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Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption, Oil have long been the target of protesters

Top oil executives have appeared before US lawmakers to face allegations they misled the public about climate change.

Major producers were quizzed about the impact of the fossil fuels they profit from on their effects on the climate.

Democrat lawmakers described the hearings as "historic" and hope they will help shift public view like with the tobacco industry in the 1990s.

The hearings, involving firms like BP and Shell, come days before the start of the UN's COP26 climate conference.

President Joe Biden is set to fly to Glasgow for the meeting of world leaders – seen as a crucial moment in the global fight against climate change.

Thursday's hours-long hearing saw decades of political lobbying and public statements by America's biggest energy firms put under the spotlight.

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The CEOs of ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP America were among those to appear remotely before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee hearing.

It marks the first time that major industry heads have appeared under oath together before Congress and is part of a broad probe that Democrats say will last a year.

"For far too long, Big Oil has escaped accountability for its central role in bringing our planet to the brink of a climate catastrophe," chairwoman Carolyn B Maloney said in her testimony.

Questioning Exxon's CEO, Ms Maloney insisted there had been a "clear conflict" between what past company executives had said publicly versus the reality of internal company research.

She also said she intends to issue subpoenas to companies to get them to hand over internal documents.

A statement by the committee said the industry had known about the effects of global warming since 1977 but "for decades spread denial and doubt about the harm of its products".

Image source, PoolImage caption, Mike Sommers from the American Petroleum Institute group was among the major figures to appear

Michael Wirth, from Chevron, denied his firm had knowingly lied to the public.

"While our views on climate change have developed over time, any suggestion that Chevron is engaged in an effort to spread disinformation and mislead the public on these complex issues is simply wrong," he said.

Darren Woods, chief executive of Exxon, said his company had long recognised climate change was real but said there was "no easy answers" and insisted "oil and gas will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future".

Republicans were resounding in their criticism of the questioning directed by their Democratic counterparts.

Image source, PoolImage caption, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said the country's future was being 'set on fire' by oil firms

Arizona Republican Andy Biggs told the CEOs they had been "brought here so they can beat the crap out of you".

Representative James Comer said the hearing was intended "to deliver partisan theatre for primetime news" and said the committee should instead be focusing on the "pressing concerns of American citizens".

Republicans called Neal Crabtree, a welder who lost his job after the cancellation of a major oil pipeline by Mr Biden, to testify about his family's struggles to make ends meet.

Ms Maloney, the panel's chair, said at the close of Thursday's hearing that the investigation must continue.

"I intend to issues subpoenas to the fossil fuel industry representatives here today," she said, adding: "We are at code red for climate and I am committed to doing everything I can to help rescue this planet and save it for our children."

Democrats have been keen to draw parallels with their climate disinformation probe and the House's Big Tobacco investigation in the 1990s, which after months of testimony concluded that cigarette companies tried to conceal evidence that their products were addictive and harmful.

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