Big Oil Inflates Job Numbers by Over 10 Million

Big Oil Inflates Job Numbers by Over 10 Million

A new Food and Water Watch study finds that the oil industry likely exaggerates the number of jobs it supports. According to researchers, only around 500,000 Americans are directly employed by oil and gas companies -- a fraction of the 11.3 million jobs oil lobbyists have claimed will be lost if the US switched to clean energy.

In fact, in its count of 11.3 million industry employees, the American Petroleum Institute (API) includes those working jobs adjacent to the fossil fuel industry --  jobs that could adapt, not disappear, in a clean energy transition. For example, the figure includes truck drivers transporting oil and products containing petroleum, like asphalt and materials for the roofing industry. And a whopping half are employees who work at gas stations or attached convenience stores.

BBC: Climate change | Can gas and oil companies change their ways?, July 4, 2021.

VICE: The Secret Ways The Oil Industry Brainwashes You | Smog + Mirrors, April 22, 2022.

Foreign Policy Association: US Senator Debunks "The Big Lie" of the Fossil Fuel Industry, April 22, 2022.

Why This Matters

Lobbyists and politicians are using inflated employment figures to stall green energy policy. In a 2021 op-ed, a representative of the API claimed that a fracking ban would kill 550,000 jobs in Pennsylvania alone, 50,000 more jobs than fossil fuel companies even support nationwide. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott claimed that Democrat’s clean energy plans would destroy “hundreds of thousands of jobs” just in his state.

As oil advocates claim concern over American jobs, fossil fuel companies have been cutting employee numbers and simultaneously ratcheting production. Since 2014, gas and oil production has grown by 33%, and jobs in the industry have declined by 37%. Meanwhile, clean energy job growth has outpaced the fossil fuel industry. Renewable energy beat coal in the first half of 2022, accounting for over 25% of total US electrical generation.

Now This: How a Clean Energy Future Can Protect Fossil Fuel Workers, May 6, 2021.

Cleo Abram: Fracking for Clean Energy. Wait, What?, January 18, 2022.

WW0: Creating Jobs While Decarbonizing the US Economy, June 28, 2022.

FRANCE 24: Energy giants report record profits | Total, Shell profits rocket on high oil prices, July 28, 2022.

Greenwashed Plans for the Future

Inflated employment statistics are only one of the ways Big Oil obscures the truth. A recent study published in PLOS One found that leading oil producers are guilty of greenwashing. Despite using language associated with clean energy, like “low carbon,” “climate,” and “transition,” and making climate pledges, ExxonMobil and Chevron have done nothing to ready their businesses for a carbon-free future. European oil companies, like Shell and BP, have fared only marginally better by investing more in clean energy. Even though their cooperation is essential to reversing global warming, both companies have still expanded their search for new oil and gas projects.

“Global emissions are still going in the wrong direction, rising 6% in 2021. Many big companies have made commitments to zero out their emissions by 2050, but few have presented adequate details of how they’re planning to get there,” writes Alejandro de la Garza, reporting on last week’s Climate Week NY in TIME. Adding, “The issue, though, is that there are few forums where people outside circles of money and power can get a say over what powerful companies are doing in the name of sustainability.”

DW: Banks increase funding for fossil fuels despite 'net zero' pledges, February 15, 2022.

Grantham Imperial: Dr Friederike Otto speaks to CNN's Connect the World about the extreme heat, 18 July 2022, July 19, 2022.

Guardian: 'Polluters must pay': UN secretary general calls for global windfall tax on energy companies, September 20, 2022.

CNBC: Can leaders create an effective deal whilst subsidising fossil fuels?, November 12, 2021.

TED: Fossil fuel companies know how to stop global warming. Why don't they? | Myles Allen, December 4, 2020.

TED: How to Realistically Decarbonize the Oil and Gas Industry | Bjørn Sverdrup, March 3, 2022.

Denial, Doubt, Delay

A new docuseries The Power of Big Oil on PBS digs into the industry and its strategy to promote denial and progress its agenda. Viewers are offered a close examination of all sides of the campaigns and intentional manipulation of oil giants. Watch Part I: Denial here, Part II: Doubt here, and Part III: Delay here.

TED: Tzeporah Berman | The bad math of the fossil fuel industry, January 17, 2022.

Now This: Sheldon Whitehouse on Greenwashing and Fossil Fuel Industry, May 14, 2021.

IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use, March 18, 2022.

IISD: Cutting Emissions Through Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and Taxation, April 22, 2022.