Democratic lawmakers accuse big oil companies of 'greenwashing'

Democratic lawmakers accuse big oil companies of ‘greenwashing’

Gas prices are displayed at an Exxon gas station on July 29, 2022 in Houston, Texas. Exxon and Chevron posted record profits in the second quarter of 2022 as energy stocks have weakened in recent months.

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

On Friday, two Democratic lawmakers accused the largest oil companies in the United States of “greening” their public image and not doing enough to decarbonize fast enough to meet climate change goals.

Carolyn B. Maloney, Chair of the United States House of Representatives Main Investigative Committee, Oversight and Reform Committee, and Ro Khanna, Member of the same committee and Chair of the Environmental Oversight Subcommittee , sent a 31-page letter on Friday to fellow committee members with the latest findings from their ongoing investigation into the fossil fuel industry.

Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and causes global warming. The oversight committee began its investigation into what it calls a “climate misinformation” campaign in September 2021 and held a hearing with senior oil and gas giant executives on October 28 of the same year.

The letter is the latest in the committee’s attempt to demonstrate that oil companies are not trying to reduce their CO2 emissions fast enough, while masking their lack of participation.

“These documents demonstrate how the fossil fuel industry ‘whitewashed’ its public image with promises and actions that oil and gas executives knew would not significantly reduce emissions, even if the industry has acted aggressively to lock in continued fossil fuel production for decades to come – actions that could undermine global efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change,” the letter read.

These efforts are particularly offensive, Maloney and Khanna said, because of how much money the biggest oil companies are currently making.

“The fossil fuel industry’s failure to make meaningful investments in a long-term transition to cleaner energy is particularly outrageous in light of the huge profits these companies are raking in at the expense of consumers – nearly $100 billion of them. dollars of profit combined for Exxon, Chevron, Shelland PB in the past two quarters alone,” the letter read.

The letter also details ways in which oil companies have made insufficient efforts to decarbonize their operations and points to internal documents that show how the companies continue to invest in fossil fuel production and increase production.

“Each of the companies has publicly committed to achieving ‘net-zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” the letter states. “However, experts have found that none of the net zero pledges from BP, Shell, Exxon or Chevron are aligned with the pace and scale of cuts needed to meet Paris Agreement targets and avoid a catastrophic climate change.”

The letter also points to documents that show how the industry is pushing natural gas as a long-term climate solution.

“In 2021, natural gas contributed 34% of U.S. energy-related emissions and 22% of global emissions,” the letter said. “Documents obtained by the Committee show that fossil fuel companies and lobby groups are seeking to publicly position natural gas as a clean energy source and as part of the transition to renewable energy, even as the industry is privately planning increased production of natural gas over the long term.”

Burning natural gas results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal or other types of fossil fuels for the same amount of energy, according to the US Energy Information Administration, but it still releases greenhouse gas emissions. Burning natural gas produces about 117 pounds of carbon dioxide per million British thermal units (a measure of heat). This compares to 200 pounds for coal and 160 pounds for fuel oil.

Equally critical, the production of natural gas causes methane to leak throughout the production process and methane is also a greenhouse gas. It is a different greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it still contributes to global warming.

Oil companies stand firm and deny allegations

The oil companies under investigation categorically deny the allegations made by the House Committee.

“The Committee’s fourteen-month investigation, which included several hours of testimony from leaders and nearly half a million pages of documents, failed on all fronts to uncover evidence of a climate disinformation campaign. “said Curtis Smith, media manager for Shell North America. CNBC. “In fact, the handful of subpoenaed documents the Committee has chosen to highlight from Shell are evidence of the company’s extensive efforts to set aggressive targets, transform its portfolio and meaningfully participate in the energy transition. In progress.”

Exxon says House committee lawmakers were dishonest in their portrayal of the oil company’s commitment.

“Our CEO testified under oath about this at two full-day congressional hearings before two separate committees, we have been in regular communication with the committee for over a year and have provided staff with over a million pages of documents, including board documents and internal communications,” Todd Spitler, senior corporate media relations adviser for Exxon, told CNBC.

“The House Oversight Committee report sought to misrepresent ExxonMobil’s stance on climate science and its support for effective policy solutions, by recasting well-meaning internal political debates as an attempted disinformation campaign by the US. ‘company. If specific members of the committee are so certain that they’re ‘right, why did they have to take so much out of context to prove their point?’

Industry trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, says it is focused on both providing secure energy sources and tackling climate change at the same time.

“Our industry is focused on the pursuit of affordable and reliable energy production while addressing the climate challenge, and any claims to the contrary are false. The U.S. natural gas and oil industry has contributed to the significant progress made by the United States in reducing U.S. CO2 emissions to near-generational levels with the increased use of natural gas,” Megan Bloomgren, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, told CNBC.

API also highlighted the industry’s focus on developing carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen technologies.

“We are poised to be a leader in the next generation of low-carbon technologies, including CCUS and hydrogen – technologies widely recognized as essential to meeting global emission reduction targets. API will continue to work with policymakers on both sides of the aisle for policies that support industry innovation and reinforce the progress we have made in reducing emissions,” Bloomgren said.

Chevron declined to comment. In June, Chevron CEO Mike Wirth wrote an open letter to President Joe Biden saying the oil company had produced the largest volume of oil and gas in its 143-year history in 2021. And Wirth pointed out that carbon emissions associated with segments of its oil and gas production were lower than global averages.

“At approximately 15 kg of CO2 equivalent per barrel, the carbon intensity of the Permian Chevron Basin is approximately two-thirds lower than the global industry average. US production in the Gulf of Mexico is just carbon intensive. a fraction of the global industry average,” Wirth wrote. In the letter, Wirth also said the oil company is investing $10 billion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, develop carbon and hydrogen capture technologies, and increase its production of renewable liquid fuels.

BP did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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