Earlier this year, Exxon promised to slash its methane emissions and reduce its gas burning, but it seems it had some other plans in the works, too. New internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg show that the energy giant’s business plans would increase its carbon pollution by 17% by 2025. In total, the additions would be equivalent to the annual emissions of Greece and bring the climate closer to catastrophe.
There’s ample evidence that Big Oil’s climate plans are utter bullshit, but in the field of bad climate policies, Exxon has had some of the worst. Unlike other oil and gas firms, Exxon has never made a commitment to reduce its oil and gas production, set a date to reach carbon neutrality, or even publicly disclosed its greenhouse gas emission forecasts.
That’s not for lack of knowing its carbon footprint, though. The new documents show that it forecast the exact carbon output it expects to see from the investment plan it adopted in 2018: 23 million U.S. tons.
All that additional planet-warming pollution is expected to come from ramping up its oil and gas production. Fulfilling the seven-year, $210 billion investment plan would result in the company producing an additional 1 million barrels of oil a day. The company has some plans to deploy renewables, reduce methane leaks, and capture some carbon with yet unproven technology and store it underground. Without adjusting for the pollution cuts from those projects—hilariously deemed “self-help” measures in the internal reports—the company’s direct emissions would soar by another 21 million U.S. tons to levels 26% above 2017 levels.
Bloomberg notes that the estimates in the report it obtained represent just a small portion of Exxon’s total climate impact, because they reflect only the company’s direct operations. The majority of oil companies’ carbon footprint actually comes from customers burning and using their products, emissions known in the biz as “scope 3.”
If the firm had accounted for those, Bloomberg said, “the full climate impact of Exxon’s growth strategy would likely be five times the company’s estimate—or about 100 million tons of additional carbon dioxide.” That’s nearly the annual emissions ofBelgium.
These plans seem like a bad move economically. Amid the covid-19 crisis, oil and gas demand has plummeted dramatically. Exxon alone has lost over $1 billion since the pandemic began, and the company said in August that if prices stay the way they are for the rest of the year, its proven oil reserves could drop 20%. The company’s magnificent crash was so bad that it got kicked off the Dow Jones for the first time in 92 years. And just today, it announced plans to decrease its European work force by 1,600 due to financial woes (side note: fuck that).
The company warned last week of a third consecutive quarterly loss, meaning it’s relying on debt to pay capital expenditures and dividends. As recently as July, however, Exxon indicated that it’s merely delaying many projects to preserve cash during the downturn rather than canceling them.
In a statement to Bloomberg, Exxon said its growth plan will be set into motion “as demand returns and capital investments resume.” But that seems pretty optimistic (if you can call it that) if not outright delusional. The oil and gas market wasn’t doing great even before the pandemic started, and now analysts—including some who work for Big Oil—say the sector is likely to never make a comeback.
More importantly, these growth plans are a terrible move for the climate. Scientists have long warned that we need to rapidly phase out of oil and gas and massively draw down our emissions. A United Nations report last year showed that to adhere to the Paris Climate Accord, the world will have to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 7.6% every year for the next decade. We don’t have the carbon budget for any increases in emissions at all.
What the Exxon knews shows is that energy giants aren’t going to make decisions that benefit life on Earth when profits from selling fossil fuels are at stake. A report released by Oil Change International last month assessed Big Oil companies’ climate plans and found that Exxon’s were among the worst.
“The news that Exxon expects to continue ignoring the devastating impacts of our climate crisis and increase their emissions for years to come is both appalling and unsurprising,” David Turnbull, the strategic communications director at Oil Change who worked on the report, said.
Exxon has a long, well-documented history of lying about the dangers the climate crisis poses and its products contribution to climate breakdown. The company has tried to distance itself from that ugly past with marketing speak about how it plans to become sustainable. Clearly, that’s not the case.
“Today’s revelations show that Exxon remains intent upon drilling our climate to catastrophe; any lip service they give to climate action is simply public relations spin to try to avoid any real responsibility,” said Turnbull.