DeSmog

2022 in Photos: Gaslighting by the Fossil Fuel Industry and Its Supporters

Industry talking points like “net zero” and “bridge fuel” are not reflected in the expanding industrial landscape or in areas devastated by extreme weather.
Opinion
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A billboard in Norco, Louisiana, featuring Shell employees connecting the facility to the state’s future. Credit: Julie Dermansky

Photos I shot in 2022 for DeSmog capture damage from extreme weather events and the continued expansion of the fossil fuel industry — the dominant industry causing global warming. In recent years, the industry shifted from persistent science denial to presenting itself as a leader of climate solutions, embodying Merriam-Webster’s word of the year “gaslighting.”

I covered developments related to the rapidly expanding petrochemical and LNG export industries, like new facilities that came online this year and rely on fracking new wells to supply the growing demand for natural gas, which is mostly methane. I also documented the construction of projects related to these industries and the public meetings for polluting projects proposed but not yet built — that if approved will contribute to global warming and intensify the climate crisis. Industries reliant on methane gas continue to expand their footprint, despite bipartisan discussions about the need to develop climate solutions.

Tanker at the dock at Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass LNG export facility in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, on April 12, 2022. Credit: Julie Dermansky
Travis and Nicole Dardar in front of their home in Cameron, Louisiana, near the Venture Global Calcasieu Pass LNG export facility. The company is poised to build a second facility across the street from their property and has yet to offer the couple a formal buyout. Credit: Julie Dermansky

Fossil fuel companies like Exxon and Shell have stopped denying basic climate science — although they continue to deny any culpability for driving the climate crisis — and are now painting their industry as the key driver of ushering in solutions to the crisis.

Aerial view of Fort Myers Beach, Florida, on October 3, 2022, after it was devastated by Hurricane Ian. Credit: Julie Dermansky

Talking points used in a growing number of ads on TV, digital platforms, and billboards, as well as in social media posts, depict fossil fuel companies as the arbiters of climate solutions. They claim carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and the expansion of the so-called blue hydrogen industry are climate solutions. For instance, recent ExxonMobil Facebook posts tout CCS as critical to the world’s energy transition, rather than as something that if it were to work, still doubles down on fossil fuel dependency.

Support for such fossil fuel industry projects that are referred to as “green” solutions has led to tax breaks and federal funding, despite environmental advocates exposing these so-called solutions as little more than greenwashing.

While the fossil fuel industry undoubtably has a role in curtailing further global heating, its fiscal responsibility to create maximum profits for its shareholders, paired with its influence on politicians globally, demands greater scrutiny of its proposed solutions — and such scrutiny has been overlooked or diminished due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. DeSmog’s coverage of COP27 shed light on the fossil-fuel­-linked companies that dominated the event’s sponsors, as well as how industry solutions occupied much of the focus, despite offering no clear path to halt global warming.

The Shell Polymers Monaca site, a petrochemical plant near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a few months before it began operations this year. Credit: Julie Dermansky
A housing development that overlooks the Shell Polymers Monaca site in Pennsylvania. Credit: Julie Dermansky

Climate scientists are offering increasingly dire warnings that if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels in the near future, there will be no chance to meet the benchmarks set by the Paris Climate Accord. Yet new petrochemical plants and LNG export facilities — fueled by oil and gas — continued to come online this year, with even more under construction or in the permitting process.  

For instance, Air Products claims that its proposed $4.5 billion “clean energy complex” that will produce ammonia and blue hydrogen in Ascension Parish just south of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, will have technology meant to “capture and sequester 95 percent” of the facility’s emissions. But if built, even with the best available carbon capture mechanisms in place, the project will still contribute to the climate crisis by locking in demand for natural gas that can only be met by fracking more wells.

The announcement of the proposed project in October 2021 initially faced no backlash from communities on the banks of Lake Maurepas, home to a freshwater estuary that supports the local fishing industry. But that changed when those communities learned that Air Products’ proposed CCS project connected to the complex would be in their backyard — and when word spread this year that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries already had granted the company a lease to store the carbon sequestered from the facility under the lake in injection wells it proposes to build, if permitted to do so.

Now, community members in parishes along the lake — which are traditionally oil and gas industry friendly — are taking a harder look at assumptions they readily accepted related to CCS, and do not like what they are learning.

An aerial view of the aftermath of Hurricane Ian on Sanibel Island in Florida, on October 3, 2022. Credit: Julie Dermansky
Tyler Bryant, in front of his home, totaled by Hurricane Ian, on September 29. He is one of many Floridians who might not be able to build back at all, let alone ‘build back better,’ because the owner of the property where his mobile home sat may choose to not rebuild the infrastructure needed for the mobile homes. Credit: Julie Dermansky

Although the natural gas industry’s biggest supporters seldomly refer to it as a “bridge fuel” anymore — one of the fossil fuel industry’s many misleading and often-repeated phrases — new documents released in the House Oversight Committee’s final report on the industry’s greenwashing revealed that it always saw natural gas as a “destination,” not a bridge.

Supporters of the natural gas industry continue to gaslight the public about the role it plays in climate change by labeling it as a clean energy source. This claim is often repeated unchallenged or unquestioned by news outlets when describing new projects. But methane, the main component of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. Since methane is released at every point along the natural gas production process, from fracking to distribution, projects that call for expanding the world’s reliance on natural gas will spur ever-warming temperatures and more dramatic climate changes.

The Dickinson and DeJean families recover what they can from their destroyed property. the day after an EF3 tornado ripped though Arabi, Louisiana, on March 22, 2022. Credit: Julie Dermansky

As temperatures rise and the climate changes with each passing year, impacts that scientists predicted are starting to happen, making climate science denial less prevalent. But despite the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warning last year that we are facing “code red for humanity” and the IPCC stating this year that “widespread, pervasive impacts…have resulted from observed increases in the frequency and intensity of climate and weather extreme,” the buildout of infrastructure to service the fossil fuel industry’s expansion is in full swing.

While selecting photos for this report, my work was interrupted by a warning telling me to take shelter due to the risk of being hit by a tornado. Luckily for me, the December 14 tornado outbreak that warning was related to didn’t impact me, other than disrupting my work. However, it had catastrophic impacts across Louisiana. One of the tornados hit Arabi, the same suburb in the New Orleans metro area that was struck by an E3 tornado in March.

Joan Hill surveying the damage on December 15, the day after the tornado outbreak tore through parts of the Gulf South. A tornado knocked her home in Gretna, Louisiana, off its foundation. Credit: Julie Dermansky

Speaking about a similar rare tornado outbreak in December 2021 for the Gulf South region, renowned climate scientist Michael Mann told NBC that increased temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are leading to more moisture in the atmosphere.  

“The global oceans have warmed more than a degree over the past century, and that’s because of carbon pollution from fossil fuel burning,” Mann said, explaining that the increased moisture and heat provides the turbulent energy to create thunderstorms. He also added that although there is not yet a known direct link between climate change and tornadoes, the maximum intensities of tornadoes are increasing as we would expect them to, leading to much larger outbreaks. 

A flare at Valero’s St. Charles Refinery in Norco, Louisiana, on January 1, 2022. Credit: Julie Dermansky
A cemetery in Cameron Parish left with open burial sites, two years after being impacted by Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020. Credit: Julie Dermansky
February 27, six months after Hurricane Ida hit, tombs displaced by a storm surge in a cemetery in Ironton, Louisiana, remain scattered about. Credit: Julie Dermansky
Robert Taylor inside his gutted home six months after Hurricane Ida hit. He plans to fix it, despite not having the funds to do so. Credit: Julie Dermansky
Chris Brunet at his home on the Isle de Jean Charles on August 21, a few days before moving into his home in The New Isle subdivision. The subdivision was built with federal funds to relocate an island community facing immense risk from the climate crisis. Credit: Julie Dermansky
Jean Charles Choctaw Nation Chief Albert Naquin next to a home with standing water under it, where closing documents were signed, at The New Isle, on August 24, 2022. The New Isle is the country’s first state-run federally funded relocation settlement for those displaced by climate change. The Tribe’s innovative proposal to relocate its members from the Isle de Jean Charles helped Louisiana secure $48 million through Housing and Urban Development agency’s National Disaster Resilience Competition. But shortly thereafter, Louisiana’s Office of Community Development (OCD), the agency in charge of the project, radically transformed the Tribe’s proposal, revising its focus from relocating a tribal community impacted by climate change to relocating the island community. Any mention of the Tribe has been removed from OCD’s website, which Chief Naquin sees as gaslighting. Credit: Julie Dermansky
View of a diesel fuel spill site in Chalmette, Louisiana, on January 22 that was first reported more than two weeks after the spill occurred. Credit: Julie Dermansky
Two LNG tankers filling up at once at Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass LNG export facility on the border of Louisiana and Texas. The facility is now capable of docking three vessels at once. Credit: Julie Dermansky
Low levels on the Mississippi River led to a slowdown of tankers on October 27, 2022. Credit: Julie Dermansky
Flares at the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery on Scenic Highway, on December 15, the day after a tornado outbreak swept through the state. Exxon issued a statement on December 14 that the flaring was due to “operational issues” and was not an “emergency situation.” Brproud, a local news source based in Baton Rouge, reported that nearby residents should not be concerned. The company stated on Facebook: “Flares are safety control devices intended to consume excess gases when a unit is shut down or restarted. ExxonMobil personnel are constantly monitoring the flare system…Safety remains our top priority.” Reports that mention the flares, including Brproud’s, failed to mention that such flares, despite being permitted, add carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Credit: Julie Dermansky
One of the homes in Gretna, Louisiana, damaged by a tornado on December 14, with a tarp on its roof held down by sandbags. Credit: Julie Dermansky
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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

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