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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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Big Oil Faces Backlash For ‘Greenwashing’

As oil and gas prices rally after an abysmal year, companies may be pushing their luck by ‘greenwashing’ in their advertising. According to a New York Times article, for years, oil and gas firms have been using their commercials to greenwash their image. Big energy firms, who produce and export predominantly fossil fuels, may have been overplaying their commitment to climate change, the article explains. 

Chevron’s new commercial is a prime example of this ‘greenwashing’, playing on the emotions of families buying into the company’s fuel by portraying a father-son relationship with Chevron ‘lighting their way’. Yet, more recently the company has faced controversy as an oil refinery in California was responsible for the leaking of 600 gallons of petroleum and water mix into San Francisco bay. 

Environmental groups are accusing Chevron of misleading consumers about its move away from fossil fuels for greener alternatives and have filed a first-of-its-kind complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  

According to Global Witness, Greenpeace USA, and Earthworks, while viewers are led to believe that Chevron is pursuing cleaner energy solutions, it may actually increase absolute emissions over the coming years.  

Chevron replied to this complaint by saying “We engage in honest conversations about the energy transition.”.

Following Biden’s election pledge for clean energy and the Keystone XL crude pipeline cancellation, the allegation is getting more attention than similar complaints under previous administrations. Environmental organizations are seeing this as their chance to get more support from a government that is less pro-big oil, as well as drawing public attention through media coverage. 

However, we cannot overlook Chevron’s announcement earlier this month of a ‘pathway’ to achieve net-zero over the coming decade. The firm has also set the goal of reducing emissions per barrel by one-third over the next seven years.  

To achieve such goals, Chevron stated the need for big offset markets, many big technology breakthroughs, and changes in policy over the next decade. 

Related: 13 Million Barrels Of Oil Could Be Affected By Suez Canal Blockage

However, Chevron is not the only company to be accused of greenwashing in recent years. Four U.S. states and the District of Columbia have accused oil companies of ‘greenwashing’ by making “misleading and deceptive claims”, although those companies have not been named in the lawsuit. 

The FTC has been addressing this type of complaint since the 1990s. In 1996, in a case against Exxon, the FTC said it was “the latest in a series of cases challenging deceptive advertising claims for high octane fuel” and it is an issue that continues to persist. 

In September 2020, The Guardian highlighted five companies whose ads were pulled because of greenwashing; Ryanair, BMW, Fischer Future Heat, Ancol Pet Products, and Shell. The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), much like the FTC, is responsible for ensuring that commercials are not misleading to their viewers. 

Greater awareness of the issue could spell trouble for the oil and gas industry as Guy Hayward, the global chief executive of Forsman & Bodenfors, an international ad agency, explains that raising awareness can have knock-on effects. “[S]o it becomes a topic in the same way tobacco became a topic. And now I don’t know a single person who would work on a tobacco account”, he stated.

As the oil and gas industry is fighting back after last year’s plummet in demand, it is vital that companies communicate their cleaner energy objectives to the public without overstating their position. While fossil fuel is inevitably needed to meet our energy needs over the next few decades, the industry will have to be careful to please regulators and meet government promises for greener oil production. 

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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