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Have Oil Majors Changed Their Tune on Climate Change?

Oil rig by wind turbines

This is the biggest challenge as we have at the moment as a company,” Ben van Beurden, chief executive of oil giant Shell, said recently. “The fact that societal acceptance of the energy system as we have it is just disappearing.”

Speaking at the annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston on March 9, van Beurden described the growing tensions between his industry, which has created our fossil fuel dependent energy system, and the public, which is demanding a switch to clean energy: “I do think trust has been eroded to the point where it starts to become a serious issue for our long-term future.”

The world’s largest oil companies are increasingly faced with public pressure to do something about their impact on climate change. And increasingly we’re seeing their chief executives responding. The question is though, how much is for real and what's just greenwash?

Congressional Energy and Climate Committees Are Loaded with Ex-Fossil Fuel Lobbyists

U.S. Capitol building

Though the U.S. Congress has been in session for two months, much of the policy action which has taken place since Donald Trump assumed the presidency on January 20 has centered around his Executive Orders.

As some have pointed out, Trump's first speech in front of a joint session of Congress on February 28 can be seen as a reset moment, with the clock ticking on Republicans to deliver on promises made to voters in the 2016 election. In the energy and environment sphere, those efforts will likely center around gutting climate and environmental protections, and much of it will be carried out by congressional committee staffers. 

A DeSmog investigation has revealed that many Republican staff members on key committees are former fossil fuel industry lobbyists, which could help fast-track the industry's legislative agenda in the weeks and months ahead. In total, 15 staffers on the eight main energy and environment congressional committees previously worked as industry lobbyists on behalf of oil, gas, mining, coal, petrochemical, and electric utility interests. 

Chevron, Aera Energy Sue to Block Monterey County, California’s Voter-Approved Ban on Fracking

Anti-fracking protest in front of California state house

Last November, voters of Monterey County, California, passed a fracking ban known as Measure Z with 56 percent of the vote, despite being outspent 30-to-1 by the industry-backed group, Monterey County Citizens for Energy Independence

Passing Measure Z makes Monterey the sixth California county to ban fracking, but the first to face a serious legal challenge. 

In December, Chevron and Aera Energy, the two biggest companies drilling in Central California’s San Ardo fields, both filed lawsuits against Monterey County to block implementation of Measure Z, alleging that it restricts how they can use their property.

What Do Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66

The day after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) the final permit it needed to build its line across Lake Oahe, which connects to the Missouri River, a natural gas liquids pipeline owned by one of the DAPL co-owners exploded and erupted in flames in Paradis, Louisiana.  Paradis is located 22 miles away from New Orleans.

That line, the VP Pipeline/EP Pipeline, was purchased from Chevron in August 2016 by DAPL co-owner Phillips 66. One employee of Phillips 66 is presumed dead as a result of the explosion and two were injured.

Did Senators Rush Through Rick Perry’s Energy Dept Hearing to Attend Corporate-Sponsored Inaugural Lunch?

Rick Perry

Compared to many other Senate confirmation hearings for potential Cabinet members, the hearing for U.S. Energy Secretary proved much faster and less rocky for nominee and former Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry. 

Perry's hearing lasted about three and a half hours and included only two rounds of questioning. That was far shorter than either Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's nearly six hour hearing for Environmental Protection Agency head, in which he faced four rounds of questions, or the eight and a half hour hearing for Secretary of State nominee and retired ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson. Before this hearing, Perry was on the record as an enthusiastic climate change denier who previously failed to come up with either the name or the functions of the agency he could soon run.

It seems unclear why Perry, a just-departed board member of Energy Transfer Partners — owner of the Dakota Access pipeline — skated through with far less turbulence than his peers. One potential explanation: some senators from the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources found themselves busy with another task, besides questioning Perry, today. That is, they were in a rush to get to the “Leadership Luncheon” put on by the Trump Inaugural Committee, the latter funded by major corporate sponsors, including Chevron, J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and others. 

Security Firm Guarding Dakota Access Pipeline Also Used Psychological Warfare Tactics for BP

Standing Rock Security

G4S, a company hiring security staff to guard the hotly contested Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), also works to guard oil and gas industry assets in war-torn Iraq, and has come under fire by the United Nations for human rights abuses allegedly committed while overseeing a BP pipeline in Colombia and elsewhere while on other assignments.

Recently, the UK-based G4S placed job advertisements on its website, announcing it would be hiring security teams to work out of offices in Mandan and Bismarck, North Dakota. These two locales are only a 45-minute drive away from the ongoing Standing Rock Sioux Tribe-led encampment unfolding along DAPL's route in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. First among the list of required experience for both locations is service related to military police, elite military forces, or “any support role in a combat zone.” 

Canadian Civil Society: Freeze Chevron Assets, Use To Cover Ecuador Judgement on Amazon Destruction

A court in Toronto will soon begin deliberating over whether or not to seize Chevron's Canadian assets in order to force the company to comply with an $9.5-billion judgement in Ecuador.

The company doesn’t deny that Texaco, which Chevron bought in 2000, deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic oil waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon, resulting in massive environmental devastation and a health crisis affecting thousands of people. But the company claims it did its part to clean up the rainforest.

Revealed: Ex-FERC Commissioner’s Multiple Rulings Favored Energy Companies His Wife Lobbied For

Numerous rulings by a former Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) favored energy companies his lobbyist wife worked for at the time, a DeSmog investigation can reveal.

Philip Moeller left FERC in late 2015 after nearly ten years on the Commission.

Throughout his entire tenure, Moeller’s wife, Elizabeth Moeller, was employed as a lawyer and lobbyist for the Washington DC-based firm Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw & Pittman LLP (Pillsbury Winthrop).

According to internal FERC documents obtained by DeSmog, the Commission’s counsel repeatedly authorized Moeller to rule on matters concerning companies represented by his wife or others at Pillsbury Winthrop.

Oil Majors Told to Adapt or Die

As profits and prices plummet, the oil conglomerates – some of the world’s biggest companies – have been warned they must change their ways or face extinction, writes Kieran Cooke at Climate News Network.

At best, big oil companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron and BP face a period of gentle decline, but will ultimately survive.

At worst, if they do not adapt and change direction, “what remains of their existence will be nasty, brutish and short”.

The Paris Agreement: Have Oil Companies Got The Memo?

By David Powell, associate director, environment, at the New Economics Foundation (NEF). This article has been cross-posted from NEF.

If you’re the boss of BP, Chevron or Shell, how worried are you right now? 

171 governments put pen to paper last week, formally signing the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The New York event was an encouraging, albeit largely symbolic, confirmation of December’s commitment to limit temperature rises to two degrees or lower.

The world has spoken; the science is clear; the likes of Mark Carney continue to warn about the economic risk of drilling like there’s no tomorrow. Paris provokes a very simple acid test: most of the world’s known reserves of oil, coal and gas will have to be kept in the ground – and you can forget prospecting for more.

There’s only one problem: oil companies don’t seem to have noticed.

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