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Tillerson, ExxonMobil: History of Misleading Over Climate Change

WARRENTON VA, United States

US multinational oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil for years conducted a campaign to mislead the general public about impacts of climate change. Harvard academics Professor Naomi Oreskes and Dr Geoffrey Supran, in a study published this week in Environmental Research Letters examine climate change communications from the company including peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed publications, internal company documents, and paid, editorial-style advertisements (“advertorials”) in The New York Times.

The Trump administration’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held senior positions with ExxonMobil from 1989, including Chairman and CEO through 2016. Tillerson was awarded the Order of Friendship, Russia by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013.

The Harvard report examines whether ExxonMobil communications sent consistent messages about the state of climate science and its implications—specifically, comparing positions on climate change as real, human-caused, serious, and solvable, concluding that a concerted effort was made by the corporation to sow doubts about the veracity of scientifically proven climate change.

The study relates that ExxonMobil took out an advertorial in The New York Times every Thursday between 1972 and 2001 at a cost of about $31,000 USD each, reaching a readership in the millions. These advocacy-advertising articles contained “several instances of explicit factual misrepresentation”, the researchers observe.

Tillerson is Consistent at Least

Tillerson’s views on climate and, by definition, water-related challenges have come under focus in recent weeks. Earlier this month the State Department directed that the country’s diplomats “sidestep questions from foreign governments on what it would take for the Trump administration to re-engage in the global Paris climate agreement” (The Guardian). A cable, sent by Tillerson to embassies, also said diplomats should make clear that the United States wants to help other countries use fossil fuels.

American diplomats were told to expect foreign government representatives to ask questions like: “Does the United States have a climate change policy?” and “Is the administration advocating the use of fossil fuels over renewable energy?” The Trump administration’s instruction to diplomats was that their answers should be vague and evasive.

Corporation Will Benefit from Fracking-Favorable Administration

ExxonMobil and other US fossil fuel companies are expected to benefit domestically from the Trump administration’s laissez-faire approach to environmental protection. In July this year On July 25th, the US Bureau of Land Management submitted a rescission to eliminate an Obama era policy that required companies to disclose the chemicals used for fracking on public and tribal lands claiming that current fracking regulation places too heavy a burden on the oil and gas industries.

Food and Water Watch describes fracking as “a destructive process that corporations including Halliburton, BP and ExxonMobil use to extract oil and natural gas from rock formations deep underground. They drill a well and inject millions of gallons of toxic fracking fluid – a mix of water, sand and harsh fracking chemicals – at extreme enough pressure to fracture the rock and release the oil or gas”, concluding that (fracking) “is an unsafe process that harms our drinking water and health…the push for fracking hurts communities and worsens climate change”.

ExxonMobil gets an “F” for Water Disclosure

A 2016 report by international not-for-profit the Carbon Disclosure Project titled "Thirsty business: Why water is vital to climate action", revealed that drought, flooding and increased water stress fueled by climate change, tightening environmental regulation and the cost of cleaning up water pollution and fines resulted in US$14 billion worth of water-related financial impacts to business in 2015.

607 companies responded to CDP’s request for information made on behalf of 643 institutional investors with US$67 trillion USD in assets.

Companies who did not respond to the investor request for data received an “F” rating from CDP, denoting failure to disclose. “The energy sector continue(d) to be the laggard industry on water transparency, with only 29% of those companies requested to disclose providing information to their investors via CDP (this year)”. The report highlighted Exxon Mobile Corporation, Chevron Corporation and Royal Dutch Shell as the three largest energy companies (by market capitalization) who, since 2012, have consistently failed to respond to investor requests for disclosure through CDP’s water program.