A report published Tuesday by the nonprofit Earthworks details the difference between what major fossil fuel companies say and do in terms of voluntary and government-mandated efforts to reduce the potent greenhouse gas methane, concluding that "the oil and gas industry's actions show us that they cannot be trusted."
"There is an opportunity and an urgent need for the Biden administration to quickly correct the anti-climate policies of the last four years to set the U.S. and the world on track to avoid climate catastrophe in our lifetimes."
—Lauren Pagel, Earthworks
"When it comes to making bold promises about the future, oil and gas companies have nailed it—and from a business perspective it makes perfect sense," explained Earthworks corporate accountability communications campaigner Josh Eisenfeld. "Public opinion is eroding the industry's license to operate and so companies are making unprecedented promises about their future measures, at a national and global level."
"But they continuously fail to act on those promises and it is the same clientele—investors, consumers, employees, and the general public—who shoulder the burden in the form of financial and climate risk," he added in a blog post about the report.
Entitled Methane Misinformation: The oil and gas industry's broken climate promises (pdf), the report makes three major points: oil and gas giants are worsening the climate crisis; science shows the fossil fuel industry "is to blame" for "skyrocketing" methane pollution; and "bolder, broader, faster" government action is a necessity.
The report contains a scorecard outlining what eight companies—Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Marathon/Markwest, Equinor, ConocoPhillips, and Occidental Petroleum—have said and done regarding government policies, President Donald Trump's "mind-bogglingly stupid and destructive" rollback of methane emissions rules, voluntary reduction efforts, funding from anti-climate groups, and political lobbying.
NEW REPORT @earthworks #Methane Misinformation Scorecard shows how #oilandgas companies @shell @bp_plc @equinor @chevron @exxonmobil @marathonpetroleum @WeAreOxy & @conocophillips failed to follow through on commitments to avoid #climatecatastrophe. https://t.co/4AmBZ6l93g
— Earthworks (@Earthworks) December 8, 2020
"No amount of spin changes the fact that the oil and gas extraction is wreaking havoc on our communities and our climate," said Nicole Ghio, senior Fossil Fuels Program manager at Friends of the Earth, one of the groups that endorsed the report. "The industry's actions and lobbying show that producers are only interested in cleaning up their image, not their pollution."
In trying to measure the veracity of climate commitments on methane from the companies, Earthworks found:
- Only 2 of 8 companies have supported ANY strong enforceable rules to cut methane pollution (both in Colorado and both in singular instances of limited safeguards for venting and flaring).
- Every major oil and gas company is still paying dues to one or more lobbying groups opposing government climate action and making contributions to anti-climate politicians.
- No company has significantly cut problems with climate pollution, based on Earthworks sampling from hundreds of field investigations in the oil and gas fields across the U.S.
- Because the industry's methane reduction performance has failed to match its promises, future company commitments on climate should be treated with skepticism: don't trust, verify.
"Actions speak louder than words, and the actions of companies that make multiple billions of dollars a year while emitting hundreds of tons of methane—which is 86 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide—should speak far louder than the words from their latest marketing campaign," the report says. "That is why we need enforceable federal standards that cut methane by 65% of their 2012 levels. And we need them to be enacted immediately."
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In a statement Tuesday, Eisenfelt and other advocates reiterated the necessity of companies stepping up their efforts. "The world doesn't have time for more PR tricks of saying one thing yet doing another," Eisenfelt said. "The climate crisis is here, and we need oil and gas companies to act to quickly reduce their total climate pollution."
Some advocates specifically urged President-elect Joe Biden—who secured support from climate campaigners ahead of the November election—and his incoming administration to shift course from Trump's deregulatory agenda that served corporate polluters at the expense of public health and the planet.
"There is an opportunity and an urgent need for the Biden administration to quickly correct the anti-climate policies of the last four years to set the U.S. and the world on track to avoid climate catastrophe in our lifetimes," said Lauren Pagel, policy director at Earthworks. "Oil and gas companies have the chance to prove that they're serious about climate action by supporting bold executive action that can establish national methane safeguards that can cut emissions 65% by 2025."
Biden Must Do More Than Undo Trump Damage
*Rejoin Paris Agreement
*Focus on transportation, power plants, methane emissions + HFCs
*Use Congressional legislation, executive orders, federal agency regulationshttps://t.co/mRZeLwONK7
— Climate Reality Project Northeast Ohio Chapter (@NeoCrp) December 2, 2020
Noting that "the Trump administration has given the fossil fuel industry a blank check to pollute nationally," Joseph Otis Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, said that Biden "must work quickly to repair and replace the public health protections gutted by Trump's EPA, specifically repairing the 2016 New Source Performance Standards for oil and gas facilities to include robust and comprehensive standards for methane leakage."
"It is the federal government's absolute responsibility to minimize greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuel corporations so that we may avoid the worst effects of climate change," he added.
Earthworks' report echoes similar findings from other recent analyses of industry's climate claims, including a September report from Oil Change International (OCI)—endorsed by 30 other advocacy groups—which found that none of the strategies, plans, and pledges of eight fossil fuel giants align with the Paris agreement's goal of limiting global warming this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
"An arsonist pledging to light a few less fires is still an arsonist," OCI senior research analyst Kelly Trout said at the time. "As families across the United States and around the world flee fires and floods supercharged by fossil fuel pollution, BP, Shell, and Total are still drilling us into a deeper climate emergency, and that has to stop before they can claim any credibility."