Oil companies pretended to be committed to a clean energy transition even as they poured billions of dollars into new oil and gas investments, according to a memo and internal industry documents the House Committee on Oversight and Reform released Friday.
The congressional committee released a trove of internal documents revealing how the oil companies remain internally skeptical about the “energy transition” to a low-carbon economy
Accusing their executives of deception, a new staff analysis of fossil fuel industry lobbying data shows that although the industry publicly pledged support for climate reforms, they devote only a small fraction of their lobbying resources to supporting renewable energy measures behind closed doors.
Scientists say the world must rapidly transition away from fossil fuels to prevent the worst expected effects of climate change, but oil and gas executives say they understand but in reality they have been dragging their feet, a position shared by Democrats in Congress.
More alarmingly, many government officials – including self-proclaimed climate leaders – continue to approve and finance new coal, oil or gas projects even though burning currently existing fossil fuel reserves would release seven times more greenhouse emissions than is compatible with keeping warming below 1.5ºC.
Burning fossil fuel reserves that currently exist would release seven times more greenhouse gas emissions than it would take to push global warming above the 1.5ºC level that would increase to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth, including a reduction in crop yields and nutritional quality.”
“Even though Big Oil CEOs admitted to my Committee that their products are causing a climate emergency, today’s documents reveal that the industry has no real plans to clean up its act and is barreling ahead with plans to pump more dirty fuels for decades to come,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform. “It’s time for the fossil fuel industry to stop lying to the American people and finally take serious steps to reduce emissions and address the global climate crisis they helped create.”
At the hearing, Maloney announced her intent to issue subpoenas to ExxonMobil, BP America, Chevron, Shell Oil, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for key documents the entities failed to produce in the committee’s investigation into the fossil fuel industry’s climate disinformation campaign.
The documents reveal oil company executives dismissed the potential for renewable energy to quickly replace fossil fuels, while working to secure a future for natural gas. They also detail industry efforts to secure government tax credits for carbon capture projects that might relieve them of the need to drastically alter their business models.
The documents — many of them copies of internal emails between oil company officials — describe ExxonMobil’s efforts in 2021 to persuade big industrial firms and oil giants to co-sponsor a mammoth carbon capture project in Texas.
Elsewhere, in one email string, officials at Shell discuss whether BP, Shell and TotalEnergies — a French oil firm — increased their carbon footprints by selling Canadian oil sands interests to more eager investors.
Fossil fuel executives no longer dispute that man-made climate change is a “code red for humanity,” but they refused to take responsibility for decades of disinformation and would not pledge to end spending to block climate action.
Under questioning, CEOs admitted that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activities, that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to climate change, and that climate change represents an existential threat to the planet.
ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods admitted that statements made by his company’s CEO in 2002 that “science does not establish the linkage between fossil fuels and global warming” are scientifically inaccurate.
However, Woods refused to apologize for the disinformation, even though it contradicted the views expressed by Exxon scientists in internal communications to company executives.
Rep. Katie Porter challenged Shell CEO Gretchen Watkins on the fact that Shell spent less than half of its pledged $6 billion commitment to renewable energy between 2017 and 2020.
“This is greenwashing,” said Porter. “Shell is trying to fool people into thinking that it’s addressing the climate crisis, but what it’s actually doing is to continue to put money into fossil fuels.”
After a century of wielding extraordinary economic and political power, America’s petroleum giants face a reckoning for driving the greatest existential threat of our lifetimes.
An unprecedented wave of lawsuits, filed by cities and states across the US, aim to hold the oil and gas industry to account for the environmental devastation caused by fossil fuels – and covering up what they knew along the way.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is taking on Exxon in court using consumer protection laws alleging the company continues to deceive the state’s consumers and investors about the damage caused by its oil and gasoline products. Exxon strongly denies the allegations.
“People should be demanding that oil conglomerates pay damages for polluting our planet, destroying the atmosphere and trying to cover up these crimes against humanity,” said Lisa McCormick, a New Jersey environmentalist. “They should be compelled to take urgent action to reduce further harm from burning fossil fuels or the government should revoke their charters and nationalize the businesses to put them on the right track.”
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