Denial and Greenwashing: The Legacy of Oil and Gas Companies

The fossil fuel industry knew about the dangers of climate change decades ago, according to a DeSmog Blog report. In 1954, the fossil fuel industry partially funded research on carbon dioxide across the U.S. by Charles David Keeling through a private foundation. The industry received information about the possible impacts of carbon dioxide on the climate.

The documents DeSmog obtained show that the fossil fuel industry knew about the implications of excess carbon emissions long before the 1970s when Exxon conducted internal research. They serve as “important evidence that the fossil fuel industry has been intricately connected to climate science from its earliest beginnings — not only as a driver of the greenhouse effect behind climate change but also as a contributor to the scientific discoveries that would transform our understanding of humanity’s relationship with the Earth and its atmosphere.”

Deceiving the Public: How Greenwashing Works

Rather than outright deny that climate change exists as they did in the past, fossil fuel companies hype their products as clean. They paint themselves in bright shades of green. Investopedia defines greenwashing as “the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound.”

Greenwashing helps the fossil fuel industry delay climate action in four ways, Earthjustice points out:

  1. They promote methane gas as clean energy by advocating for methane plants to take over retired coal plants.
  2. They push anti-electrification disinformation campaigns. Their campaigns promote gas or propane use in Americans’ homes instead of alternatives such as induction cooktops.
  3. They hype dirty hydrogen. When combusted, hydrogen produces nitrous oxide pollution up to six times what methane produces. Nitrous oxide can cause serious health effects, including asthma and respiratory infections.
  4. They tout carbon capture as a silver bullet. There are currently 15 carbon, capture, and storage projects in the U.S. Nearly all provide captured carbon to oil companies that use it to enhance oil recovery. The oil companies inject the captured carbon into partially depleted oil wells, which poses risks to surrounding companies, including earthquakes and contamination of drinking water.

Greenwashing Examples From Oil and Gas Companies

An overview of the claims by three major oil and gas companies (BP, Chevron, and Shell) shows that the fossil fuel industry uses a very dark shade of green.


The initials BP once stood for British Petroleum, but the oil and gas company changed the name to only the initials. Around that time, BP released a television commercial claiming the company was “beyond petroleum.” That commercial is an example of the greenwashing that the fossil fuel industry engages in.

BP’s website confirms that the company still paints itself with broad green strokes. BP acknowledges that the “world wants and needs a better and more balanced energy system that delivers secure, affordable, and lower carbon energy.” However, the following sentence proclaims that BP is “playing our part by investing in today’s energy system, which is mainly oil and gas – and, not or – in our transition and the energy transition.” In other words, BP continues investing heavily in oil and gas, admitting it is “mostly in oil and gas today.” In 2023, BP invested in four major oil and gas start-up projects.


Chevron, an American-owned oil and gas company, declares it is “advancing a lower carbon future.” The company touts its commitment to sustainability while admitting that “oil and gas are essential to providing the energy we use every day.” Chevron has “major operations in the world’s most important oil and gas regions.” Yet it still proclaims that it plans to continue reducing its upstream greenhouse gas intensity by developing technologies and partnerships.


Dutch-owned Shell “views sustainability as providing essential energy for a growing population in a responsible way.” That includes a 2050 net-zero emissions target. The oil and gas company will have a problem reaching that target as it defines sustainability as “providing essential energy for a growing population in a responsible way.” That means that Shell invests in and develops oil and gas that produce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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  1. How would you lead BP, Chevron, or Shell to green by 2030 or 2050?
    As their present business is in oil and natural gas, they will drill and pump as long as we use this fuel, until transferring to other energy and reducing our dependence on it. In other words, OUR plan to stop using their fossil fuels is their plan.


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