Oil companies are more concerned with their public images than ever before, especially pertaining to the environmental impact of their operations. Under pressure from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Office of Fossil Energy, consumers, activists, and shareholders, many oil companies have invested in renewable energies or altered their procedures to "stay green."

The oil companies that have done the most to protect the environment include Total S.A. (TOT), Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RYDAF), an up-and-coming Canadian firm, Petroteq Energy Inc., and even the much-maligned BP PLC.

BP PLC

Prior to the terrible Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, BP (BP), then called British Petroleum, was considered a very progressive company on climate change and alternative fuel research. BP has a long track record of operational transparency, and it routinely publishes sustainability reports. Even before its much-needed public relations campaign after the Gulf disaster, BP was championing its efforts to move "Beyond Petroleum."

BP has pumped money into solar, wind, hydrogen, and other biofuel technologies. It's one of the largest renewable donors in the world. In its annual oil company rankings, activist group, Greenopia, placed BP in first place in 2008 and 2009. Greenopia is no longer active.

According to BP's press releases and company website, the European oil giant is engaged in water cleanup, greenhouse gas reductions, building more efficient technologies, and it is "working to minimize the controlled burning of gas, known as flaring." In terms of past performance, BP's spill stands out as a major negative; in terms of present activity, BP is very active when it comes to environmental protection. For example, in one of its projects in Indonesia, where BP was planning a LNG pipeline, land assessments showed the project was too close to a mangrove habitat, so BP moved the location and changed the type of drilling to avoid the habitat.

That being said, oil companies will always be concerned with the profitability of their business and delivering positive results to their shareholders. In February 2020, it came to light that BP lobbied President Trump to weaken certain environmental laws in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which would make it easier for the company to build infrastructure projects by bypassing certain federal requirements.

Petroteq Energy Inc.

Petroteq Energy (PQEFF) is a clean technology company with proprietary technology for soil remediation and oil extraction. It started looking at different ways to process oil sands in 2010. It opened an oil facility in Utah in 2014, using a cheaper process than its industry rivals and what the company describes as "benign chemicals" to separate oil from sand.

Its proprietary process "produces zero greenhouse gas, zero waste, and requires no high temperatures." They've created a "closed-loop system" whereby all of the "benign solvents used in the extraction process are sealed inside the components while the oil is extracted."

Petroteq created an environmental action plan, called "Health, Safety & Environment Management System," which has been designed together with the environmental consulting firm, JBR Environmental Consultants of Utah. The plan includes the production of clean energy but also addresses fire safety and emergency response planning. Petroteq also works with the Utah Institute For Clean & Secure Energy and their first plant met all of Utah's environmental regulations, and in some cases, exceeded them.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC

Shell has aimed to spend almost $2 billion a year on its "New Energies" division that it started in 2016. However, by 2020, it is falling slightly short of that target, with an estimated projection of total spending between $2 billion to $3 billion. Still, Shell is considered to be a leader in the clean energy sector.

Shell is looking for ways to create energy by decarbonizing and focusing on electricity. In 2019, Shell started serving all of its British residential customers with 100% renewable electricity. What this means is that for every unit of electricity used, another unit is placed back into the grid by renewable generators. In 2018, Shell invested in the U.S. firm, Inspire Energy, which provides clean energy plans in certain states. It also purchased Greenlots, a startup focused on charging solutions for electric vehicles. In one of the bigger publicized announcements, Shell purchased German firm, Sonnen, which is a large home battery manufacturer and also creates electric vehicle charging systems. It is Tesla's (TSLA) biggest rival.

Other than clean electricity, Shell has made significant investments in the solar energy sphere. They've purchased stakes in Sunseap Group, a Singapore based solar company, Silicon Ranch, a U.S. solar firm, and Cleantech Solar, a solar farm production company also based in Singapore.

Total S.A.

Total is one of the largest oil companies in the world and owns a subsidiary by the name of Total Quadran. Formed in 2013 from a merger, Total Quadran's purpose is to provide access to renewable energy in the form of wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower. Total Quadran runs 11 wind farms and 35 solar plants. Total, with all of its subsidiaries, operates 300 renewable energy plants in France. It is committed to growing its renewable energy business, which can be seen through purchases of renewable firms, such as the Adani Group's solar portfolio for $510 million, and the development of new projects. Total is aiming for its renewable energy sector to account for 15% to 20% of sales by 2040.

The Bottom Line

Major oil producers can't rest on these advancements, even if only for green marketing or public relations reasons. Though oil companies are taking steps to produce more clean energy and protect the environments that they operate in, the bulk of their business is still from the production of gas and oil, damaging the environment. It's important for these leading oil companies to continue to focus on clean energy plans and take the lead in slowing climate change.