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Last week, Exxon proved, once again, that the oil and gas industry cannot be trusted to take the steps needed to tackle methane pollution and the climate crisis. 

Leaked documents, made public by Bloomberg News, show how Exxon has misled the public into thinking they are taking action to reduce climate pollution. Internal documents show that behind closed doors Exxon plans to increase greenhouse gas emissions by at least 17% over the next five years–more than the greenhouse gas output of an entire smaller western nation-state. 

Exxon is gambling on continued and increased demand for fossil fuel expansion. Unfortunately, their bet would increase greenhouse gases too, resulting in what the world’s best climate scientists conclude would be a complete climate catastrophe in our lifetimes.

The bet implicit in Exxon’s plan signals what so many have already said: oil and gas executives will not take necessary climate action voluntarily. Only strong rules and effective enforcement from governments can prevent the worst health and climate impacts.

Much, much worse

The true impact of Exxon’s plan is likely much, much worse than just a 17% increase for two reasons.

As Bloomberg points out, Exxon’s estimate only accounts for emissions directly from corporate owned facilities (or “scope 1 emissions”). It ignores all the climate impacts from the transportation and end use of their products (“scope 3 emissions”) that experts and other major companies consider when combating climate pollution.

Second, as many already know, oil and gas companies have a methane pollution problem. Methane is the main component of natural gas, and methane pollution (from both leaks and intentional venting) plague the industry. Methane is a greenhouse gas 86 times worse for climate than carbon dioxide, and it’s also being released into the atmosphere at much higher rates than companies are self-reporting. 

Thanks to Earthworks’ state-of-the-art optical gas imaging cameras and our trained, certified field experts, the prevalence of invisible oil and gas methane pollution has been made visible. Meanwhile, multiple studies based on field evidence have calculated that the methane pollution problem is 60% worse than industry is reporting.

Never Enough

How many more lies will it take before we realize that corporate promises will never be enough?

The climate is in crisis and we know what we have to do to prevent a complete catastrophe.  We need bold action that follows science and requires that those making climate change worse – oil and gas, plastics, and other fossil fuel companies – immediately stop expanding, limit current pollution, and begin a managed decline. 

Exxon has never been at the forefront of climate action. While some fossil fuel companies have tried to win public trust with campaigns promoting their pledge to fight climate change Exxon, which is in economic trouble as it is, has yet to come up with a plan to reduce its emissions.

But even good actors like BP cannot be trusted. BP recently claimed it will cut its oil and gas production 40% by 2030 (which, by the way, doesn’t go far enough) but it left all of its Russian owned assets out of that equation, which make up 30% of its total production in 2019 according to OCI’s Big Oil Reality Check.

We cannot trust any corporations – which are driven by decision-making to maximize short-term profit – to do the right thing and we definitely cannot trust them to save our planet. We have 10 years left to cut carbon in half to avoid climate catastrophe, we cannot continue to risk our future on corporate responsibility.

The solution is simple: stop permitting new wells, begin a managed decline of fossil fuels, and reduce current methane emissions 65% from 2012 levels by 2025. While we would love to work with corporations to make that happen, Exxon and others have made it clear that we still cannot trust voluntary commitments. There is no time left for industry lies. The only way we meet the challenge ahead is through bold government safeguards that force corporations to be held accountable.