Oil and gas industry on brink of major surge in expansion – new drilling plans approved through 2025 could exhaust 17% of the global carbon budget for 1.5°C

new briefing launched today at COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh by Oil Change International reveals that new oil and gas production approved to date in 2022 and at risk of approval over the next three years could cumulatively cause 70 billion tonnes (Gt) of new carbon pollution if fully developed. That is equivalent to:

  • Almost two years’ worth of global carbon emissions from energy at current levels; 
  • 17 percent of the world’s remaining 1.5°C carbon budget [1];
  • The lifecycle emissions of 468 coal power plants.

The new briefing, titled ”Investing in Disaster”,  exposes the countries and companies that have approved the most new oil and gas extraction in 2022, and that could be responsible for major expansion through 2025. Studies by the International Energy Agency and other researchers provide clear evidence that fossil fuel expansion is incompatible with holding global warming to 1.5°C [2]. The industry’s planned development of new oil and gas fields and fracking wells would add to the carbon pollution resulting from fields the industry already exploits [3], which is itself enough to breach the 1.5°C limit. Much of the new development analyzed in the briefing is being actively resisted by communities on its frontlines and most of it can still be avoided, for example, if governments step in to reject and revoke new permits.

“Fossil fuels are the drivers of our climate crisis and our current energy crisis,” said David Tong, Global Industry campaign manager at Oil Change International. “Burning just the oil, gas, and coal in existing fields and mines would already take us far beyond 1.5ºC and jeopardize 2ºC. At the same time, as people suffer from an energy supply crunch caused by European dependence on Russian gas, big oil and gas companies are pocketing record profits. Renewable energy, not more oil and gas, is the way out of this fossil fueled crisis.”

The United States and Saudi Arabia account for more than 50% of the carbon pollution locked in by new drilling approved in 2022 alone, while the United Arab Emirates, the upcoming COP28 President, could be the third largest oil and gas expander in the world over the next three years, behind the US and China.

“The United States cannot continue its reckless pace of deadly fossil fuel expansion. Communities and the climate can’t afford it,” said Collin Rees, United States campaign manager at Oil Change International. “President Biden came to COP27 talking about ‘climate leadership’, but you can’t be a climate leader when you’re locking in decades of new oil and gas production. Frontline communities will fight these dangerous new fossil fuel projects, but Biden must step in and reject new oil and gas permits to protect people and the planet.”

TotalEnergies is the oil and gas supermajor responsible for approving the most new extraction in 2022. TotalEnergies is in the lead among international oil companies due to its sanctioning of the Tilenga and Kingfisher projects in Uganda, which would feed the controversial East African Crude Oil Pipeline being fought by communities in Uganda and Tanzania. Over 2023-2025, ExxonMobil, TotalEnergies, and Shell could account for the most carbon lock-in amongst the international oil companies.

“I am not surprised to find TotalEnergies listed as one of the biggest fossil fuel expanders in the world,” said Dickens Kamugisha, Chief Executive Officer of the African Institute for Energy Governance in Uganda. “That company has been trying for years to bulldoze through the EACOP pipeline which threatens local communities, the climate, and biodiversity. Fossil fuel expansion is a real and urgent threat to the livelihoods of millions of Africans who deserve a clean energy future.”

Amongst nationally owned oil companies, Saudi Aramco tops the list of 2022 expanders, while Qatar Energy and the UAE’s Abu Dhabi NOC could drive the most expansion over the next three years.

On a global level, the analysis finds:

  • The new oil and gas expansion approved in 2022 could lock in 11 billion tonnes of new carbon pollution, the equivalent of building 75 new coal power plants.
  • On average, the new fields approved in 2022 will not start initial production until 2025, far too late to help confront the current fossil-fueled energy crunch.
  • If the new fields and shale wells forecast for final investment decisions from 2023 to the end of 2025 are approved, they will lock in a further 59 Gt of additional carbon pollution, the equivalent of building almost 400 new coal plants.

“The industry is on the brink of a new surge of expansion, every tonne of which would take us further outside the Paris Agreement goals,” added Tong. “The good news is that these projects can still be stopped. People and communities across the world are standing strong against this disastrous expansion.”

The briefing’s findings are based on analysis of oil and gas companies’ already executed or planned final investment decisions to develop new fields and fracking wells from 2022 to 2025. The authors calculate the cumulative carbon pollution that would result from burning the oil and gas reserves within these projects, if fully exploited. The final investment decision is the point when companies sink the most capital into a project and begin its construction.



Nicole Rodel & David Tong

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  1. We compare 70 Gt CO2 to the world’s remaining carbon budget for a 50% chance of holding global warming to 1.5°C from the start of 2022, which was 420 Gt CO2. 
  2. The following analyses provide clear evidence that developing new oil and gas reserves is incompatible with 1.5°C:
    1. International Energy Agency, “World Energy Outlook 2022.” https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2022.
    2. Kelly Trout, Greg Muttit et al, “Existing fossil fuel extraction would warm the world beyond 1.5 °C,” Environmental Research Letters, 2022, https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ac6228.
    3. Navigating Energy Transitions: Mapping the road to 1.5°C, International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2022, https://www.iisd.org/publications/report/navigating-energy-transitions
  3. Already exploited fields means those that were already producing or under-construction before the start of 2022. Based on data from Rystad Energy, OCI estimates that oil and gas fields operating or approved prior to 2022 would alone cause 490 Gt CO2 if their reserves are fully extracted and burned.