HOUSTON (CN) – Chevron and Exxon Mobil this week signed on to the fight against climate change, joining a coalition of oil companies pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, tacitly rejecting the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental regulations.
Chevron and Exxon refused to join the London-based Oil and Gas Climate Initiative when it was formed in 2014, but did so on Monday, adding their weight to a coalition that already boasts multinational majors Royal Dutch Shell, BP, and France’s Total.
The about-face is due in part to pressure from activist investors pushing the companies to do something about the carbon dioxide-fueled atmospheric changes that are disrupting weather patterns and unleashing monstrous storms.
The coalition has amassed a $1 billion fund to invest in technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and Chevron, Exxon and Occidental Petroleum, a U.S. multinational that also joined the group Monday, have each committed $100 million to the fund.
That is pocket change for Chevron and Exxon, which made profits of $9.2 billion and $19.7 billion in 2017, and critics say their support of the coalition belies their unwavering focus on drilling new oil and gas wells across the globe.
“Oil companies forming a coalition to fight climate change is ironic, and it’s too little too late. It definitely speaks to the severity of the climate problem that even fossil fuel companies are recognizing the need to say the right things in the midst of significant federal environmental rollbacks,” said Bryan Parras, an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign.
The Trump administration is trying to undo Obama-era rules for natural gas drillers to cut the amount of methane leaked into the atmosphere, or purposely burned off due to lack of pipeline capacity.
Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a much more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, though it breaks down more quickly than CO2.
In a break from the Trump administration, the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative on Monday announced a goal of reducing its members’ collective annual methane emissions by 350,000 tons per year.
Rice University Professor Ronald Sass, a climate change expert, credits these companies for taking the lead on climate change, alongside coastal U.S. cities that are confronting the dangers of rising sea levels.
“Exxon Mobil and Chevron are wise to show their advocacy of newer and cleaner forms of energy. This inevitable shift … will need all of the expertise it can muster,” Sass said.
Both companies, for example, are researching how to produce fuel from algae.
“I applaud any efforts by the energy producers to be leaders in these efforts by treating it as an opportunity for all of us rather than as a burden,” Sass said.
But Oakland, San Francisco and New York City do not see oil companies as allies in this fight.
The Bay Area cities sued BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell in federal court last year, accusing them of perpetrating massive disinformation campaigns to deceive the public about the dangers of fossil fuels, and asking them to pay billions of dollars for levees to fend off rising seas.
New York City filed a federal lawsuit against the same companies in January, claiming they had covered up their research indicating the dangers of climate change as far back as the late 1970s.
All three lawsuits were dismissed, as federal judges found global warming too complex to pin on oil companies, and that doing so would overlook the benefits of fossil fuels.
The judges said it’s up to Congress and the executive branch, not the courts, to come up with ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Still, it’s evident energy producers must play a key role in this effort, and members of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative have an outsize presence in the industry.
With the addition of Chevron, Exxon and Occidental Petroleum to the coalition, its members account for 30 percent of global oil and gas production and supply around 20 percent of the world’s fossil fuels that are converted to electricity, the group said in a statement.
The national oil companies of Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil and Mexico also belong to the coalition.
In defiance of President Trump, the group supports the Paris Agreement, a deal reached in 2015 to try to limit global warming and signed by 195 countries. Trump stopped the U.S. government from participating in June 2017.
But critics say energy companies stepping up to fight climate change is no substitute for strong federal environmental protections, and that the companies are working at cross-purposes.
“As long as these companies are investing in dirty fossil fuel development, they’re part of the problem and not the solution. They shouldn’t be viewed as less culpable for the climate crisis just because the current EPA is exceptionally awful at its job,” said Parras, the Sierra Club organizer.
Neither Exxon, Chevron nor the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative responded to interview requests for this story. Occidental Petroleum declined to comment.