if a project exists in GEM database but could not be found due to a different name or an inaccurate location)
Furthermore, not all companies could be mapped, particularly those involved in shale projects, which are particularly complex and fragmented among numerous players. As some US banks are particularly active in financing companies operating these shale projects, this may lead to an underestimation of financing by these banks to companies operating carbon bombs, and therefore to under-representation of these banks in the total top bank ranking.
Thirdly, the basis of our work was to reconcile databases from various sources that were constructed differently. This might have made us miss some links. The main differences that we faced were diverging carbon bomb names and scopes (extension projects, etc.) depending on the datasets, different company names from one database to another, or subsidiaries from which the parent company could not be identified.
Also due to data merging considerations, start date of projects should be manipulated carefully. For certain projects, it was impossible to find an exact match between Kjell Kühne’s research paper data and GEM database on starting dates which diverged depending on the databases (i.e : some projects were considered as “not started” by Kühne et al. while the GEM database indicated they are already operating). However, cross-checked information shows that at least 20 projects have started between 2020 and 2022.
As a result, the numbers provided in our tool are to be taken as orders of magnitude and not as absolute values. In our future developments, we are willing to access more accurate data in order to have a more accurate approach on projects, companies and banks involved. If you want to help us please contact us through our contact form.
All the code we produced is open source and available on GitHub. For more information on the methodology, please refer to the README.