Ahead of Hearing, Committee Releases Memo Showing Fossil Fuel Industry is Misleading the Public About Commitment to Reduce Emissions

Sep 14, 2022
Press Release
Documents Show Big Oil Is Devoted to a Long-Term Fossil Fuel Future and ‘Greenwashing’ Its Record Through Deceptive Advertising and Climate Pledges

Washington, D.C. (Sept. 14, 2022)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Ro Khanna, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, released a new memo of initial findings of the Committee’s year-long investigation into the fossil fuel industry’s campaign to mislead the American people about the industry’s role in climate change.  The findings come ahead of tomorrow’s full Committee hearing at 9:30 a.m. ET, to hear firsthand accounts from survivors of severe weather events ​fueled by the climate crisis, and examine fossil fuel industry profits and the adequacy of their climate pledges. 


“As we face more deadly, extreme weather around the globe, fossil fuel companies are reaping record profits and ramping up their misleading PR tactics to distract from their central role in fueling the climate crisis,” said Chairwoman Maloney.  “My Committee’s investigation leaves no doubt that, in the words of one company official, Big Oil is ‘gaslighting’ the public.  These companies claim they are part of the solution to climate change, but internal documents reveal that they are continuing with business as usual.  I call on the big fossil fuel companies to stop their deception and cut their emissions now—before it is too late.”


“The documents I released today as part of my investigation into Big Oil’s efforts to deceive the American public about the climate crisis are explosive,” said Subcommittee Chair Khanna.  “Internal emails and messaging guidance show that Big Oil’s climate pledges rely on unproven technology, accounting gimmicks and misleading language to hide the reality.  The documents also show a culture of intense disrespect towards leading climate activists like Bill McKibben and influential climate groups like the Sunrise Movement.  Big Oil executives are laughing at the people trying to protect our planet while they knowingly work to destroy it.”


The Committee’s memo found:


  • Contrary to their pledges, fossil fuel companies have not organized their businesses around becoming low-emissions, renewable energy companies.  They are devoted to a long-term fossil fuel future.


  • Despite BP previously rebranding itself as “Beyond Petroleum,” internal documents highlighted how carbon capture and storage (CCS), one of the energy technologies touted by the company, could “enable the full use of fossil fuels across the energy transition and beyond.”


  • An internal Shell email discussing carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) warned an executive, “We want to be careful to not talk about CCUS as prolonging the life of oil, gas or fossil fuels writ large.”


  • Chevron pays lip service to a “just transition” to cleaner fuels but provided talking points to an executive asserting that “[o]il and gas” are the “lower carbon solutions that ensures a just transition.”


  • Big Oil’s climate pledges and green advertising focus on unproven technologies the companies admit are decades away from implementation.


  • Although Exxon spent at least $68 million advertising its research into algae-based biofuels, notes from an investor presentation obtained by the Committee show this technology is “[s]till decades away from the scale we need.”


  • One Exxon public affairs manager warned that implying in an advertisement that algae can be deployed on a mass scale would be misleading, and “might create some angst with the research folks who know that.”


  • Oil and gas companies have tried to create the impression that they are taking ambitious steps to reduce emissions—without actually doing so.


  • Internal documents show that Exxon and Chevron sought to water down statements by the industry-led Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) to “remove language that potentially commits members to enhanced climate-related governance, strategy, risk management, and performance metrics and targets” and to avoid any “explicit commitment for OGCI companies to align their advocacy with their climate related positions”—including advocacy for the Paris Agreement.


  • Shell has touted its “Sky scenario” as an ambitious path to achieve net-zero emissions, but internal emails emphasize this is “not a Shell business plan” and has “nothing to do with our business plans.”


  • Internal Shell messaging guidance—which was developed to “insulate Shell” from lawsuits about “greenwashing” and “misleading investors” on climate change—calls on employees to emphasize that net-zero emissions is “a collective ambition for the world” rather than a “Shell goal or target.”  The guidance urges Shell employees, “Please do not give the impression that Shell is willing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to levels that do not make business sense.”


  • Big Oil relies on accounting gimmicks, tricky language, and delay tactics to claim the mantle of climate leadership while continuing to be a primary cause of an ongoing climate catastrophe.


  • Internal documents show that in 2019, Exxon scrubbed a public statement about an executive’s speech at a private conference to remove a reference to a plan to increase production in the Permian basin by “1000% within 5 years.”


  • After Shell posted on Twitter asking others what they would do to reduce emissions, a communications executive wrote privately that he agreed this could be seen as “gaslighting” the public, explaining:  “We are, after all, in a tweet like this implying others need to sacrifice without focusing on ourselves.”


Click here to read the Committee memo.


Click here to read selected investigation documents.


Click here to watch the Committee hearing tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. ET.



117th Congress