Chevron’s Hype.

The oil company's ads say it is investing heavily in alternative and renewable fuels, but corporate reports indicate otherwise.
Photo: Green Fire Productions / Flickr Creative Commons

Chevron’s “human energy” advertisements are everywhere: TV, magazines, bus stops and newspapers. The commercials — which end with the words “oil,” “geothermal,” “solar,” “wind,” “hydrogen” and “conservation” flashing one at a time between the three bars of Chevron’s logo — encourage us to believe that the company is equal parts clean energy, conservation and oil. But is it really, as the commercials claim, “part of the solution” to the world’s climate crises, rather than at the heart of the problem?

You’d think the company would be eager to demonstrate its commitment to alternative energy with accessible, easy to understand financial figures. In fact, the details are all but impossible to come by.

If you go to the company’s website, you’ll find cheery reports on various alternative fuels that state: “Chevron has invested more than $2 billion in renewable and alternative energy services since 2002. We expect to invest more than $2.5 billion from 2007 through 2009.” But you will not find more detailed breakdowns that attach actual dollar amounts to specific investments in specific years.

If you call, you’ll be told the same PR message: Some $4.5 billion in once and future green expenditures. And you may also get referred to other postings on the website, which include the company’s “corporate responsibility report,” annual shareholder reports and 10-K tax filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.But you won’t get specific numbers — as the company’s spokesman told me, Chevron does not “break down spending for individual businesses” or “disclose more than has been disclosed in the 10-K.”

So what is in the 10-K? I looked at the latest complete filing, which included 2006 and 2007, when Chevron’s record-breaking profits, its net income after expenses, were $17 billion and $18.7 billion, respectively. I found page after page of financial information but no charts or chapters that make it possible to document, in any complete way, the company’s yearly expenditures on “renewable and alternative energy services.”

There was, however, an interesting chart to consider — Chevron’s “capital and exploratory” expenditures. It covered a great deal of the company’s operations, from oil exploration, refining and marketing to its chemical business and beyond.

In 2006, Chevron spent $16.6 billion, and in 2007, $20 billion in this category. Of that, $13 billion and $15.5 billion, respectively — nearly 80% — went to searching for, developing and producing crude oil and natural gas. Not exactly green “services.”

The chart also lists “all other” expenditures, which does include green enterprises: power-generating plants (four are “clean” geothermal operations); “alternative fuels” (the filing isn’t more specific); and technology companies, which turn out to include Chevron Energy Solutions, which helps businesses increase energy efficiency and use renewable and alternative power; and Chevron Technology Ventures, which manages investments in emerging energy technology and its integration into Chevron’s core businesses.

This “all other” category allows us to get a sense of the company’s dollar commitment to alternative and renewable energy. Let’s be extremely generous (because “all other” also includes dirty businesses too, like coal mining and traditional power plants, and apparently neutral expenditures such as “worldwide cash management”) and credit the entire category to the green column: $417 million in 2006 and $774 million in 2007.

That’s 2.4% and 3.8% of Chevron’s total capital and exploratory expenditures. Not even a measly 4%.

Another way to look at it? In 2006, Chevron purchased the most expensive offshore oil-drilling rig in history for $600 million — nearly 1 1/2 times its entire “all other” capital and exploratory expenditure that year.

And this is really the crux of the problem. Compared with what it spends producing oil and other environmentally catastrophic fuels in increasingly environmentally catastrophic ways — scraping through tar sands, burrowing under mountains for oil shale and barreling into the depths of the ocean — Chevron is spending minuscule amounts on clean alternatives.

The “human energy” ads are designed to get us to believe that when we fill up our tanks at a Chevron station, we’re supporting clean energy, an assumption that might discourage us from advocating for new taxes on the oil industry or for cuts in its subsidies — money that could be used for government investments in alternative energy.

The ads look nice, and to see Chevron’s logo decorated with the words “solar” and “wind” is reassuring. But year in and year out, the energy giant’s record-breaking profits don’t go to renewable energy, they go to oil. Don’t believe Chevron’s hype.