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Oil companies reject the “energy transition” even while touting it


Some of the world’s major oil companies remain internally skeptical of the “energy transition” to a low-carbon economy, even as they publicly portray their firms as partners in the cause, according to documents obtained by The Post that will be released by a House committee on Friday.

The documents, part of a trove expected to be released by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, reveals oil company executives rejecting the potential for renewable energy to quickly replace fossil fuels, while working to secure state tax credits for carbon capture projects that could free them from the need to drastically change their business models.

The documents – many of them copies of internal emails between oil company officials – detail ExxonMobil’s efforts in 2021 to persuade major industrial companies and oil giants to co-sponsor a massive carbon capture project in Texas. Elsewhere, in a string of emails, officials at one company discuss whether BP, Shell and TotalEnergies — a French oil company — increased their carbon footprints by selling Canadian oil sands interests to other eager investors.

Major petroleum companies have come under fire for selling oil sands properties to smaller companies, effectively shifting carbon dioxide liability. In response to that criticism, a spokesperson said, “What exactly are we going to do instead of selling … pouring concrete over the oil sands and burning the title to the land so nobody can buy them?”

Delta and other companies are struggling to meet sky-high climate promises

Scientists say the world must quickly transition away from fossil fuels to prevent the worst expected effects of climate change, a position shared by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee.

For more than a year have the committee has investigated a handful of major oil companies, along with two of the largest trade groups in Washington, the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce. The investigation has sought documents on the industry’s campaigns to influence public opinion and policy on climate change.

The committee says the industry is misleading the public by advertising a commitment to cleaner energy, even as it invests disproportionately in fossil fuels. In an earlier release of documents on September 14, the committee accused the oil companies of continued deception, following earlier revelations about oil companies working to undermine the credibility of climate science.

“Instead of directly denying global warming, the fossil fuel industry has ‘greenwashed’ its record through misleading advertising and climate promises – without meaningfully reducing emissions,” the committee said in a memo.

Each company in the report — including ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell as well as the American Petroleum Institute — was asked by the committee to provide about 15 to 30 documents.

Among the biggest problems was ExxonMobil’s effort to gather support for what it said would be a $100 billion carbon capture project south of Houston. ExxonMobil was told by potential partners that it would only partner with other companies “with recognized climate credentials and name recognition.”

“Chevron considers Exxon’s numbers tied to tons saved, jobs saved, jobs created to be inflated — but harmless inflation,” an email said of the Exxon proposal. “Chevron was internally divided on the Houston-centric issue — but considers it a small-stakes concern. Some uneasiness in some Chevron circles about Exxon’s reputational issues.”

Many companies balked at the Houston project, although more than a dozen currently support the proposal. ExxonMobil is still looking to the federal government as a potential source of tax credits to cut costs. The tax credits have been greatly expanded under the recent inflation reduction act.

In another email exchange, this one in 2016, an oil company official states the need to polish the company’s image in the face of criticism from climate activists, including Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard University fellow and author of a book on the oil industry’s PR campaigns.

“Currently the likes of Naomi Oreskes (Merchants of Doubt) are painting people like us as ‘climate deniers’ because we don’t believe that renewable energy will solve the entire transition or that it can be done in a couple of decades,” the official wrote.

The documents also describe a discussion in 2017 between Shell’s outgoing CEO Ben van Beurden and Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy organization. Krupp had said that methane emissions along the entire natural gas supply chain made it as poor an energy source as coal from a greenhouse gas perspective.

“I was greatly disappointed by his disservice to the good effort we should in principle stand shoulder to shoulder on,” van Beurden said of Krupp, canceling a meeting between the two. He said the EDF president’s comments “went one step too far for me.”

Krupp said in an email today that he has spoken with van Beurden as well as other top executives since then. “The industry continues to release huge amounts of methane and EDF continues to pressure them, publicly and privately, to take action to close these leaks,” he said.

The documents obtained by The Post are just some of those the House committee is expected to release Friday in a further condemnation of what it calls oil industry “greenwashing.” A company official estimated that the requested documents amount to well over a million pages.

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