Publicly traded companies are selling off their fossil fuel operations to private equity firms and — on paper — lowering their greenhouse gas emissions in the process. “Public investors like mutual funds, hedge funds, university endowments, pension funds — they are actively shifting away from fossil fuels,” Pavel Molchanov, managing director of renewable energy and clean technology at financial services firm Raymond James, told Inside Climate News. “As public investors are divesting fossil fuels, someone’s buying it. They’re not disappearing into thin air.”

Harold Hamm‘s Continental Resources announced last week it plans to take itself private is consistent with the cross-sector trend of companies — including BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, and ConocoPhillips — moving fossil fuel operations into corporate structures shielded from public disclosure requirements Inside Climate News reports. Governments and investors are pressuring publicly-held firms to disclose, if not actually reduce, their emissions and firms are responding by moving the emissions off their books.

Beyond accounting pitfalls, however, the moves can actually lead to increased climate pollution because the private firms often operate coal plants or ‘marginaloil and gas wells longer than publicly traded firms would have, and are more likely to abandon drilling operations sticking taxpayers with the bill to cap and clean up the abandoned wells, or fail to remediate refineries that literally rain oil onto neighboring communities. (Inside Climate News)