Four out of five fossil fuel giants dismiss findings of report into EU lobbying efforts

U.S. oil major Chevron did not respond to pv magazine’s questions. Exxon Mobil and BP did not produce figures for their clean energy investment activity and Total responded only with its ‘low carbon electricity’ spending. Shell stated it had invested €1.6 billion in clean energy from late 2016 up to June.

Five of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, named and shamed in a report into their reportedly extensive EU lobbying efforts, have disputed the findings of the headline-grabbing study.

Non-profit the Corporate Europe Observatory, which publicizes the effects of corporate lobbying on EU policymaking, joined forces with sustainability charity Food & Water Europe, the European branch of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace to produce a report which claimed Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total, BP and Chevron – plus the industry associations they belong to – between them spent €251 million lobbying the European Union on fossil fuel policy from 2010 to last year.

According to the findings of the study, reported by English newspaper The Guardian, Exxon Mobil spent €37.2 million on fossil fuel lobbying during that time, Shell €36.5 million, Total €22 million, BP €18.1 million and Chevron €9.5 million with the 13 industry bodies the fossil fuel majors belong to devoting a further €128 million over the same period. The figures were reportedly drawn from the EU’s transparency register, in which companies can voluntarily declare meetings held with EU organizations and policymakers.

Lobbying spend

pv magazine approached all of the energy companies cited in the report to ask whether the figure attributed to them was correct; whether they spent further amounts during that period not cited in the voluntary register; whether they also lobbied individual EU member states; what figures they invested in renewable energy investment during the same period and why money was spent on two seemingly contradictory approaches; and what specific subjects lobbying was focused on.

As an example, the firms were asked whether they had contributed to the debate over potentially establishing a 2030 energy efficiency target for the EU when the issue was being considered in 2014, at a time when the NGO report’s authors stated lobbying expenditure rose among the five corporate entities. The mooted energy efficiency target was never established. The five companies were also asked by pv magazine about whether they had contributed to the setting of the political bloc’s eventual 2030 emissions reduction target, which has been criticized in many quarters for being unambitious.

Exxon Mobil told pv magazine in a statement: “Last year (2018), ExxonMobil Petroleum & Chemical b.v.b.a reported total EU advocacy expenditure of between €3.25 million and €3.5 million”. The company added: “ExxonMobil complies fully with the requirements of the EU transparency register. Each year we disclose information related to our advocacy expenditure in the register and have done so on a voluntary basis since 2009.”

Under fire

The company spokesman did not answer the question about lobbying EU member states separately, stating only: “ExxonMobil, like many companies, non-governmental organizations and other entities, engages with the European institutions. We have a responsibility to our customers, employees, communities and shareholders to engage in a public policy dialogue that impacts our business.”

The Texan oil and gas giant did not reveal figures for its investment in renewable energy from 2010 to last year nor did it respond to the question about the subjects it lobbied on. The company stated: “ExxonMobil believes that climate change risks warrant action and it’s going to take all of us – business, governments and consumers – to make meaningful progress. We support the Paris climate agreement and we are dedicated to helping society meet the dual challenge of providing energy for the world’s growing population while simultaneously addressing the risk of climate change.”

Exxon has come under the spotlight recently over its alleged attempts across more than four decades to cast doubt on the findings of climate scientists, an issue highlighted by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez who questioned Exxon scientists in a house hearing last week.

‘Report is nonsense’

A Shell spokeswoman issued a statement which said: “We firmly reject the premise of this report.” The spokeswoman told pv magazine: “The report comes out every year. The premise of this report is just nonsense.”

The spokeswoman said the report unfairly assumed “we are lobbying against renewable energy targets” when, she said, “we discuss day to day business”. She said there could, for instance, be examples of meetings where Shell representatives, given a suggested clean energy-related target, might feel it was not sufficiently ambitious and could lobby policymakers for a more demanding target. Asked to give an example, she said: “You would have to ask me about a particular meeting that we have attended on a particular issue, I wouldn’t want to overstate our influence.”

The Shell representative was unable to confirm whether the €36.5 million figure attributed to EU lobbying during 2010-18 was correct or whether more was devoted to lobbying outside the voluntary register. She confirmed Shell meets with legislators across all the markets it operates in, when asked about lobbying EU member states. Shell had spent €1.6 billion on new energy related investment since establishing its New Energy business unit towards the end of 2016 up to June this year, added the spokeswoman for the Anglo-Dutch oil producer. The company had also invested in clean energy before establishing the new unit, she added, but she could not confirm how much.

Asked about Shell’s lobbying on EU energy efficiency and renewable energy targets for 2030, she said: “You would have to ask me about specific meetings.”

‘Low carbon’

French oil and gas company Total told pv magazine in a statement, it will have reported an estimated €1.75-1.99 million in lobbying costs to the EU’s voluntary register last year, the same figure it devoted to the expense last year and the year before that, after a €2.5-2.749 million spend in 2016.

The company did not confirm whether it had spent any undeclared amounts on lobbying or respond to the €22 million bill attributed to it in the NGO report. Total did not confirm whether it had lobbied EU member states nor address the question about the subject of its lobbying meetings.

Neither did the company confirm how much it invested in clean energy during 2010-18, saying only: “We invest $1.5-2 billion [€1.35-1.8 billion] annually in low-carbon electricity, or more than 10% of our total capex [capital expenditure], since 2016.” The definition of low carbon energy generation can include natural gas.

BP also responded with a written statement. The company did not address the €18.1 million attributed to it for lobbying spend during the eight-year period, did not confirm whether it carried out lobbying outside the EU register or in individual EU member states, did not provide a figure for its clean energy investment during the period and did not discuss its contribution to the 2030 renewables target set by the bloc.

No comment

However, the company did issue a statement implying none of its representatives had ever attempted to argue against, dilute or delay climate change mitigation measures, including carbon pricing. The company said: “BP’s support for action on climate change, for the Paris agreement and for steps such as carbon pricing is absolutely clear. Our engagement with the European Commission – on many different subjects – is entirely in line with this and we completely reject any suggestion otherwise.”

Oil company Chevron did not respond to pv magazine’s questions.

With many of the world’s fossil fuel giants starting to invest heavily into clean energy, for instance by acquiring renewable energy project development companies, their PR departments are getting increasingly touchy about criticism of their ongoing oil and gas extraction activity.

For example, pv magazine last week fielded two requests from representatives at Italian utility Enel objecting to a description of the energy provider as a fossil fuel company despite Enel’s gas extraction activities in North Africa.

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