Oversight Committee Releases New Documents Showing Big Oil’s Greenwashing Campaign and Failure to Reduce Emissions
Washington, D.C. (Dec. 9, 2022)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Ro Khanna, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, released a new memo and documents showing how the fossil fuel industry engages in “greenwashing” to obscure its massive long-term investments in fossil fuels and failure to meaningfully reduce emissions. The new documents are part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation into the fossil fuel industry’s role in spreading climate disinformation and preventing action on climate change.
“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 Chairwoman Maloney. “Today’s new evidence makes clear that these companies know their climate pledges are inadequate, but are prioritizing Big Oil’s record profits over the human costs of climate change. 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.”
“We cannot tackle the climate crisis until we tackle the climate disinformation crisis. Big Oil has misled the American public for decades about the reality of the climate crisis. It’s past time to hold the entire industry accountable for its role in funding and facilitating that disinformation. As Chair of the Subcommittee on the Environment, I partnered with Chairwoman Maloney to hold historic hearings forcing CEOs from Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, API, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to testify under oath about efforts to mislead the public and subpoena them for explosive internal documents. The hearing testimony and documents released will stand the test of time and further our understanding of how these companies operate. Going forward, I will ensure our work to hold Big Oil accountable continues,” said Rep. Khanna.
The Committee’s investigation found:
- Despite public promises that fossil fuels are merely a “bridge fuel” to cleaner sources of energy, Big Oil has doubled down on long-term reliance on fossil fuels with no intention of taking concrete actions to transition to clean energy.
- A strategy slide presented to the Chevron Board of Directors from Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mike Wirth explains that while Chevron sees “traditional energy business competitors retreating” from oil and gas, “Chevron’s strategy” is to “continue to invest” in fossil fuels to take advantage of consolidation in the industry.
- Even as it publicly announced support for Paris Agreement goals, BP continues to invest in a future dependent on fossil fuels. In an internal Q3 2017 Operational Performance Review for the lower 48 states, BP described its intent to “[s]ignificantly increase development in regions with oil potential,” and to “focus primarily on projects in current basins that generate the highest rate of return.”
- An internal email from the American Petroleum Institute (API) shows that API’s 2021 Climate Action Framework was organized around the purpose of “the continued promotion of natural gas in a carbon constrained economy.”
- The industry’s inadequate climate pledges and commitment to emissions reductions are intended to provide cover for Big Oil to continue raking in billions of dollars by selling fossil fuels for decades to come.
- In a March 2021 memorandum to API’s Board of Directors, CEO Mike Sommers explained that API strategically supports certain efforts to reduce climate pollution to secure legitimacy to continue produce fossil fuels, noting that reducing emissions from flaring presented “an opportunity to further secure the industry’s license to operate.”
- In an internal presentation created for BP, a public relations firm suggested advocating for methane regulation to “advance and protect the role of gas – and BP – in the future of energy conversation.”
- In May 2019 notes labeled “Chairman’s Report to BPA Board,” BP America’s Chairman admitted, “We continue to balk at taking accountability for the emissions of our products.” The Chairman was discussing shareholder resolutions regarding climate change initiatives presented at that year’s shareholder meeting. At the time, BP’s climate pledge did not include emissions from the burning of BP’s products—a position BP has since changed, but that Exxon continues to hold.
- Shell’s CEO Ben Van Beurden complained that an environmental advocate’s public speech at an industry event was “disingenuous” for “pointing out in front of the international press that if you burden the gas value chain with all the emission of the oil industry, it would put gas on a par with coal.”
- Fossil fuel companies admit privately that they have pursued a strategy to “resist and block” climate regulations, and that they will only cut emissions “where it makes commercial sense,” and that a key part of their climate plans—selling assets to other oil companies—will not actually reduce emissions.
- In a 2016 email from a BP executive to John Mingé, Chairman and President of BP America, and others, about climate and emissions trading, an employee assessed that the company often adopted an obstructionist strategy with regulators, noting, “we wait for the rules to come out, we don’t like what we see, and then try to resist and block.”
- One BP executive asserted in an internal email that BP had “no obligation to minimize GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions” and that the company should only “minimize [GHG emissions] where it makes commercial sense.” The same BP executive concluded that “the benefits of any proposal to adopt a lower GHG option needs to be balanced against the cost to do so.”
- A Shell executive admitted privately: “True, we transfer CO2 liability when we divest. And now we’ve been called on it.” In response, a second company executive defended the practice, writing, “what exactly are we supposed to do instead of divesting … pour concrete over the oil sands and burn the deed to the land so no one can buy them?”
- One BP executive privately admitted that divesting fossil fuel assets is “an important part of our strategy” even though “these divestments may not directly lead to a reduction in absolute global emissions.”
- Fossil fuel entities have fought to hide the truth about their practices by refusing to fully comply with the Committee’s subpoenas and attacking journalists who revealed the industry’s conduct.
- The Chamber of Commerce has withheld internal documents from the Committee, despite being required to produce them by subpoena. The American Petroleum Institute has improperly withheld documents from its Executive Committee and Board of Directors. Exxon inappropriately redacted responsive documents from its Board of Directors, while Chevron, Shell, and BP each withheld responsive information without valid justification.
- In 2015, Exxon baselessly accused a journalism student and her instructor of misrepresentations and ethical violations after her work contributed to press reporting on the fossil fuel industry—but internal company documents obtained by the Committee show that Exxon’s allegations were false.
Click here to read the Committee memo.
Click here to read selected investigation documents from API.
Click here to read selected investigation documents from BP.
Click here to read selected investigation documents from Chevron.
Click here to read selected investigation documents from Exxon.
Click here to read selected investigation documents from Shell.