Oil Companies' Investments in Dirty Fuels Outpacing Clean Fuels by Fifty Times

Trend would be shifted with California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard

NRDC has long supported efforts by companies to invest in cleaner technologies. We have started tracking oil industry investments in renewable fuels such as advanced biofuels, down to the company level. In a new analysis, NRDC compares those investments to traditional investments in conventional oil production and even dirtier unconventional sources such as tar sands.

For years, the oil industry has promoted itself as getting cleaner and investing in alternatives to oil. But when it comes to transportation fuels – still their main business – are  oil companies truly going green and investing in cleaner alternatives to oil?

NRDC to Oil Companies: “Actually, We Don’t Agree”

Based on our research of the overall industry, our conclusions is a resounding “NO”.  The oil industry as a whole has spent at least fifty (50x) times in producing more dirtier fuels sources such as tar sands than their entire global investments in producing renewable fuels. I note that this does not include oil industry investments in other dirtier fuel sources such as oil shale, extra-heavy oil, and coal to liquids.

Breaking it down on a global basis: the oil industry’s investment over the past five years amounted to

  • $2090 billion in capital expenditures to find and produce more oil, of which
  • $190 billion went to producing dirtier tar sands
  • $4 billion in renewable fuels 


Results like these will not surprise skeptics of the oil industry. But the trend is especially unsettling for motorists in places like California where the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) is being attacked by the oil industry. Oil companies are spending hundreds of millions to convince the public they are investing in renewable energy and cleaner fuels, but also simultaneously trying to weaken and slow down clean fuel standards. The latter would ensure they are increasing their portfolio in cleaner, alternative fuels and not just saying they are.   

The industry group Western States Petroleum Association, together with California based Chevron, is now on track to spend $7 million in lobbying in California alone, the highest of any other industry group. 

So what can be done? NRDC is working to protect the Low Carbon Fuel Standard against oil industry attacks. Join us in asking the California Air Resources Board to tell Big Oil that “We Agree: Oil Companies Should Invest More on Cleaner Fuels than Dirtier Ones.”

Already, thousands of citizens are starting to weigh in. Do Californians care? To paraphrase the famous Chevron campaign, “People Do.”

Submit your comments at:


or write to: Clerk of the Board, California Air Resources Board, 1001 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.

About the Authors

Simon Mui

Director, California Vehicles and Fuels, Energy & Transportation program

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