Big oil privately acknowledged efforts to downplay climate crisis, joint committee investigation finds

Internal documents revealed by committee show companies lobbied against climate laws they publicly claimed to support

Date: April 30, 2024
Complete Article: The Guardian

This article gives you a behind-the-scenes look into how the US oil and gas industry’s private email communications and documents contradict the companies’ public pledges to fight climate change. And these aren’t old documents from the 1960’s; they are recent documents starting in 2015, the year the Paris agreement was signed.

Here’s a link to the committee’s full report: Denial, Disinformation and Doublespeak: Big Oil’s Evolving Efforts to Avoid Accountability for Climate Change


Excerpt from The Guardian’s Article:

Major fossil-fuel firms have also pledged support for international climate efforts, but … they have lobbied against climate laws and regulations they have publicly claimed to support, documents newly revealed by the committee show.

The subpoenaed communications were unveiled on Tuesday morning by Democrats on the House oversight committee before a Wednesday hearing.

“For decades, the fossil-fuel industry has known about the economic and climate harms of its products but has deceived the American public to keep collecting more than $600bn each year in subsidies while raking in record-breaking profits,” said Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, who chairs the committee.

The documents are part of an investigation launched in 2021 by the House committee on oversight and accountability, which disbanded when Republicans took control of the chamber in 2022.

The documents… date back to 30 November 2015 – just weeks before the signing of the Paris climate accord.

The new documents come as big oil faces an increasing number of lawsuits for allegedly lying about the dangers of using fossil fuels.

Read Complete Article


Key Findings from the Executive Summary of the Committee’s Report:


  • Documents demonstrate for the first time that fossil fuel companies internally do not dispute that they have understood since at least the 1960s that burning fossil fuels causes climate change and then worked for decades to undermine public understanding of this fact and to deny the underlying science.

    In fall 2015, blockbuster reporting by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that Big Oil companies such as Exxon knew that burning fossil fuels was a major contributor to climate change. Companies publicly rejected the reporting at the time, but new documents corroborate the reporting and show that fossil fuel companies internally did not dispute the findings but tried to dismiss them as “hyperbolic” and “journalistic malpractice.”

  • Big Oil’s deception campaign evolved from explicit denial of the basic science underlying climate change to deception, disinformation, and doublespeak. The fossil fuel industry evolved from denying climate science to spreading disinformation and perpetuating doublespeak about the safety of natural gas and its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. New documents demonstrate that Big Oil companies:
    • seek to position natural gas as a “bridge fuel” between coal and cleaner, renewable energy, while enmeshing natural gas in the U.S. energy economy for the long-term;
    • seek to portray natural gas as a green, climate-friendly fuel, while internally acknowledging that there is significant scientific evidence that the lifecycle emissions from gas are as bad as coal and are incompatible with scientific emissions reduction targets;
    • make public pledges to support the Paris Agreement and to achieve net zero emissions while internally recognizing that they could not achieve those goals or referring to them as outside of their business plans;
      privately lobby—either directly or through their trade associations— against pro-climate legislation and regulations that they publicly claimed to support;
    • publicly celebrate carbon capture technologies to help reduce harmful emissions while privately acknowledging that the technology is expensive and claiming that it cannot be scaled without federal government investment; and
    • publicly promoted algae-based biofuels as an innovative low-carbon technology while investing little in its research and development and then cancelling the programs entirely.
  • The fossil fuel industry relies on trade associations to spread confusing and misleading narratives and to lobby against climate action.

    Fossil fuel companies use trade associations, think tanks, and other nonprofits to influence public policy proposals and messaging, including API and the Chamber, as well as the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, Natural Gas Supply Association, and Western States Petroleum Association. New emails between fossil fuel executives and these groups demonstrate how the companies influenced and leveraged the associations and other organizations to control their messaging and use them to lobby for unpopular proposals that they do not want to be associated with.

  • The fossil fuel industry strategically partners with universities to lend an aura of credibility to its deception campaigns while also silencing opposition voices.

    Fossil fuel companies establish funded partnerships with academic institutions to enhance their credibility, shape academic research programs to provide studies supportive of a prolonged life for oil and gas, leverage the resulting research to their advantage, and bolster access to policymakers. New documents reveal previously unknown funding levels and show how companies condition their funding on academics’ cooperation and alignment with companies’ business needs. Additional documents demonstrate that companies actively tracked individuals and organizations critical of the industry and monitored their social media.

  • All six entities—Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, API, and the Chamber—obstructed and delayed the Committees’ investigation.

    Despite valid subpoenas, the entities refused to fully comply with the investigation, making baseless legal arguments and flouting longstanding congressional practices and norms for investigations. The companies further obstructed the investigation by significantly redacting or entirely withholding more than 4,000 documents without any valid basis.

Read the Full Report

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