The nation’s leading oil and gas industry group made clear this week that it will use the 2024 election as a platform to campaign for its own future.
The American Petroleum Institute, at its annual “State of American Energy” event, launched a multimillion-dollar advertising blitz to make the case for expanded U.S. fossil fuel exploration, production and exports.
Although the group urged bipartisan action on the issue, its leaders blasted President Joe Biden’s policies, which they portrayed as more restrictive for fossil fuel development than those of President Barack Obama.
“President Obama’s energy record wasn’t perfect, but his administration offered 96 onshore leases during his first three years compared to just 18 in the Biden administration,” said Mike Sommers, API’s president and chief executive, in an address from Washington.
Sommers urged Congress to include mandates for more lease sales in its bills to fund the federal government, just as it did in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which included much of Biden’s climate policy.
Sommers said the 2024 election was critical for both the industry and those who rely on it.
“Americans are going to go to the polls and energy is on the ballot,” he said. “Jobs are on the ballot, American security is on the ballot, manufacturing is on the ballot. They all depend in some way on energy.”
Biden got little credit at the API session for U.S. oil and natural gas production soaring to record heights within the past year, nor did he win any praise for his administration’s green-lighting of the biggest oil development in Alaska in a decade, ConocoPhillips’ Willow project.
Instead, Sommers and other API officials focused on Biden barring drilling in new areas—such as the offshore U.S. Arctic. And they balked at recent news reports that suggested new liquefied natural gas, or LNG, export terminals may be in jeopardy as the Biden administration reevaluates the climate criteria it uses to approve new facilities.
But the API notably is not challenging the need to address climate change. Instead, its “Lights On Energy” campaign—which Sommers told Fox Business will be “an eight-figure” national television and digital advertising blitz in the run-up to the 2024 election—portrays the industry’s work as both vital to the economy and a key to achieving global greenhouse gas reductions.
That’s mainly due to natural gas, which can generate electricity with fewer emissions than coal, and has helped the U.S. to substantially reduce its own carbon emissions from electricity. But leaks of the potent greenhouse gas methane can erode the climate benefits of natural gas, as can the additional energy expended in processing and transporting LNG—complexities that are lost in API’s messaging.
“One of the biggest things that we can do for the environment is to send more U.S. LNG overseas to displace coal, and to help cut global greenhouse gas emissions,” Sommers said.
Climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media at the University of Pennsylvania, said API’s new campaign is a repackaging of its long-term effort to block meaningful action on climate change—a shift he described in his book The New Climate War.
“The agenda now is no longer denial, but delay,” Mann wrote in an email. “Anything they can do to delay meaningful decarbonization of our energy infrastructure. This is a textbook example of that strategy. They’re willing to sign on to meaningless platitudes about ‘cutting emission’ as long as they can block any material efforts … to actually accomplish that.”
API’s rollout of the campaign comes a month after international climate negotiators for the first time agreed to transition their nations away from fossil fuels to reach net-zero emissions. Although many climate advocates and small nation states viewed the consensus reached at COP28 in Dubai as weak, with no clear path offered on phase-out, it marked a significant shift in the talks, which had previously avoided explicit discussion of the future of fossil fuels.
API officials were seeking to respond to the COP28 decision.
“If the objective is how are we going to maximize the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, for the minimum cost to society, everybody should be for that,” said Amanda Eversole, executive vice president and chief advocacy officer of API, during one panel discussion. “If, on the other hand, the definition of the problem is we need to accelerate certain preferred choices of energy source and stop others, I guess I sort of pivot back to ‘Does that help us with our macro objective?’”
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In fact, the United Nations Environment Program recently calculated that the United States and other top fossil fuel-producing countries are already on track to extract more than twice the level of fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and nearly 70 percent more than would be consistent with 2 degrees Celsius of warming.
Expect API, over the coming year, to argue that the world can address climate change while increasing oil and natural gas production, with the help of innovation and deployment of technologies like carbon capture and storage. The nation’s biggest industry lobbying group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, echoed that faith in innovation at its State of American Business conference, held the day after the API event.
The role of government is “not to manipulate the economy by picking winners and losers,” said Suzanne Clark, president and CEO of the Chamber. “It’s not to micromanage businesses or direct their behavior for political reasons.”
“Free enterprise,” she said, would “unleash a new era of human productivity to address climate change, and lead the energy transition while powering our economies today.” The Chamber will be advocating this year on some 300 policy issues, Clark said, including “regulations we’ll improve, or stop.”