The Offshore Technology Conference: A Platform for Greenwashing?

The Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) held annually in Houston, Texas is one of the biggest energy events in the state. The conference is a hub for energy professionals to meet and exchange ideas to advance scientific and technical knowledge on offshore resources and environmental issues. With over 30,000 attendants last year, this annual event has the potential to produce remarkable offshore innovations. While the OTC claims to advance environmental matters, their efforts suggest otherwise.

What is Greenwashing?

According to the Rachel Carson Council’s revealing study, Greenwashing: Report on the Corporate Selling of Polluting Wood Pellet Production, greenwashing is the strategy used to advertise or present a corporate action as environmentally beneficial or sustainable, when the strategy is, in reality, economically motivated or environmentally damaging. Green brands have become widely popular in the 21st century, with consumers willing to pay a premium for sustainable products. However, this rise in environmental consciousness has also been accompanied by an increase in greenwashing tactics. Oil and gas companies have shifted from outright denial of climate change to using greenwashing as a tool to delay meaningful climate action. These industries, responsible for significant emissions and environmental degradation, often make empty promises that do not result in real change. A good example is the emphasis on carbon capture and storage as a climate solution. While carbon capture systems can reduce harmful pollutants, they cannot eliminate them entirely. By promoting these systems, big oil companies undermine effective climate action while continuing their polluting practices.

OTC’s Greenwashing

The OTC claims to be a venue for promoting advancements in the energy sector, including renewable energy technologies. However, a closer look at the conference’s organizers, supporters, and speakers reveals a different story. OTC advertises themselves as a collaboration of 15 “non-profit sponsoring organizations” working to develop the program. Revenue from their portfolio is “returned to their sponsoring organizations which benefit the advancement of their members and the energy sector”. Given that all the money goes to these “non-profit sponsoring organizations.” Let’s take a close look at a few of the organizations.

  • American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
  • American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE)
  • American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers (AIME)
  • Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME)
  • Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE)

 

SPE’s mission for example is “to connect a global community of engineers, scientists, and related energy professionals to exchange knowledge, innovate, and advance their technical and professional competence regarding the exploration, development, and production of oil and gas and related energy resources to achieve a safe, secure, and sustainable energy future.” How can we achieve a safe, secure, and sustainable energy future by exploring, developing, and producing oil and gas? The energy transition is meant to phase out oil and gas, not to continue funding it. Many of these organizations claim to invest in a sustainable future, yet their real goals are to invest in oil and gas technologies and research.

More shockingly, the featured speakers at the Offshore Technology Conference include high-ranking executives from major fossil fuel companies, such as the Senior Vice President of BP for the Gulf of Mexico and Canada, the CEO of Petrobras, and the Vice President of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage for Chevron New Energies. These individuals represent organizations with significant investments in oil and gas. Chevron, for example, is known for its greenwashing tactics. In 2023, Chevron dedicated only 0.26% of its long-term investments to sources of low-carbon energy like wind and solar. Chevron does not have a ‘net-zero’ commitment, or a commitment to align its activities with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. Instead, the company uses the top-line message of a “lower-carbon future”, which clearly does not mean net zero or Paris-aligned reductions. Rather than talk about cutting oil and gas production, Chevron says “[t]o achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, direct air carbon dioxide capture and storage and carbon capture and storage (CCS) are required to be scaled up and globally deployed.”

Finally, prominent members of the OTC board of directors include representatives from Exxon Mobil, Shell, and BP, further highlighting the influence of traditional fossil fuel giants. This heavy representation from the oil and gas industry raises serious concerns about greenwashing. The conference clearly prioritizes the interests of these corporations over genuine advancements in renewable energy, while contradicting any stated commitment to renewable energy and a cleaner future. While the conference may highlight certain renewable energy projects or initiatives, these efforts seem to be token gestures rather than genuine commitments to change. The OTC is misleading attendees and the public into believing that significant progress is being made towards sustainability when it is not. Such greenwashing further diverts attention from the urgent need for substantial and systemic changes in the energy sector.

The Need for Authentic Action

The Offshore Technology Conference has the potential to be a powerful platform for promoting renewable energy and supporting the transition to a cleaner future. I agree; big oil companies should be an active voice in the sustainable energy transition. It makes sense for them to be large investors in renewable energy, but the current state of the conference suggests a strong inclination towards greenwashing, with fossil fuel interests overshadowing genuine sustainability efforts. To truly invest in a cleaner future, the OTC and similar conferences must go beyond surface-level commitments to renewable energy. They and their corporate sponsors must prioritize authentic actions and commitments over superficial gestures. Only then can the fossil fuel industry truly contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future.


RCC Stanback Fellow – Hiwot Shaw

Hiwot Shaw is a senior at Duke University studying environmental science and policy with an ethics and society certificate. Adopted from Ethiopia and growing up in eastern North Carolina, she is passionate about environmental justice and addressing unique challenges faced by communities domestically and internationally. She engages in environmental research and advocacy specifically on issues such as clean water, sustainability, and equity within policy.