Big Oil engaged in a long-running climate disinformation campaign while earning record profits


Big oil companies have engaged in a “prolonged campaign of greenwashing” while earning “record profits at the expense of American consumers,” the Democratic-led oversight committee found after year-long investigation in climate disinformation from the fossil fuel industry.

The commission found fossil fuel industry is “placing climate issues while avoiding real commitments” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Lawmakers said it tried to present itself as part of the climate solution, even though internal industry documents reveal how companies have shied away from making real commitments.

“Today’s filings reveal that the industry has no real plans to clean up its act and is moving forward with plans to pump more dirty fuels for decades to come,” House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney told CNN in a statement.

For example, BP announced in 2020 that it intended to “be a net zero company by 2050 or sooner,” but the committee found internal BP documents that showed the company’s latest plans were inconsistent with the company’s public comments.

In a July 2017 email between several senior company officials about whether to invest in curbing emissions from one of its gas projects off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago, BP’s vice president of engineering said BP “has no obligation to minimize greenhouse gases [greenhouse gas] emissions’ and that the company should ‘minimize greenhouse gas emissions only where it makes commercial sense’, as required by the code or if it fits into a regional strategy.

BP declined CNN’s request for comment on the panel’s report.

The committee said the leaked documents also show the fossil fuel industry has presented natural gas as a so-called “bridge fuel” for a transition to cleaner energy sources, while doubling down on its long-term dependence on fossil fuels without a clear action plan to complete transition to clean energy.

A strategy slide presented to Chevron’s board of directors by CEO Mike Wirth and obtained by the committee said that while Chevron sees “competitors in the traditional energy business withdrawing” from oil and gas, “Chevron’s strategy” is to ” continued to invest’ in fossil fuels to take advantage of consolidation in the industry.

In a 2016 email from a BP executive to John Minge, then chairman and president of BP America, and others, regarding climate and emissions, an employee assessed that the company often adopted an obstructionist strategy with regulators, noting, “we are waiting for rules, to come to light, we don’t like what we see, and then we try to resist and block.”

“The fossil fuel industry has recently engaged in extensive ‘greenwashing’ – misleading claims in advertisements, particularly on social media, claiming or implying that they are ‘Paris-aligned’ and committed to meaningful solutions,” Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes , who has studied the fossil fuel industry’s denunciation of climate science and consulted with law firms that have filed lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry, told CNN. “Numerous analyzes have shown these claims to be false.”

BP, Chevron, Exxon, Shell, the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce were the focus of the Democratic lawmakers’ investigation. The companies have denied engaging in a disinformation campaign around climate change and the role industry has played in fueling it for decades. CNN has reached out to the companies and organizations for comment on the panel’s findings.

Todd Spitler, a spokesman for Exxon, said in a statement that the committee took the company’s internal communications out of context.

“The House Oversight Committee report attempted to misrepresent ExxonMobil’s position on climate science and its support for effective policy solutions by recasting well-planned internal policy debates as an attempt at the company’s disinformation campaign,” Spitler said. “If certain committee members were so sure they were right, why did they have to take so many things out of context to prove their point?”

Megan Bloomgren, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement that the industry has focused on producing “affordable, reliable energy while addressing climate challenges” and that “any claims to the contrary are false.”

“The U.S. natural gas and oil industries have contributed to the significant progress the U.S. has made in reducing America’s CO2 emissions to near-generational lows with the increased use of natural gas,” Blumgren said. “We are poised to be a leader in the next generation of low-carbon technologies, including CCUS and Hydrogen – technologies widely recognized as critical to achieving global emission reduction targets.”

Democratic lawmakers had hoped the committee hearings would be the fossil fuel industry’s “Big Tobacco” moment — a nod to the famous 1994 hearings, when tobacco company executives insisted cigarettes were not addictive, sparking perjury charges. and federal investigations.

The House Oversight investigation’s impact on Big Oil won’t be as immediate, but Congressman Ro Cana, a Democrat and chairman of Oversight’s environment subcommittee, said the findings added to the historical record of the industry and its role in global warming.

“These hearings and reports were historic because we were able to get the heads of Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, API and the US Chamber of Commerce to testify under oath for the first time about efforts to mislead the public about climate and compel them to provide explosive internal documents,” Hanna said in a statement to CNN. “I have no doubt that this work will be analyzed in the coming years and will help deepen our understanding of the role of the entire industry in financing and facilitating climate disinformation.”

Democratic lawmakers said the oil and gas industry obstructed their investigation during the more than year-long trial. Many of their requests for internal documents were heavily redacted by the companies, which did not specify the reasons for withholding the information.

In other cases, the documents were heavily redacted because companies such as Exxon said the information was “proprietary and confidential,” although lawmakers noted that was not a good reason to withhold information from a committee subpoena.

“These companies know their climate promises are inadequate, but they prioritize Big Oil’s record profits over the human costs of climate change,” Maloney said. “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.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

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