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A fire burns near an oil well in California

Flames grow near oil wells on the eastern flank of the 16,000-plus-acre Guiberson fire near Moorpark, California on September 23, 2009. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Analysis Exposes Big Oil's Plot to Unleash Climate-Killing 'Carbon Bombs' Worldwide

"This should be on the front page of every single newspaper," said one climate group.

Jake Johnson

A new investigation published Wednesday reveals that some of the largest fossil fuel corporations in the world—from Exxon in the U.S. to Gazprom in Russia to Aramco in Saudi Arabia—are planning or currently operating nearly 200 "carbon bombs," massive oil and gas projects that could unleash 646 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions and doom efforts to rein in planetary warming.

"They are destroying your future. They are doing it deliberately. They have been doing that for decades."

Research shared exclusively with The Guardian ahead of its formal publication identifies at least 195 "carbon bombs" that are either in the process of being built or already in place across the globe as scientists warn that fossil fuel use must be quickly phased out to prevent catastrophic climate outcomes.

Led by Kjell Kühne from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, the research specifically defines carbon bombs as "projects capable of pumping at least 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes," The Guardian noted in its detailed report on Wednesday.

Around 60% of the projects are already producing oil and gas, the research found.

"Projects identified include the new drilling wells springing up in the Canadian wilderness as part of the vast Montney Play oil and gas development, and the huge North Field gas fields in Qatar—named in the study as the biggest new oil and gas carbon bomb in the world," The Guardian reported.

"According to the research," the newspaper continued, "the U.S. is the leading source of potential emissions. Its 22 carbon bombs include conventional drilling and fracking, and span the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado to the Permian Basin. Together they have the potential to emit 140 billion tonnes of CO2, almost four times more than the entire world emits each year."

Carbon bombs graphic

Greenpeace, an international climate advocacy organization, warned in response to the new reporting that "while governments dither and discuss, fossil fuel companies are charging full speed ahead with 'carbon bomb' projects, pushing us ever closer to an irreversible tipping point."

"We need action now," the group wrote on Twitter.

The Guardian's investigation comes as the oil and gas industry is under growing scrutiny for exploiting Russia's deadly war on Ukraine to drive up prices and rake in record profits. Fossil fuel giants have also been lobbying aggressively for new pipelines and other infrastructure projects that would advance Big Oil's long-term interest

As the newspaper observed, global energy chaos stemming from Russia's invasion has had the effect of "further incentivizing bets on new fields and infrastructure that would last decades."

"ExxonMobil has the largest of these climate-busting investment plans at $21 million a day through to 2030, followed by Petrobras ($15 million), Chevron and ConocoPhillips (both $12 million), and Shell ($8 million)," The Guardian reported. "Freeing the world from the grip of fossil fuels is made far harder by huge ongoing subsidies for the fuels, making them far cheaper than their true cost when the damage they cause is included—especially air pollution, which kills 7 million people a year."

"The G20 group of leading economies pledged in 2009 to phase out the subsidies," The Guardian added, "but little has been achieved."

Big Oil's carbon bombs threaten to imperil remaining hopes of limiting planetary warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, the goal of the Paris climate accord.

The World Meteorological Organization said Monday that there's now a 50% chance that the planet will temporarily hit 1.5°C of warming in at least one of the next five years. In 2015, the chance of that happening was estimated to be roughly zero.

Separate research published in March by scientists at the U.K.-based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research warned that rich countries must cut off oil and gas production entirely by 2034 to give the world a 50% chance of keeping warming to 1.5°C or below by century's end.

"The world's climate scientists scream 'no more drilling' but oil majors, like Exxon and Shell, just carry on drilling," climate writer Andy Rowell tweeted Wednesday. "They are destroying your future. They are doing it deliberately. They have been doing that for decades."


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