Shell, BP, Exxon: Seized emails reveal 'deceptive' climate tactics and greenwashing

Oil and gas firms may commit to net zero goals in public – but internal emails tell a distinct story.

A US congressional investigation into climate disinformation has revealed over 200 pages of in-house messages between lobbyists and Shell, Chevron, and ExxonMobil employees.

In these internal memos, personnel query their very own environmental commitments and joke about climate collapse.

Politicians and campaigners have slammed the businesses for his or her “deception.”

“These revelations are the most recent evidence that oil giants keep lying about their commitments to resolve the climate crisis and will never be trusted by policymakers,” said Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity.

“If there may be one thing consistent concerning the oil and gas majors’ position on climate, it’s their utter inability to tell the reality.

So what do the emails reveal? Listed below are 4 questions that the documents answer.

Are oil firms committed to the Paris Agreement and net zero?

Exxon is publicly committed to the Paris Agreement to maintain global heating under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But in August 2019, Exxon’s chief Executive Darren Woods sent out a memo urging an industry lobby group to remove a reference to the climate treaty from a draft sustainability announcement.

Such a reference “could create a possible commitment to advocate on the Paris agreement goals”, the manager warned.

The trove of emails also throw Shell’s net zero commitments into query.

The oil major has pledged to change into net zero by 2050. But internal 2020 PR guidance calls on employees to border a net zero goal as “a collective ambition for the world” reasonably than a “Shell goal or goal”.

“Please don’t give the impression that Shell is willing to scale back carbon dioxide emissions to levels that don’t make business sense,” reads a Shell PR guidance slide.

“Shell has no immediate plans to maneuver to a net-zero emissions portfolio over our investment horizon of 10-20 years.”

Do oil firms imagine in their very own sustainable technology?

Exxon has promoted algae-based biofuels as a key tool within the energy transition.

The multinational company has spent $70 million (€70 million) on research and promoting for the fuel, which could be generated from genetically modified algae species.

One 2021 advert claims “we would like something that can grow really fast, in order that we will make loads of fuel.”

Nonetheless, a leaked 2018 presentation conceded the technology is “[s]till a long time away from the size we want.”

After discussing using the word ‘abundant’ in algae promoting, a public affairs manager warned that it could create “angst” with researchers.

Other fossil fuel firms have invested heavily in carbon capture and storage, a technology that pulls emissions from the air and injects them deep into the earth.

A Shell executive told colleagues “we would like to watch out to not discuss CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation and storage] as prolonging the lifetime of oil, gas or fossil fuels writ large.”

But for BP, the primary goal of this technology is to “enable the complete use of fossil fuels across the energy transition and beyond,” the captured emails reveal.

What do oil firms consider climate activists?

In 2019, Shell invited distinguished climate scientist Peter Kalmus to talk at a conference.

But after they viewed his presentation, the invite was rescinded.

After negative coverage, Shell’s climate change adviser David Hone said those that invited a climate scientist “didn’t do their due diligence.”

Also in 2019, Shell’s press officer Curtis Smith sent an email wishing ‘bedbugs’ upon the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led US climate group.

Why are oil firms eliminating a few of their most polluting plants?

Shell has sold off lots of its worst emitting facilities.

“Nobody in the corporate has said this, however the pattern is pretty clear,” Shell worker Steve Lesher wrote in a 2021 email.

“In case you’re a significant greenhouse gas emitter, and particularly if you happen to operate in a GHG-sensitive area like (California, Washington) or (Canada), your days within the Shell family are probably numbered.”

Nonetheless, the emails suggest that this sell-off approach isn’t applied worldwide.

“Where we DO own high GHG (Greenhouse gas) intensive things, it’s in areas where they aren’t that politically sensitive about such matters: China, Singapore, Malaysia, Louisiana,” Lesher wrote.

Chatting with the Guardian, an Exxon spokesperson slammed the “selective” publication of emails and reiterated the corporate’s commitment to the 2015 Paris climate deal.

A Shell spokesman said it was making “extensive efforts” to participate within the energy transition and was committed to becoming a “net zero energy business.”


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