Big oil and gas companies are spending tens of millions on adverts publicising their environmental work, while only about a 10th of their investment goes into low-carbon development, a comprehensive study of public communications from five oil and gas firms by InfluenceMap, a climate finance thinktank, found.
60% of the ads made at least one claim highlighting the companies’ positive climate actions. But on average, the five companies devoted only 12% of capital expenditure to low-carbon activities – and this included some gas projects.
Less than one in four ads highlighted the companies’ fossil fuel activities, InfluenceMap said, which suggested that the companies were spending about $750m a year on communications aimed at burnishing their climate credentials.
Researchers looked at 3,421 public communications materials published by BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and TotalEnergies in 2021, including articles and blog posts on corporate websites, press releases, reports, speeches and company and CEO social media accounts. They found that 60% made at least one green claim, with the most popular being centred on efforts to “transition the energy mix”. However, analysis of the capital expenditure of the five companies found that all were forecast to increase their oil and gas production, with the exception of BP, which was expected to have similar levels in 2026 as in 2021.
“Essentially, we found that big oil is spending millions of dollars on this green PR, and it is a really systematic campaign to portray themselves as pro-climate,” said Faye Holder, program manager at InfluenceMap. “But at the same time, they are still lobbying to lock in fossil fuels and investing in a really unsustainable energy future with high levels of oil and gas, and very low spend on low-carbon activities.” She added, "...it’s really clear they want to dissociate themselves from oil and gas, and attach themselves to this climate agenda.”
Shell made the most green claims, with 70% of public communications stressing pro-environmental activities, while just 10% of capital expenditure was invested in low carbon, which included some gas projects, according to InfluenceMap’s report. ExxonMobil made green claims in 70% of its communications, while devoting 8% of capital expenditure to low carbon. For TotalEnergies, 62% of communications made green claims, with 25% of capital investment going towards low carbon.