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Advocacy group accuses Shell of ‘greenwashing’ and misleading investors in SEC complaint

The Washington Post

Advocacy group accuses Shell of ‘greenwashing’ and misleading investors in SEC complaint

Analysis by  with research by Vanessa Montalbano

February 1, 2023 at 8:03 a.m. EST

An advocacy group is accusing the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell of misleading investors by classifying its investments in natural gas as spending on renewable energy.

In a complaint filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the group Global Witness argues that Shell’s classifications amount to “greenwashing” — the practice of portraying a business or product as more environmentally friendly than it really is.

The pioneering complaint opens a new front in a burgeoning battle over gas’s green credentials. While gas has lower emissions than coal, its primary component is methane, a powerful planet-warming pollutant.

“Shell has been engaging in what we consider to be pretty egregious greenwashing,” Zorka Milin, a senior legal adviser at Global Witness, told The Climate 202. “And we would like to invite scrutiny from the appropriate authorities.”

The complaint alleges that Shell has improperly included gas investments in the category “Renewables and Energy Solutions” in its annual reports to the SEC.

  • In Shell’s most recent annual report, for instance, the company said it directed 12 percent of its capital expenditure to “Renewables and Energy Solutions” in 2021.
  • But according to a Global Witness analysis of figures reported by Shell, the company directed just 1.5 percent of its capital expenditure to developing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. The rest of the spending went toward gas.
  • As a result, Global Witness alleges, Shell has misled investors about its commitment to transitioning away from fossil fuels and reducing its exposure to climate-related risks.

The complaint urges the SEC to investigate the matter and take “appropriate enforcement action” if it finds that Shell has unlawfully made misleading statements or omissions.

Asked for comment, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said in an email that “we’re confident Shell’s financial disclosures are fully compliant with all SEC and other reporting requirements.”

Smith added that the oil giant budgeted $20 billion last year for “energy transition activities,” including investments in “low-carbon fuels,” wind, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration.

Record-smashing profits

Meanwhile, the country’s largest oil companies are also facing scrutiny for posting record profits while gasoline prices creep up amid the war in Ukraine, our colleague Evan Halper reports.


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