U.S. lawmakers are looking into how truthful the largest oil companies are being about their commitment to climate change.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform published hundreds of pages of internal energy documents ahead of a hearing Thursday, suggesting companies, including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell, have been less than forthcoming about reducing emissions.
“My Committee’s investigation leaves no doubt that, in the words of one company official, Big Oil is ‘gaslighting’ the public,” Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
A memo of initial findings of the committee’s year-long investigation claims the fossil fuel industry is misleading the American people about the industry’s role in climate change.
“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,” Maloney continued.
The memo found petroleum producers had not organized their businesses around becoming low-emissions, renewable energy companies and had instead “greenwashed” records through advertising and pledges.
Lawmakers said ExxonMobil 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.”
“We have supported the Paris Agreement from its start in 2015 and continue to support the U.S. government’s participation in the framework,” ExxonMobil said in a statement to FOX Business. “The selective publication of dated emails, without context, is a deliberate attempt to generate a narrative that does not reflect the commitment of ExxonMobil – and its employees, to address climate change and play a leading role in the transition to a net-zero future.”
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While Shell had touted its “Sky scenario” to achieve net-zero emissions, internal emails emphasized it was “not a Shell business plan” and has “nothing to do” with the company’s business plans.
The committee said internal messaging at Shell reportedly called on employees there to emphasize that net-zero emissions is “a collective ambition for the world,” instead of a “Shell goal or target.”
“Please do not give the impression that Shell is willing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to levels that do not make business sense,” Shell said in an internal email.
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Shell told FOX Business in an emailed statement that the small handful of documents the committee chose to highlight among the near half-million pages provided by the company “are evidence of Shell’s extensive efforts to set aggressive targets, evolve its portfolio and meaningfully participate in the energy transition.”
“Within that pursuit are challenging internal and external discussions that signal Shell’s intent to form partnerships and share pathways we deem critical to becoming a net-zero energy business.”
Shell has said it is targeting to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050.
“Achieving our target could mean that, by 2030, we are: providing enough renewable electricity for 50 million households; operating more than 2.5 million charging points for electric vehicles; producing eight times more low-carbon fuels; and increasing the amount of biofuels and hydrogen in the transport fuels we sell to 10%, from 3% today,” the company said on its website.
Shell said it had been producing scenarios for several decades and that it was widely understood they are not prescriptions, predictions or meant to represent Shell’s current business plan.
“The SKY scenario is but one pathway that has the potential to deliver on Paris – it represents the scale of the challenge and levers policymakers might pull,” the company added.
While Exxon had spent at least $68 million advertising its research into algae-based biofuels, notes from an investor presentation obtained by the committee show the technology is still “decades away from the scale we need.”
BP has rebranded itself as “Beyond Petroleum,” but internal documents reportedly highlighted how carbon capture and storage could “enable the full use of fossil fuels across the energy transition and beyond.”
In addition, Chevron provided talking points to an executive saying that “[o]il and gas” are the “lower carbon solutions that [ensure] a just transition.”
“BP’s commitment to the energy transition is clear. We have set near-term targets that are consistent with our ambition to become a net-zero company by 2050 or sooner, and to help the world get to net zero,” BP told FOX Business in an email.
Subcommittee Chair Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., called the disclosures “explosive.”
“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,” Khanna said.
Email exchanges shared in the memo also show a culture of intense disrespect toward leading climate activists like Bill McKibben and influential climate groups like the Sunrise Movement.
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“Big Oil executives are laughing at the people trying to protect our planet while they knowingly work to destroy it,” Khanna added.
The memo said companies have failed to meet subpoena deadlines and continued to improperly withhold documents at the heart of the investigation.
Chevron did not return FOX Business’ request for comment.