Inside Exxon’s Strategy to Downplay Climate Change

Christopher M. Matthews and Collin Eaton, The Wall Street Journal, Inside Exxon’s Strategy to Downplay Climate Change. Internal documents show what the oil giant said publicly was very different from how it approached the issue privately in the Rex Tillerson era. Thursday, 14 September 2023: “Exxon Mobil issued its first public statement that burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change in 2006, following years of denial. In public forums, the company argued that the risk of serious impact on the environment justified global action. Yet behind closed doors, Exxon took a very different tack: Its executives strategized over how to diminish concerns about warming temperatures, and they sought to muddle scientific findings that might hurt its oil-and-gas business, according to internal Exxon documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with former executives. Exxon’s public acceptance in 2006 of the risks posed by climate change was an early act of Rex Tillerson, an Exxon lifer who became CEO that year. Some viewed him as a moderating force who brought Exxon in line with the scientific consensus. The documents reviewed by the Journal, which haven’t been previously reported, cast Tillerson’s decadelong tenure in a different light. They show that Tillerson, as well as some of Exxon’s board directors and other top executives, sought to cast doubt on the severity of climate change’s impacts. Exxon scientists supported research that questioned the findings of mainstream climate science, even after the company said it would stop funding think tanks and others that promoted climate-change denial. Exxon is now a defendant in dozens of lawsuits around the U.S. that accuse it and other oil companies of deception over climate change and that aim to collect billions of dollars in damages. Prosecutors and attorneys involved in some of the cases are seeking some of the documents reviewed by the Journal, which were part of a previous investigation by New York’s attorney general but never made public.”

Exxon’s Oil Industry Peers Knew About Climate Dangers in the 1970s, Too

Neela Banerjee, Exxon’s Oil Industry Peers Knew About Climate Dangers in the 1970s, Too. InsideClimate News, 22 December 2015. “The American Petroleum Institute together with the nation’s largest oil companies ran a task force to monitor and share climate research between 1979 and 1983, indicating that the oil industry, not just Exxon alone, was aware of its possible impact on the world’s climate far earlier than previously known.”

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Exxon: The Road Not Taken

Neela Banerjee, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer, Exxon: The Road Not Taken. InsideClimate News, 16 September 2015. “After eight months of investigation, InsideClimate News presents this multi-part history of Exxon’s engagement with the emerging science of climate change. The story spans four decades, and is based on primary sources including internal company files dating back to the late 1970s, interviews with former company employees, and other evidence, much of which is being published here for the first time. It describes how Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and then, without revealing all that it had learned, worked at the forefront of climate denial, manufacturing doubt about the scientific consensus that its own scientists had confirmed.”

Update #1: Katherine Bagley, Environmental and Civil Rights Groups Urge Federal Probe of Exxon. “Nearly 50 diverse organizations, ranging from green groups to indigenous people’s networks, call for an inquiry into what Exxon knew about climate change.” Inside Climate News, 30 October 2015. “A coalition of nearly 50 environmental, civil rights and indigenous people’s groups sent a letter Friday to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging her to launch a federal investigation into whether ExxonMobil purposefully misled the American people on climate change. The organizations cite reporting by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times that shows Exxon ‘knew about the dangers of climate change even as it funded efforts at climate denial and systematically misled the public,’ the letter said. ‘Given the damage that has already occurred from climate change—particularly in the poorest communities of our nation and our planet—and that will certainly occur going forward, these revelations should be viewed with the utmost apprehension.'”

Update #2: Justin Gillis and Clifford Krauss, Exxon Mobil Investigated for Possible Climate Change Lies by New York Attorney General. The New York Times, 5 November 2015. “The New York attorney general has begun a sweeping investigation of Exxon Mobil to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how those risks might hurt the oil business.”

Update #3: Neela Banerjee, Exxon’s Oil Industry Peers Knew About Climate Dangers in the 1970s, Too. InsideClimate News, 22 December 2015. “The American Petroleum Institute together with the nation’s largest oil companies ran a task force to monitor and share climate research between 1979 and 1983, indicating that the oil industry, not just Exxon alone, was aware of its possible impact on the world’s climate far earlier than previously known.

The group’s members included senior scientists and engineers from nearly every major U.S. and multinational oil and gas company, including Exxon, Mobil, Amoco, Phillips, Texaco, Shell, Sunoco, Sohio as well as Standard Oil of California and Gulf Oil, the predecessors to Chevron, according to internal documents obtained by InsideClimate News and interviews with the task force’s former director.

An InsideClimate News investigative series has shown that Exxon launched its own cutting-edge CO2 sampling program in 1978 in order to understand a phenomenon it suspected could harm its business. About a decade later, Exxon spearheaded campaigns to cast doubt on climate science and stall regulation of greenhouse gases. The previously unpublished papers about the climate task force indicate that API, the industry’s most powerful lobbying group, followed a similar arc to Exxon’s in confronting the threat of climate change.”

See also:

Bill McKibben, What Exxon Knew About Climate Change. The New Yorker, 18 September 2015.

Naomi Oreskes, Exxon’s Climate Concealment. The New York Times, 9 October 2015. “Millions of Americans once wanted to smoke. Then they came to understand how deadly tobacco products were. Tragically, that understanding was long delayed because the tobacco industry worked for decades to hide the truth, promoting a message of scientific uncertainty instead. The same thing has happened with climate change, as Inside Climate News, a nonprofit news organization, has been reporting in a series of articles based on internal documents from Exxon Mobil dating from the 1970s and interviews with former company scientists and employees. Had Exxon been upfront at the time about the dangers of the greenhouse gases we were spewing into the atmosphere, we might have begun decades ago to develop a less carbon-intensive energy path to avert the worst impacts of a changing climate. Amazingly, politicians are still debating the reality of this threat, thanks in no small part to industry disinformation….”

Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch and Susanne Rust, Global Warming and Big Oil: What Exxon knew about the Earth’s melting Arctic. Los Angeles Times, 9 October 2015.

Kate Jennings, Dino Grandoni and Susanne Rust, Exxon’s Sudden Shift: How Exxon went from leader to skeptic on climate change research. Los Angeles Times, 23 October 2015.

Neela Banerjee, How We Got the Exxon Story: The story behind what led us to investigate what ExxonMobil knew about climate change science and when.” InsideClimate News, 10 November 2015.

Democracy Now!, Exxon’s Climate Cover-Up Just Got Bigger: Docs Suggest All Major Oil Giants Have Lied Since 1970s. 31 December 2015. “2015, the hottest on record, was also the year ExxonMobil was caught in a more than three-decade lie. Internal documents revealed Exxon knew that fossil fuels cause global warming in the 1970s, but hid that information from the public. Now it turns out that Exxon isn’t alone. A new exposé from InsideClimate News reveals nearly every major U.S. and multinational oil and gas company was likely aware of the impact of fossil fuels on climate change at the same time as Exxon. We are joined by Neela Banerjee, the InsideClimate News reporter who broke this story.”

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Letter from Oklahoma: Weather Underground: The arrival of man-made earthquakes

Rivka Galchen, Letter from Oklahoma: Weather Underground: The arrival of man-made earthquakes. The New Yorker, 13 April 2015. “Until 2008, Oklahoma experienced an average of one to two earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater each year. (Magnitude-3.0 earthquakes tend to be felt, while smaller earthquakes may be noticed only by scientific equipment or by people close to the epicenter.) In 2009, there were twenty. The next year, there were forty-two. In 2014, there were five hundred and eighty-five, nearly triple the rate of California. Including smaller earthquakes in the count, there were more than five thousand. This year [2015], there has been an average of two earthquakes a day of magnitude 3.0 or greater.”

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Climate change: why the Guardian is putting threat to Earth front and centre

Alan Rusbridger, Climate change: why the Guardian is putting threat to Earth front and centre. The Guardian, 6 March 2015. “[C]hanges to the Earth’s climate rarely make it to the top of the news list. The changes may be happening too fast for human comfort, but they happen too slowly for the newsmakers–and, to be fair, for most readers…. Alan Rusbridger explains the thinking behind [The Guardian’s] major series on the climate crisis.” Part 1, Naomi Klein, Don’t look away now, the climate crisis needs you. The Guardian, 6 March 2015. “The Guardian is embarking on a major series of articles on the climate crisis and how humanity can solve it. In the first, an extract taken from the Introduction to This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, the author argues that if we treat climate change as the crisis it is, we don’t just have the potential to avert disaster but could improve society in the process…. If enough of us decide that climate change is a crisis worthy of Marshall Plan levels of response, then it will become one.” Part 2, Naomi Klein, How will everything change under climate change? The Guardian, 8 March 2015. “The second in a major series of articles on the climate crisis and how humanity can solve it. In this extract taken from the Introduction to This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, the author calls the climate crisis a civilisational wake-up call to alter our economy, our lifestyles, now–before they get changed for us.” Part 3, Bill McKibben, Climate fight won’t wait for Paris: vive la résistance. The Guardian, 9 March 2015. “In the third piece in The Guardian’s major series on climate change, Bill McKibben describes how relentless climate movements have shifted the advantage toward fossil fuel resistance for the first time in 25 years. But he argues triumph is not certain–we must not rest till the industry is forced to keep the carbon in the ground.” Part 4, George Monbiot, Keep fossil fuels in the ground to stop climate change. The Guardian, 10 March 2015. “In the fourth piece in The Guardian’s major series on climate change, George Monbiot argues that once coal, oil and gas are produced, they will be used. And yet, after 23 years of UN negotiations there have been almost no steps taken to stop the production–rather than the use–of fossil fuels.”

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BOOM: North America’s Explosive Oil-by-Rail Problem

Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones, BOOM: North America’s Explosive Oil-by-Rail Problem. InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel, in partnership with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, 8 December 2014. “U.S. regulators knew they had to act fast. A train hauling 2 million gallons of crude oil from North Dakota had exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people. Now they had to assure Americans a similar disaster wouldn’t happen south of the border, where the U.S. oil boom is sending highly volatile crude oil every day over aging, often defective rails in vulnerable railcars.

On the surface, the response from Washington following the July 6, 2013 explosion seemed promising. Over the next several months, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued two emergency orders, two safety alerts and a safety advisory. It began drafting sweeping new oil train regulations to safeguard the sudden surge of oil being shipped on U.S. rails. The railroad industry heeded the call, too, agreeing to slow down trains, increase safety inspections and reroute oil trains away from populous areas.

But almost a year and a half later—and after three railcar explosions in the United States—those headline-grabbing measures have turned out to be less than they appeared.

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Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General

Eric Lipton, Courting Favor: A Hidden Coalition: Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General. The New York Times, 6 December 2014. “Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year…. The Times reported previously how individual attorneys general have shut down investigations, changed policies or agreed to more corporate-friendly settlement terms after intervention by lobbyists and lawyers, many of whom are also campaign benefactors. But the attorneys general are also working collectively. Democrats for more than a decade have teamed up with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club to use the court system to impose stricter regulation. But never before have attorneys general joined on this scale with corporate interests to challenge Washington and file lawsuits in federal court. Out of public view, corporate representatives and attorneys general are coordinating legal strategy and other efforts to fight federal regulations, according to a review of thousands of emails and court documents and dozens of interviews.”

Courting Favor: Articles in this series examine the explosion in lobbying of state attorneys general by corporate interests and the millions in campaign donations they now provide.” Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.

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The Downside of the Boom: North Dakota took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar oil industry with a regulatory system built on trust, warnings and second chances

Deborah Sontag and Robert Gebeloff, The Downside of the Boom. The New York Times, Part 1 of a 3-Part Series, 22 November 2014. “Since 2006, when advances in hydraulic fracturing — fracking — and horizontal drilling began unlocking a trove of sweet crude oil in the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota has shed its identity as an agricultural state in decline to become an oil powerhouse second only to Texas. A small state that believes in small government, it took on the oversight of a multibillion-dollar industry with a slender regulatory system built on neighborly trust, verbal warnings and second chances.” Part 2, Deborah Sontag, Where Oil and Politics Mix. 23 November 2014. Part 3, Deborah Sontag and Brent McDonald, In North Dakota, a Tale of Oil, Corruption and Death. 28 December 2014.

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Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire

Tim Dickinson, Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire. Rolling Stone, 24 September 2014. “Together, Charles and David Koch control one of the world’s largest fortunes, which they are using to buy up our political system. But what they don’t want you to know is how they made all that money…. The enormity of the Koch fortune is no mystery. Brothers Charles and David are each worth more than $40 billion. The electoral influence of the Koch brothers is similarly well-chronicled. The Kochs are our homegrown oligarchs; they’ve cornered the market on Republican politics and are nakedly attempting to buy Congress and the White House. Their political network helped finance the Tea Party and powers today’s GOP. Koch-affiliated organizations raised some $400 million during the 2012 election, and aim to spend another $290 million to elect Republicans in this year’s midterms. So far in this cycle, Koch-backed entities have bought 44,000 political ads to boost Republican efforts to take back the Senate. What is less clear is where all that money comes from.”

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An Accident Waiting to Happen: derailment of oil trains in Glacier National Park

Elizabeth Royte, An Accident Waiting to Happen. OnEarth, Published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, 20 February 2014. “As oil trains derail across the United States, a windswept—and vulnerable—stretch of Montana’s Glacier National Park underscores the folly of transporting crude by rail.”

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