Memorandum: Big Oil’s Lies About Biden’s Public Lands Leasing Pause
February 19, 2021
Dear Interested Parties:
In response to the Biden administration’s Executive Order pausing new oil and gas leasing on public lands, Big Oil and the fossil fuel industry have yet again gathered their well-compensated chorus of political allies, front groups, and trade associations to sing a familiar tune: the “sky is falling.”
As usual, their rhetoric — including that from the industry’s chief trade association, the American Petroleum Association (API) — does not reflect the reality of the situation. But, you don’t have to take our word for it. While major oil and gas corporations fund and support API, the corporations themselves have been decidedly more truthful in their communications with shareholders. There, the pause on public lands leasing is hardly regarded as a big deal.
- The CEO of API member Chevron said he believed the executive order would not impact existing leases and permits and the company would ultimately “be able to manage [their] way through it” during its 2020 Q4 earnings call on January 29, 2021.
- During its 2020 Q4 earnings call on February 2, 2021, the CEO of API Member ConocoPhillips stated that the company “has the flexibility, the diversity and the depth of low cost of supply and low- GHG resource to manage through this issue without materially impacting our plans.”
- In an investor call on February 17, 2021, an executive from API member Devon Energy said “”We are ready to roll with the punches on whatever comes our way […] We remain confident.”
- The only mention of the Biden administration’s policies during API member Exxon Mobil’s 2020 Q4 earnings call on February 2, 2021 (live-tweeted by Politico reporter Ben Lefebvre) was a reference to policies about carbon capture technology.
- API member BP held its 2020 Q4 earnings call on February 2, 2021 and its CEO did not anticipate any “near-term impact” because they “have got enough permits to do what [they] need to do.”
That’s not hard to believe. There are millions and millions of acres of federal public land currently leased by the oil and gas industry that sit unused and would not be impacted by the Biden administration’s pause on new leasing at all. According to a report from Rocky Mountain Wild, there are 1.4 million acres in Colorado, 1 million acres in Montana, 862,000 acres in Nevada, 1.1 million acres in New Mexico, 1.1 million acres in Utah, and 5 million acres in Wyoming that are currently leased and not developed by the oil and gas industry. And, according to the Interior Department, nearly 13.9 million (or 53%) of the more than 26 million acres under lease nationwide are unused and non-producing as industry sits on approximately 7,700 unused leases on- and offshore. But, they’re claiming catastrophe if they aren’t allowed to immediately hoard more.
Maybe that’s why many in the oil and gas industry seems more than comfortable with the situation even as they try and score political points. Check out these headlines that tell the real story:
- World Oil – February 8, 2021 – Oil Stocks Rallying In 2021, Despite Biden’s Fossil Fuel Threats
- MarketWatch – February 8, 2021 – Marathon oil, Occidental Petroleum Stocks Soar To Lead Energy Sector To Broad Gains
- Bloomberg – February 7, 2021 – Big Oil Stocks Rally Despite Democrats’ Fossil-Fuel Stance
- Reuters – February 7, 2021 – Hedge funds bet on oil’s big comeback after pandemic hobbles producers
The last year has shown that even when some of these corporations struggle or declare bankruptcy, there’s been no shortage of massive bonuses going to their executives or funding their lobby arm API.
- API Rakes In Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Per Year. In 2018, the most recent year for which records are available, API had $234,349,360 in total revenue. [API IRS Form 990, accessed 02/12/21]
- API Pays Its Top Executives Millions of Dollars Per Year. In the most recent year for which records are available, API paid its outgoing president, Jack Gerard, $10,604,807 in salary. Its incoming and current president, Mike Sommers, got $1,790,404 in salary plus $452,510 in other compensation. [API IRS Form 990, accessed 02/12/21]
- API Has Spent Nearly $12 Million Lobbying The Federal Government In The Last Two Years. [Center for Responsive Politics, accessed 02/12/21]
- API Federal Lobbying Total Expenditures in 2020: $5,350,000
- API Federal Lobbying Total Expenditures In 2019: $6,610,000
Either way, the incongruence between the oil industry’s public attacks on the Biden administration’s executive order on climate change and its assurances to shareholders of smooth sailing ahead is stark — especially when you take into account the industry’s stated pledges of support for climate action. The companies backing API’s attacks on Biden’s climate executive order — including BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Devon Energy, and ConocoPhillips — all claim to acknowledge climate science and “support” climate action. But when it comes to steps forward that they even acknowledge won’t hurt their bottom lines, their climate commitments turn out to be nothing more than a thin green veneer. It turns out that their reality doesn’t match their rhetoric in too many ways to count.
In the coming weeks, we expect more oil and gas companies to release annual reports that likely paint the same picture. These companies need to be held accountable for painting one picture for their shareholders and then funding politicians and front groups that mislead the public and the people directly impacted by pollution and drilling on our public lands.
As more API and oil and gas special interests’ rhetoric is revealed, follow Accountable.US research-based reports on the fossil fuel sector.
- Big Oil’s Texas Deep Freeze Misinformation Two Step
- Rhetoric v. Reality: Big Oil Changes Tune on Addressing Climate Change While Lobby Associations’ Continue to Misinform
- Rhetoric vs. Reality: Pausing Public Lands Leasing
- Big Oil and Gas’s Rhetoric vs. Reality as Biden Admin and Congress Take on Cleaning Up Trump’s Toxic Legacy
- Full Climate Risk Accounting Must Include Review of Big Oil’s Public Lands Leasing Financial Scheme