Exposed! Shell’s greenwashing and Big Oil’s shell game calling natural gas “renewable” amidst record profits 

Extinction Rebellion climate campaigners draw attention to fossil fuel industry greenwashing during a protest in London, UK. Credit: Mike Kemp/In Pictures, Getty Images

By Terry Gips, Alliance President

Houston, I think we have a problem. Yes, Shell does…on many levels, from greenwashing and misleading investors to exorbitant profits, as the Washington Post’s Climate 202 points out: “An advocacy group is accusing the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell of misleading investors by classifying its investments in natural gas as spending on renewable energy.” The group Global Witness filed a complaint with the Security and Exchange Commission that Shell’s classifications amount to “greenwashing”, portraying a business or product as more environmentally friendly than it really is.

The Post notes that, “The pioneering complaint opens a new front in a burgeoning battle over gas’s green credentials. While gas has lower emissions than coal, its primary component is methane, a powerful planet-warming pollutantThe complaint alleges that Shell has improperly included gas investments in the category “Renewables and Energy Solutions” in its annual reports to the SEC.”

A recent annual report said it directed 12% of its capital expenditure to “Renewables and Energy Solutions” in 2021, a Global Witness analysis of Shell figures shows “it directed just 1.5% of its capital expenditure to developing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. The rest of the spending went toward gas.” Global Witness alleges “Shell misled investors about its commitment to transitioning away from fossil fuels and reducing its exposure to climate-related risks.”

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said in an email that “we’re confident Shell’s financial disclosures are fully compliant with all SEC and other reporting requirements,” according to the Post. Smith added that the oil giant budgeted $20 billion last year for “energy transition activities,” including investments in “low-carbon fuels,” wind, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration.

Sadly, Shell is not alone. The Post points to controversial efforts on both sides of the Atlantic to classify gas as green. For example, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently signed a bill to legally redefine gas as a source of “green energy,” capping a successful campaign by dark money groups with ties to the gas industry.

Last summer, “the European Parliament voted to move ahead with a plan to label gas and nuclear power as “green” in some circumstances, a response to energy challenges created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Supporters of these moves argue that gas has lower carbon dioxide emissions than coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.”

However, detractors like the Alliance for Sustainability contend that the main component of gas is methane, which traps about 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Even the historically conservative International Energy Agency has said there can be no new gas, oil and coal development if humanity wants to prevent dangerous global warming beyond 1.5 degrees C. (2.7 degrees F.).

Finally, the Post points out that America’s largest oil companies are posting record profits while gasoline prices creep up. ExxonMobil had a record annual profit of $55.7 billion for 2022, soaring past its earlier record of $45 billion in 2008 while Chevron posted a $36.5 billion annual profit, more than double its earnings last year. The White House has complained and US Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) said, “price gouging our families is wrong, and I’m fighting to hold these companies accountable.”

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