Energy & Environment

Internal documents cast doubt on Big Oil climate promises

(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Internal documents from major oil companies released by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee appear to cast doubt on their supposed climate and green energy commitments

Shell’s website says that the company’s “target” is to “become a net-zero emissions business by 2050.” 

But internal messaging guidance documents released by the committee state that “Shell has no immediate plans to move to a net-zero emissions portfolio over our investment horizon of 10-20 years.” 

Net-zero emissions are when a company’s contribution to climate change is fully offset by its actions that mitigate climate change — making its total emissions equal to zero.

Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith said via email that the internal assertions about the company’s net-zero ambitions appear to be outdated.

The messaging guidance document appears to be attached to an email dated January, 31, 2020. A few months later, in April 2020, Shell unveiled a pledge to reach net-zero.  

But, later that year, in October 2020, Helen O’Connor, Shell’s manager for U.S. stakeholder relations, in an email exchange, appeared to imply that a certain company climate policy had “nothing to do with our business plans.”

In a separate email exchange, from 2019, O’Connor states that Shell’s Paris agreement pathway “is not a Shell business plan.”

The Paris agreement is a global agreement to try to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees celsius. 

Similarly, the aforementioned messaging guidance document states that company “scenarios” like its Paris pathway “Sky Scenario” are not intended “to be predictions of likely future events or outcomes.”

Smith said that Shell has been putting forward such “scenarios” for decades and said it’s “widely understood they are not prescriptions, predictions or meant to represent Shell’s current business plan.”

The documents also show that an ExxonMobil official suggested pushing the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a group that says it is leading the sector’s climate response, away from including the Paris agreement in a 2019 policy statement. 

In a memo to CEO Darren Woods, Peter Trelenberg, Exxon’s manager of environmental policy and  planning warned that “creating a tie between our advocacy/engagements and the Paris Agreement could create a potential commitment to advocate on the Paris Agreement goals.”

However, company spokespesron Todd Spitler said via email that the company has supported the Paris Agreement since its 2015 inception. 

“Certain groups have sought to misrepresent ExxonMobil’s positions and its support for effective policy solutions by recasting genuine policy debates as a disinformation campaign. These charges are baseless and any suggestion to the contrary is false,” Spitler said via email. 

The committee released the documents it received from the companies as it attempts to make the case that such companies are “greenwashing” — that is — participating in deceptive practices that make them appear more environmentally friendly than they actually are. 

“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,” Environment Subcommittee Chair Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), said in a statement.

 “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,” he added.

Tags Climate change Curtis Smith Darren Woods Environment Subcommittee ExxonMobil Helen O'Connor House Oversight Committee Oil and Gas Climate Initiative Paris Agreement Peter Trelenberg Ro Khanna Ro Khanna Shell Sky Scenario Todd Spitler
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