US panel accuses ‘Big Oil’ of disinformation over climate plans

House Oversight Committee says oil companies are ‘lying’ about promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Oil rigs
A flare burns off methane and other hydrocarbons as oil pumpjacks operate in the Permian Basin in Midland, Texas, last year [File: David Goldman/AP Photo]

A United States congressional committee has accused oil companies of spreading “disinformation” and “lying” about their climate change mitigation efforts by obscuring their long-term investments in fossil fuels.

The House Oversight Committee released internal industry documents from major oil companies on Friday that it said showed that the firms were not acting on their public pledges to reduce emissions and instead engaging in “greenwashing”.

“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,” the panel’s chairwoman, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, said in a statement.

“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.”

The panel said a “key part” of the oil companies’ climate plans has been to sell off, or divest, oil and gas fields to smaller firms to lower their own emissions – a move that simply shuffles those emissions to the next company and “will not actually reduce emissions”.

“Even as it publicly announced support for Paris Agreement goals, BP continues to invest in a future dependent on fossil fuels,” the committee also found.

It pointed to an internal review document in which the company described its plan to significantly “increase development in regions with oil potential” in the US, and to “focus primarily on projects in current basins that generate the highest rate of return”.

The documents were obtained by Congressional subpoenas as part of the committee’s broader investigation into “the fossil fuel industry’s role in spreading climate disinformation and preventing action on climate change”.

In an internal email, “one BP executive asserted … 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 panel said on Friday.

“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.'”

BP did not respond immediately to a request for comment from the Reuters news agency.

At Shell, spokesperson Curtis Smith, in an internal email released by the panel, said about divesting from assets in Canada’s oil sands, “True, we transfer CO2 liability when we divest.”

On Friday, Reuters cited Smith as saying that the House panel’s probe failed to uncover evidence of a climate disinformation campaign.

“In fact, the handful of subpoenaed documents the Committee chose to highlight from Shell are evidence of the company’s extensive efforts to set aggressive targets, transform its portfolio and meaningfully participate in the ongoing energy transition,” Smith said.

The Democratic-led House panel’s memo comes as scientists and the United Nations continue to warn of catastrophic consequences if the climate crisis is not addressed.

In November, the UN said the past eight years are on track to be the hottest ever recorded. And experts have blamed the climate crisis for intensifying national disasters, including hurricanes, heatwaves and wildfires.

“Big Oil has misled the American public for decades about the reality of the climate crisis,” Ro Khanna, chair of the subcommittee on the environment, said in Friday’s statement. “It’s past time to hold the entire industry accountable for its role in funding and facilitating that disinformation.”

Democrats are set to become a minority in the House of Representatives early next month after Republicans, who have pushed for increased domestic energy production, narrowly won control of the chamber in November’s midterm elections.

Despite the congressional Democrats’ call for oil companies to reduce emissions, President Joe Biden last month urged the firms to “expand supply and lower prices at the pump”.

The White House also moved to release millions of barrels of oil from the country’s strategic reserves before the elections earlier this year amid soaring prices partly sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies