Much like the Republican Party’s greenwashing, the oil industry is responding to public pressure on climate change with empty gestures meant to make it sound like they’re taking the problem seriously, without actually doing anything serious.
This spring, the American Petroleum Institute updated its public stance on climate, claiming it was open to a possible carbon price. But of course, there was a catch: They wanted consumers to pay the price for pollution, not the polluters. They get to look like they’re taking a big new step away from extremist climate denial, while actually remaining firm in their refusal to stop polluting or accept any responsibility for the damage their products cause.
Last week, API took another industrial-sized-ass-covering step, announcing a new template for oil and gas companies to use to provide “transparency” (their term) about greenhouse gas emissions, and the progress being made to reduce those pollutants. Aaron Padilla of API told reporters that the template “gives a foundational picture of a company’s work to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.”
It’s clearly meant to be a way for companies to highlight the token efforts they’re making to address climate change to ward off further government regulation. They can point to these disclosures to claim the industry is already tackling the problem. But what it really shows is that the industry is still in steadfast denial about its culpability for the climate crisis.
The template itself, provided as a one-page spreadsheet, is actually pretty simple. The first section is for their Scope 1 emissions, things like methane leaks and flaring from the drilling process. The second is their Scope 2 emissions, covering heating and cooling facilities and other indirect pollution that they generate in the course of producing fossil fuels.
You may expect Scope 3 emissions to come next, given "Scope 3 emissions are approximately 90% of an upstream oil and gas companies' emissions, and every major investor-led group working on climate change expects such companies to report them," Carbon Tracker’s Robert Schuwerk explained to S&P Global.
But they aren’t mentioned in the template, and as Schuwerk said, “leaving that out is a glaring omission.”
In an accompanying guidance doc, API addresses Scope 3 emissions only once, in a footnote acknowledging that they’re ignoring Scope 3 emissions (maybe next time!).
Instead, they skip straight onto “GHG mitigation” efforts, like carbon capture or renewable energy credits purchased so companies can get credit for nibbling around the edges of the problem caused primarily by the products they’re selling.
Similarly, sections 4 and 5 give companies spots to give themselves credit for reducing the intensity of their Scope 1 extraction emissions – claiming kudos for producing fewer emissions while producing fossil fuels that, once sold and burned, will completely swamp those reductions – and any other GHG reduction targets they may feel like disclosing. Lastly, section 6 is just a place for them to have a third-party verification.
If you’re wondering, then, just how much of the climate crisis the oil industry can be trusted to address, this gives an answer: 10%, at most.