Flare stack at oil refinery in Immingham, UK © Les Gibbon / Greenpeace. © Les Gibbon / Greenpeace
Flare stack at Total oil refinery in Immingham, UK

On 28 March 2024, the French oil and gas giant TotalEnergies celebrated its 100-year anniversary. In a happy coincidence, Total’s centennial party was spoiled by the news that their intimidatory legal action against Greenpeace France was unsuccessful!

The ruling was a major victory for freedom of expression and the fight against polluting companies like Total – especially since they are hellbent on expanding climate-wrecking operations despite a worsening climate crisis. Behind its facade as a “French industrial flagship” lies a grim history of environmental devastation and links to human rights abuses. 

TotalEnergies’ history of lies 

Researchers have found that Total’s awareness that its products could lead to catastrophic global warming dates to the early 1970s. However, according to historians, Total chose to implement a strategy of misinformation and a “factory of doubt” for many years, in order to delay and distract political action to limit oil and gas extraction.

Today, Total remains one of the most polluting companies on the planet. Despite its pledge to be net zero by 2050, fossil fuels still account for 98% of its energy production – and it recently announced plans to increase its fossil fuel production over the next 5 years.

TotalEnergies’ history linked to human rights abusers

Total proudly displays its ‘ethical charter’, but it has not hesitated to develop projects in countries where human rights are constantly violated.

In Burma, in the early 1990s, Total developed the Yadana gas project and became a major financial contributor to the ruling military regime, which was responsible for brutal human rights violations. It took two decades of pressure from civil society for Total to withdraw from the country.

More recently, Total’s giant EACOP pipeline and the Tilenga project has resulted in over 118,000 people being forced from their land in Uganda and Tanzania, according to grassroots organisations. Ugandan student activists were reportedly jailed by their government after voicing concerns about the project.

In 2022, Total was reportedly the only Western oil company that did not declare its withdrawal from Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. Working with Russian partners, Total extracts a gas condensate that has allegedly been processed into fuel for Russian fighter planes.

TotalEnergies’ history of toxic extraction

In Yemen, Total has reportedly been operating oil wells on the Messila field since the 1990s. Here, Total reportedly buried millions of litres of toxic water, which contaminated the only local freshwater source. The health of the population has reportedly been negatively affected, cancer cases have increased and farmers have been left destitute.

In Argentina, the Vaca Muerta shale gas extraction project is a real carbon bomb that could emit nearly 15 billion tonnes of CO₂e, according to Greenpeace France estimates. It is located on the lands of the Mapuche Indigenous populations, who say they have been displaced and the region is suffering from a huge amount of pollution.

“The oil companies entered our land without our permission … We had goats born without jaws, without mouths [because of pollution].”

—  an elder Campo Maripe to the Guardian

TotalEnergies’ history of environmental disasters

Like its competitors, Total has been involved in a number of tragic events that it would like to forget:

On December 12, 1999, the MV Erika, an oil tanker chartered by Total, sank off the coast of Northern France.⁣⁣ The vessel spilled 20,000 tons of heavy fuel oil across 400 km of coastline, causing major environmental damage. Over 200,000 birds were killed. ⁣

⁣Total denied responsibility, but was found guilty and convicted of “gross negligence” by French courts.

The MV Erika, an oil tanker chartered by Total, that sank off the coast of Northern France, spilling 20,000 tons of heavy fuel oil across 400 km of coastline in 1990.
This aerial file photo taken on December 13, 1999 shows the stern of the Maltese registered oil tanker Erika as it sinks off the French coast near Brest western France. © /MARINE NATIONALE/AFP via Getty Images

A few years later, 31 people were killed and more than 2,500 injured, as 400 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in a factory owned by a subsidiary of Total in Toulouse, France.⁣

It was the worst industrial disaster to hit the country in fifty years. Here too, Total denied responsibility, and it took an 18-year trial for Total’s subsidiary to finally be convicted.

We must put an end to the reign of oil and gas!

Despite repeated warnings from scientists, Total continues to expand its fossil fuel operations. It’s time to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the loss and damage they have caused to humans, nature and the climate. It’s time to stop all new coal, gas and oil projects and phase out these dirty fuels forever. It’s time for Total and the entire fossil fuel industry to stop drilling, and start paying.

Camille Collin is the Digital Campaigner for Greenpeace France’s Fossil Fuel campaign based in Paris, France.

Activists Arrive in Haugesund after 13-day Occupation of Shell's New Oil Platform
Fossil criminals should stop drilling and start paying

Demand an end to the fossil fuel industry crimes and justice for all who are impacted by their dirty business.

Add your name