Are US fossil fuel companies doing all they can to reduce GHG emissions?

What The Fact?

Shorebirds on the beach at Lynchburg Landing near the ExxonMobil Refinery, Baytown Texas, US. Photo by Roy Luck (2012) via Flickr CC-BY-2.0

Are companies in the fossil fuel energy sector in the US simply receiving an unfair amount of criticism, despite their investments in low carbon technology and carbon storage? Colm Regan reviews the evidence based on comments from American Petroleum Institute representative Megan Bloomgren.

The Claim

In a reply to CNN journalists in September 2022 quoting findings of a new report that found US oil and gas companies opposing regulations aimed at tackling climate change and using deceptive advertising techniques in September 2022, senior vice president of communications of American Petroleum Institute, Megan Bloomgren stated:

‘API member companies continue to make investments towards innovation, research, and best practices to further reduce GHG emissions and tackle the climate challenge.’

The American Petroleum Institute (API) represents some 600 member organisations involved in the natural gas and oil industry in the US and includes member companies BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell. 

Are companies in the fossil fuel energy sector in the US simply receiving an unfair amount of criticism, given this kind of claim by Megan Bloomgren?

The Verdict

The claim is rated misleading and is accurate based on the best evidence publicly available at this time.

A reality check

The extraction, processing, distribution, and use of fossil-based fuels has generated some of the largest, richest, and most powerful companies the world has ever seen.  Historically, they have brought immense benefits to society and have played a pivotal role in economic development. 

Against this, they have also been directly implicated in human rights and environmental abuse on a vast scale; they have controlled governments and policy in many countries worldwide and have consistently sought to manipulate public opinion on energy and energy futures.

The debate on the role of such companies has taken on vastly greater significance in the era of climate change. Pivotal to their role in such a context is the debate on the practice of greenwashing and the quote above illustrates and amplifies the nature of the debate.   

ExxonMobil, one of the giants of fossil fuels insists its green agenda is clear, the company is

‘investing more than $15 billion between now and 2027 on lower-emission initiatives, and we anticipate a tripling of investment by 2025This reflects our commitment to reducing our own emissions and confidence in the market adoption of lower-emission solutions, such as [carbon capture and storage], hydrogen, and biofuels.

Likewise, Shell too:

The world will still need oil and gas for many years to come…investment in them will ensure we can supply the energy people will still have to rely on, while lower-carbon alternatives are scaled up.

Many of these assertions from big oil are the subject of constant debate with accusations of their claims being subjected to being called false or misleading. 

Greenwashing in the fossil fuel energy sector is now big business into which companies such as those in API pour hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

The Evidence

In summary, much of the most detailed and extensive scientific analysis to date indicates that the words and assertions on clean and renewable energy from the fossil fuel sector are not credible as they are not matched by corresponding or effective action. 

A major study published in 2022 (in line with many previous studies, including those of the IPCC) noted that in recent years the fossil fuel sector has highlighted its commitment to renewable energy sources and to a much-needed energy transition as well as to low-carbon economic development.  Companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP have routinely emphasised pledges to ‘green’ their agendas, peppering their public communications with key green concepts and assertions.  The study concluded that such company claims are not backed up by commensurate action.

Using data for the period 2009 to 2020, the study found:

  • While companies increasingly talked about shifting to clean energy and made significantly increased use of ‘green’ concepts and language in their annual and technical reports, they failed to initiate meaningful action. For example, while BP and Shell vowed to reduce investments in fossil fuel extraction projects, they were instead increasing the scale of the areas for new oil and gas exploration in recent years. 
  • The gap between what fossil-fuel companies say and what they do is illustrated in financial spending. Overall financing for industry declined by 9% in during global pandemic affected 2020. Funding for the top 100 fossil fuel companies, on the other hand, enacted major expansion plans which increased by 10%.
  • Many of the world’s largest banks continue to substantially fund fossil fuel developments as a Banking on Climate Chaos report shows.

Another study from UK-based not-for-profit climate and energy organisation InfluenceMap found that the amount of climate-positive messaging used by five major oil and gas companies – BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies – was inconsistent with their spending on low-carbon activities.  The study argued that these five companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on a strategy to portray themselves as positive and proactive on climate change. This was found to be inconsistent with the companies’ plans and actions with respect to capital investment. 

The study noted:

  • Some 3,400+ items of public communications from those companies in 2021, 60% contained at least one green claim, while only 23% contained claims relating to oil and gas.
  • Claims highlighting the companies’ support for or active engagement with agendas to transition their energy mix were by far their most popular claim.
  • Taken together, companies are spending around $750 million each year on climate-related communication activities. Greenwashing has become big business.

In contrast, a maximum of just 12% of the five companies’ 2022 capital expenditure is expected to be dedicated to ‘low carbon’ activities. Additionally, none of the major oil companies predicted oil production targets appears to be in line with the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 with several companies planning to increase oil and gas production between 2021 and 2026.

The gap between words, deeds and marketing

In the first seven months of 2022 oil and gas giant BP more than doubled its spending on environmental ads on Facebook and Instagram in the UK alone.  By contrast, in the first half of 2022, BP invested about £3.1 billion on new oil and gas projects and only about £300 million on ‘low carbon’ energy globally, despite raking in profits of approximately £12 billion in this period.

Analysts continue to emphasise that if companies were actually moving away from fossil fuel dominated energy there would be accompanying evidence of declining exploration agendas in fossil fuel production plus reduced sales and profit from such fossil fuels.  This, however, is simply not occurring – in fact the reverse is the case, especially in the context of the energy crisis heightened by the war on Ukraine.

The InfluenceMap study concluded that fossil-fuel sector publicity appears to be part of a ‘systematic campaign to portray themselves as pro-climate to the public’, almost a dictionary definition of greenwashing.  While asserting one thing, fossil fuel companies continue to pursue investment in an unsustainable and deeply damaging energy system. 

The Washington based World Resources Institute has also noted that major oil and gas companies continue to strategically use trade associations (including the API) to engage in extensive lobbying) including lobbying against climate friendly legislation and public greenwashing.   

Are we on track to meet climate ambitions?

According to the UN Environment Programmes Production Gap report for 2021, current worldwide levels of oil and gas production will fail to meet climate ambitions under the Paris Agreement.  The report argues that:

The world’s governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C, adding that “most major oil and gas producers are planning on increasing production out to 2030 or beyond.

In 2021 the International Energy Agency (echoing the IPCC) argued that if key climate targets (e.g. net zero emissions by 2050) were to be met, the exploitation and development of new oil and gas fields needed to end immediately. Additionally, no new coal-fired power stations should be built.  Despite this, all three European major fossil fuel companies continue to invest vastly more in oil and gas development than in renewables (routinely by a factor of 10+). BP, for example, planned to initiate seven major new hydrocarbon production projects in 2022, with at least another three planned for 2023 or later.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) also reported that global energy investment was estimated to have increased by approximately 8% in 2022 (to USD 2.4 trillion), a trend observed since 2019.  This increase was driven largely by higher costs, renewable energy investment, the development of energy grids and by energy efficiency.  Yet, investment in clean energy is gaining ground.  Shell, for example, has announced that it plans to spend 12% of its capital expenditure on renewable energy this year, up from 10% in 2021.  There is also growing evidence of pressure from investors, shareholders, environmental groups, and governments to significantly increase such investment. 

While the IEA argued that while this pattern was ‘encouraging’, it was still far below what is urgently needed to tackle not only current energy demand but to support the necessary drive towards a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.

It continues to be difficult to access accurate and up-to-date data on clean energy investment by individual fossil-fuel companies, but available data suggests levels very significantly lower company advertising would suggest.  While there is evidence of increasing interest in clean energy, the vast bulk of investment remains resolutely focused on fossil-fuels.

According to the International Energy Agency, to date investment by oil and gas companies outside their established fossil fuel business has been less than 1% of total capital expenditure. It argues that

‘…For the moment, there are few signs of a major change in company investment spending. For those companies looking to diversify their energy operations, redeploying capital towards low-carbon businesses requires attractive investment opportunities in the new energy markets as well as new capabilities within the companies.’

Another issue of immediate concern and debate is the question of ongoing and substantial state subsidies for fossil fuels despite the climate change emergency and government commitments and targets. Subsidies are ostensibly intended to protect consumers but come with very substantial environmental, fiscal, social, and human development costs. 


The evidence from a wide range of sources and perspectives makes it clear that while fossil-fuel companies do invest in clean energy, the level of that investment is very significantly just a fraction of what they intend to invest in fossil fuels today and in the future. 

Research and analysis also demonstrate that such companies are involved extensively in a broad greenwashing campaign.

The Verdict

Based on the What The Fact? scales guide, the overwhelming body of analysis and research, the claim made by Megan Bloomgren is misleading.


A definition of Greenwashing

A good place to start the debate on greenwashing is the definition offered by Greenpeace – greenwashing is ‘… a PR tactic used to make a company or product appear environmentally friendly, without meaningfully reducing its environmental impact’. 

Follow the discussion on Greenwash: what it is and how not to fall for it by environmental advocacy group Greenpeace.

Explore more

A Euronews feature story in November 2022 on how oil firms pour millions into ‘greenwashing’ Google adverts, a new study claims

//’s What The Fact? supports the code of principles of the International Fact Checking Network. We check claims by influencers, from local to national to transnational that relate to human rights and international human development.

Transparent fact checking is a powerful instrument of accountability, and we need your help. Send tips and ideas to

Join the conversation #whatDEfact on Twitter @DevEdIreland and Facebook @DevEdIreland


More on

We Are All Human

We Are All Human is an outward looking, compassionate approach to the refugee crisis, created by a group of students in Largy College, Clones. It is an immense effort to create a safe and inclusive space in their community for their new Syrian neighbours.