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Big Oil looks to boost its green credentials

Big Oil has found a new rallying cry: We are green too. ConocoPhillips boss Ryan Lance told colleagues at the industry's annual CERA conference in Houston on Tuesday that they should take more credit for its role in reducing U.S. carbon emissions. With cleaner gas displacing coal, he has a point. Not everyone will care, but it is a handy extra point to make when lobbying Washington.

Greenhouse gases from energy sources like coal have dropped 13 per cent in the United States since 2007. Western European states, which tend to think of themselves are more environmentally friendly, are making less progress. In fact emissions in Germany, the region's largest by economy and population, were up 1.6 per cent last year even though it produces five times more solar energy than America, according to German government figures.

What's driving the U.S. reduction is a surge in production of gas, the domestic price of which is currently near all-time lows. That does make it a bit harder for the fossil-fuel industry to pat itself on the back – this good deed for the country is more incidental than intentional.

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And it may cut little ice with environmentalists. Some are lobbying hard in the District of Columbia against a number of agendas Big Oil is pursuing. Anti-fracking campaigners oppose any move that will lead to wide use of the drilling method, which they claim contaminates drinking water. Environmentalists are also trying to block the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada which, if built, would boost profit at U.S. refineries.

But being responsible, however directly, for an impressive drop in carbon emissions is still better than increasing them. It may make some lawmakers that little bit more inclined to hear them out – whether on projects that affect the environment or other issues such as drillers getting fast-track permission to export natural gas, which can fetch up to five times more in Asia.

It's no guarantee of success. But publicizing their green credentials is worth a try.

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