Gas giant Santos accused of ‘greenwashing’ clean energy claims, in Federal Court case

One of Australia’s largest oil and gas companies is being taken to court over ‘greenwashing’ claims of its clean energy credentials.

Santos is being accused by the Australasian Center for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) shareholder activist group of engaging in misleading or misleading conduct related to his “clean energy” claims and net zero plan in his 2020 annual report.

The ACCR brought the case in Federal Court last year, but has now expanded its pleadings to include comments made during a Santos investor day briefing and in its 2021 Climate Change Report.

The case is the first of its kind in the world to question the veracity of a company’s net-zero emissions goal, according to the ACCR.

At the same time, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) financial regulator has confirmed that it is in the early stages of investigating a number of listed entities, superfunds and managed funds for possible “greenwashing.”

According to ASIC, greenwashing is “the practice of misrepresenting the extent to which a financial product or investment strategy is environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical.”

An aerial view of a fracking exploration site in the Beetaloo Basin.
Santos is exploring for gas in the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin.(ABC News: Hamish Harty)

ACCR Executive Director Brynn O’Brien said “the climate crisis requires credible action from all…there is no room to exaggerate claims about decarbonisation at this time.”

“Investors have an expectation that accurate information will come to market, investors are making multi-billion dollar investments in companies based on the information they publish,” said Ms O’Brien.

“So optimism is one thing, misleading the market is another. It is our allegation that Santos, in these statements, has engaged in misleading or misleading conduct.”

The ACCR filed more complaints after reviewing documents submitted by Santos as part of the litigation process.

“We are concerned about the role that carbon capture and storage plays in Santos’ future plans and the feasibility of deploying that technology,” said Ms O’Brien.

“We are also concerned about the claims Santos has made about the role of blue hydrogen in decarbonization.”

Santos did not respond to ABC Rural’s request for comment.

The company has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions in its scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2040.

Santos is working on a $220 million carbon capture and storage (CCS) project in Moomba, in the far north of South Australia, and is expected to make a final investment decision on whether to go ahead with the larger CCS project. of the world, off the NT coast, in 2023.

A man dressed in a blue shirt speaks.
Santos Chief Executive Kevin Gallagher said carbon capture and storage will have a greater impact on the energy transition than any other technology.(ABC News: Felicity James)

ASIC keeping an eye on climate commitments

ASIC has made it clear that it is closely following the commitments on climate change that are being made by corporations in Australia.

In June, the regulator published a fact sheet reminding corporations of their responsibilities to disclose information about their products related to sustainability.

In a speech last week, ASIC chairman Joseph Longo said “there has been a proliferation of investment products and companies that lure consumers with sustainable or ‘green’ investments and promises of ‘net zero emissions’.”

“If you make net zero claims, you must have substantiation behind those claims.

“Aspiration alone is not enough – the bar is much higher.

“We want to ensure that companies moving towards net zero do so with integrity, building trust and practicing transparency.”

Kirsty Howey of the NT Environment Center said that for companies to maintain a social license it was important that they be accurate about their climate actions.

“As interest and pressure builds around climate change in Australia and internationally, it is absolutely paramount that companies are truthful in their reporting, including in relation to emissions, and that they do not mislead the public or shareholders” said Mrs. Howey.

“What this case is doing is attempting to legally highlight these claims to determine whether they stack together or are misleading or misleading.”

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