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Fossil Fuel Firms Spend Millions on Social Media Ads Against Climate Regulations While Portraying Selves as Green Heroes

"This is the playbook: deny, delay, confuse, blame 'consumers', spread economic fear, #greenwash, repeat."

Flares burning off gas at Belridge Oil Field and hydraulic fracking site which is the fourth largest oil field in California.

Flares burning off gas at Belridge Oil Field and hydraulic fracking site which is the fourth largest oil field in California. (Photo: Citizens of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Major fossil fuel companies and other big polluters are pouring millions of dollars into social media advertising that touts perceived green initiatives while working to undermine climate regulations, The Guardian reported Thursday.

According to The Guardian, which studied the advertising funding with InfluenceMap, major polluters  have spent up to $17 million on social media advertising since May 2018. 

"ExxonMobil spent $9.6m—by far the biggest sum—ConocoPhillips $910,000 and BP $790,000," the paper reported. "These ads include PR highlighting low carbon alternatives and at the same time involve direct lobbying against climate initiatives and the promotion of continued fossil fuel extraction in the energy mix."

The report lists a number of initiatives the companies fought against, including a measure in Colorado restricting fracking by ensuring wells were 2,500 feet away from homes, schools, and hospitals. An astroturf campaign opposing the measure, Prop 112, received "$41 million by the oil and gas industry and its trade groups between January and December 2018, according to campaign declarations to the Colorado Secretary of State." 

The Guardian reported that the money went into ad campaigns that had an effect:

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BP gave Protect Colorado $300,000 in October 2018, a month after relocating its US onshore headquarters from Houston to Denver. The move was to help it tap the state's estimated reserves of 1.3bn barrels of oil and exploit increased production, which has made Colorado the country’s fifth largest oil producer.

Guardian analysis of Facebook's ad disclosure platform reveals Protect Colorado had an influence reach of up to 3.3 million impressions in the weeks before the vote, in a state with a population of about 5 million people.

"We lost by 200,000 votes, so yes, 100% we believe the vote was swayed by the social media push they financed," said Prop 112 supporter Anne Lee Foster. "They created doubt. They exploited people's fears that the setback would mean big job losses."

Thursday's reporting is part of a larger study from InfluenceMap which details the extent to which large corporations are involved in determining climate policy. 

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