Bombshell Senate Report Details How Oil Companies Misled Americans About Climate Change Over Decades

By: Alex Trent | Published: May 02, 2024

A new 65-page report released by US Senate Democrats concludes a multi-year investigation into the history of Oil companies and climate change.

The investigation found evidence that major oil companies knew ahead of the public about the dangers of their emissions in the environment, but worked to hide evidence of these dangers and hoped to downplay any urgency in addressing the problem.

Senate Report

The report, titled “Denial, Disinformation, And DoubleSpeak: Big Oil’s Evolving Efforts to Avoid Accountability for Climate Change” details what it calls a “decades-long deception campaign” by oil companies to deceive Americans after learning about the effects of fossil fuels on climate change in the 1960s.

A clear, sunny view of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., showcasing its iconic dome and neoclassical facade, representing the legislative branch of the U.S. government

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This investigation was carried out over a period of almost three years by Democrat staff members of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.


New Evidence Emerges

Investigators found internal documents at fossil fuel companies describing how these companies have understood how fossil fuels cause climate change and then worked to misinform the public about this issue.

A view of a large gas extractor with the sun setting in the background.

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Previous reporting in 2015 by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News made similar findings but were dismissed at the time as “hyperbolic” and “journalistic malpractice” by big companies.

Denial Through Deception

The report alleges Big Oil companies embarked on a deception campaign that sought to spread disinformation about climate science findings and utilize double speak techniques at the same time to promote natural gas as a “climate-friendly fuel.”

The words "Natural Gas" found on a lid on the ground.

Source: Malopez 21/Wikimedia

While companies would make big public pledges to support climate agreements and work towards net zero emissions goals, privately they would be working to undermine them.

Private Versus Public Activities

Companies increased efforts to privately lobby and use resources to shut down pro-climate legislation and regulations, even while at the same time they claimed to publicly support them.

Silhouette of multiple oil pumps operating in a field against a vibrant sunset, with power lines visible in the background

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Publicly, companies would promote carbon capture technologies while privately they would claim they are too expensive and are impossible without government investment.

Rip Van Winkle

Some are furious that Big Oil and Gas companies knew critical information long before many others did, and chose to use that information to exploit others instead of addressing the problem.

An artist's depiction of Rip Van Winkle kneeled down in a forest.

Source: Rip Van Winkle/Wikimedia

“They could’ve been the environmental Paul Revere but, instead, they were more like Rip Van Winkle, wanting everyone to go to sleep,” said Democrat Rep. Jamie Raskin about the efforts by Big Oil companies to allegedly mislead the American public for more than 60 years.


Spin on Science

The scoop on the information that Big Oil and Gas companies got on how fossil fuels contribute to climate change allowed them to take advance steps to put their own spin on the information as it slowly entered the public consciousness.

A protestor holding up a sign demanding action on climate change.

Source: Jasmin Sessler/Wikimedia

“Putting spin before science continues at oil companies to this day,” said Geoffrey Supran, associate professor and director of the Climate Accountability Lab at the University of Miami. “This is greenwashing 101. Talk green, act dirty.”


Republican Reaction

Republicans in the Senate are calling the report biased and partisan, and say it is trying to distract from failed, costly attempts to promote a transition away from oil and gas energy.

A large oil refinery sits beyond a body of water set by orange light

Source: Timothy Newman/Unsplash

“We spend all this money, and we don’t lower global temperatures one scintilla of a degree,” said Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana.


American Petroleum Institute Comments

The American Petroleum Institute (API) is a lobbying group in the oil and gas industry that was repeatedly singled out in the report for its actions. In a statement to NBC, API accused the report of being “election year rhetoric.”

Two oil pumpjacks are positioned in a grassy field under a hazy sky. The nearest pumpjack, painted in faded orange, shows signs of wear and is connected to various mechanical parts. In the background, another pumpjack appears at a distance

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“At a time of persistent inflation and geopolitical instability, our nation needs more American energy — including more oil and natural gas — and less unfounded election year rhetoric,” an API spokesperson said.


Focused on Affordable Energy

In their statement, API brought up how Americans want oil and natural gas and pushed back against claims in the report.

An oil drill in a field in the Permian Basin in West Texas in the daytime.

Source: Zorin09/Wikimedia Commons

“America’s energy workers are focused on delivering the reliable, affordable oil and natural gas Americans demand while scaling the next generation of low-carbon technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture, and any suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate,” said API.


What Americans Think

Polls in recent years have shown that a majority of Americans support the expansion of natural gas and think that it needs to be part of the country’s energy landscape in the future.

A close-up shot of the American flag, showing the stars and stripes in detail

Source: Charles "Duck" Unitas/Unsplash

A Pew Research Poll from last year found that 68% of Americans want to have a mixture of fossil fuels and renewable energy resources while only 31% want to phase out fossil fuels entirely.


Legal Consequences

Some Senators like Bernie Sanders are furious over the report, demanding there be legal repercussions for bad actors.

Senator Bernie Sanders is pictured giving an impassioned speech at an outdoor rally. He is gesturing with his right hand extended, wearing a dark blazer, a blue shirt, and glasses

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“If we have an industry that knowingly, and that’s the point … knowingly understood that climate change would bring devastating destruction to the lives of billions of people, what are the legal grounds we can hold them accountable for?” Vermont Senator Sanders said.