There are a number of misguided environmental “activists” who characterize efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as some kind of a “David vs. Goliath” struggle between forward-thinking environmentalists who love the planet, on one hand, and greedy energy companies who want to plunder the planet, on the other. While this may be a convenient bias for news articles and political debates, it bears little resemblance to reality. As an oil and gas attorney in Texas, I work directly with the oil and gas industry. As a result, it’s clear to me that the false dichotomy between those who care about the environment and those in the energy industry is exactly that: false. The truth is that many energy companies involved in obtaining, refining, and selling oil and gas are also environmentalists who work hard to preserve the planet.
For example, oil and gas companies are much better environmental stewards than they are given credit for. Consider a new report from the American Petroleum Institute analyzing investments in greenhouse gas technologies in North America over the last year. This report notes that there was roughly $225 billion spent in on greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation in 2010. Of that total, U.S. based oil and natural gas companies contributed nearly half: $108 billion. That amount includes about $37 billion in shale gas development technologies and $71 billion in other investments. About $60.5 billion of the industry’s investment went toward oil and gas substitutions-including the shale gas investments. The shale gas advances are included in the data because its use can reduce the use of coal, which can significantly curb methane releases.
Compare these energy industry investments with about $74 billion in total federal government spending (most in projects funded by the “stimulus” package) for GHG mitigation. Private entities (other than energy companies) combined invested roughly $43 billion during that same time period. Most federal spending went toward energy efficient lighting, biofuels, solar power, and wind. The other private investments included efforts in advanced technology vehicles, electricity efficiency, biofuels, and wind power.
The API study was produced by T2 and Associates and is entitled “Key Investments in Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Technologies from 2000 Through 2010 by Energy Firms, Other Industry, and the Federal Government”. It was created by analyzing 565 different public documents and databases on the topic, including corporate reports, federal budgets, and other sources.
These figures present a much different picture than that painted by some environmentalists, i.e., of an industry dragging its feet to prevent GHG mitigation efforts. Let us not forget that these large investments were made in the face of a significant and persistent recession. When businesses of every stripe were laying off workers, cutting services, and eliminating all non-essential efforts, the oil and gas industry continued to preserve jobs, produce jobs, and invest in GHG mitigation. In addition, these investments were made despite the significant questions about the psuedo-science that serves as the basis for claims of climate change due to alleged manmade greenhouse gas emissions.
Of course, all of these efforts received little to no attention in the national media. Instead, virtually all public or political mentions of the energy industry continue to be the usual attacks based on skewed or flat-out incorrect assertions about the work of these companies. One can only hope that more fair-minded Americans will become aware of the true story of the oil and gas industry’s efforts like these latest GHG mitigation investment figures. It is when we base our decisions on correct information, rather than psuedo-science, that we can properly balance energy production and environmental preservation.