Big Oil Knew—Big Oil Lied—And Planet Earth Got Fried

— by Jon Queally, staff writer at Common Dreams
New report exposes why fossil fuel companies didn’t need the warning from the public scientific community to start a decades-long campaign of denial. They already knew their business model was a threat.

Image: Union of Concerned Scientists

A new report, The Climate Deception Dossiers, chronicles how Exxon and other major fossil fuel companies did not take action to disclose or reduce climate risks in the ensuing years, but instead actively misled the public and policymakers about them.

They knew. They lied. And the planet and its people are now paying the ultimate price.

It’s no secret that the fossil fuel industry—the set of companies and corporate interests which profit most from the burning of coal, oil, and gas—have been the largest purveyors and funders of climate change denialism in the world.

Now, a new set of documents and a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) answers the age-old question always asked when it comes to crimes of corruption, cover-up, and moral defiance: What did they know and when did they know it?

As it turns out, “The Climate Deception Dossiers” shows that leading oil giants such as ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell—just like tobacco companies who buried and denied the threat of cancer for smokers—knew about the dangers of global warming and the role of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions long before the public received warning from the broader scientific community. And what’s worse, of course, is not only that they knew—but how they have spent the last nearly thirty years actively denying the damage they were causing to the planet and its inhabitants.

The new report, explains UCS president Ken Kimmell, “is a sobering exposé of how major fossil fuel companies have … neither been honest about, nor taken responsibility for, the harms they have caused by extracting and putting into commerce the fossil fuels that now place our climate in grave danger. Instead, either directly or indirectly, through trade and industry groups, they have sown doubt about the science of climate change and repeatedly fought efforts to cut the emissions of dangerous heat-trapping gases.”

And as this video shows:

The new report reviews internal documents from some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies—including BP, Chevron, Conoco, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Phillips, and Shell—spanning the course of 27 years. UCS obtained and reviewed memos that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The documents show that:

  • Companies have directly or indirectly spread climate disinformation for decades;
  • Corporate leaders knew the realities of climate science—that their products were harmful to people and the planet—but still actively deceived the public and denied this harm;
  • The campaign of deception continues, with some of the documents having surfaced as recently as in 2014 and 2015.

UCS has made the complete collection of 85 internal memos—totaling more than 330 pages—available online.

As part of its research, UCS discovered that as early as 1981—nearly seven years before NASA scientist James Hansen made his famous testimony before Congress about the dangers of human-caused global warming—internal discussions about the reality of the threat were already occurring inside the corporate offices of ExxonMobil and others.

In the case of Exxon, an email by one of the companies key scientists explains that, “Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia.” The email explains that the company knew the field was rich in carbon dioxide and that it could become the “largest point source of CO2 in the world,” accounting for 1 percent of projected global CO2 emissions.

The email in question was written in response to an inquiry on business ethics from the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University.

Speaking with the Guardian newspaper, director of the Institute Alyssa Bernstein said the email makes it clear “that Exxon knew years earlier than James Hansen’s testimony to Congress that climate change was a reality; that it accepted the reality, instead of denying the reality as they have done publicly, and to such an extent that it took it into account in their decision making, in making their economic calculation.”

Though stating she did not want to appear “melodramatic,” Bernstein told the Guardian that Exxon’s behavior amounts to a supremely larger moral offense than even the tobacco industry’s obfuscations on smoking “because what is at stake is the fate of the planet, humanity, and the future of civilization.”

Given the scale of their crime, UCS says the “time is ripe to hold these companies accountable for their actions and responsible for the harm they have caused.”

Offering recommendations for what the industry should be doing, the group said companies must:

  • Stop disseminating misinformation about climate change. It is unacceptable for fossil fuel companies to deny established climate science. It is also unacceptable for companies to publicly accept the science while funding climate contrarian scientists or front groups that distort or deny the science.
  • Support fair and cost-effective policies to reduce global warming emissions. It is time for the industry to identify and publicly support policies that will lead to the reduction of emissions at a scale needed to reduce the worst effects of global warming.
  • Reduce emissions from current operations and update their business models to prepare for future global limits on emissions. Companies should take immediate action to cut emissions from their current operations, update their business models to reflect the risks of unabated burning of fossil fuels, and map out the pathway they plan to take in the next 20 years to ensure we achieve a low-carbon energy future.
  • Pay for their share of the costs of climate damages and preparedness. Communities around the world are already facing and paying for damages from rising seas, extreme heat, more frequent droughts, and other climate-related impacts. Today and in the future, fossil fuel companies should pay a fair share of the costs.
  • Fully disclose the financial and physical risks of climate change to their business operations. As is required by law, fossil fuel companies are required to discuss risks—including climate change—that might materially affect their business in their annual SEC filings. Today, compliance with this requirement is not consistent.

“These companies aren’t just trying to block new polices, they’re trying to roll back clean energy and climate laws that are working and are widely supported by the public,” said Nancy Cole, a report author and UCS’s campaign director for climate and energy. “Climate change is already underway – and many communities are struggling to protect their residents and prepare for future changes. The deception simply must stop. It’s time for major carbon companies to become part of the solution.”


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Voters Reject Oil Titan Chevron, Elect Progressive Bloc in Richmond, California

Tom Butt elected mayor and slate of progressive candidates all win city council seats after grim battle with corporate power

— by Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams staff writer

Members of the Asia Pacific Environmental Network march against Chevron in Richmond, California on August 9. (Photo: Malena Mayorga/Flickr)

A slew of progressive candidates were elected in Richmond, California on Tuesday night in a resounding defeat of corporate power, after a multi-million-dollar opposition campaign funded by Chevron brought national attention to the race but failed to take control of City Hall.

Local politician Tom Butt, a Democrat, was elected mayor with 51 percent of the vote, beating the Chevron-backed candidate, Nat Bates, by 16 points. Richmond Progressive Alliance representatives Eduardo Martinez, Jovanka Beckles, and outgoing  Mayor Gayle McLaughlin also won three of the four open seats on the City Council.

Collectively, those candidates became known as Team Richmond.

In a victory speech from his campaign base, Butt said, “I’ve never had such a bunch of people who are dedicated and worked so hard. It’s far away above anything that I’ve ever experienced.”

The sweeping win in the David-and-Goliath story was seen by many as an excoriation of corporate influence in elections after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Uche Uwahemu, who finished third in the mayoral race, said, “The election was a referendum on Chevron and the people obviously made it clear they did not appreciate the unnecessary spending by Chevron so they took it out on the rest of the candidates.”

Chevron spent more than $3 million funding three political action committees that executed an opposition campaign including billboards, flyers, and a mobile screen, spending roughly $72 per voter in hopes of electing a slate of candidates that would be friendly to the oil giant.

Martinez, Beckles, and McLaughlin have all criticized the company and promised to tighten regulations on it. Chevron has an ugly history in the city, particularly in the wake of a large and destructive fire at their refinery in 2012, for which Richmond sued the company.

Butt spent roughly $58,000 on his campaign—a shoestring budget relative to Chevron’s resources.

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In ‘Chilling’ Ruling, Chevron Granted Access to Activists’ Private Internet Data

"Sweeping" subpoena violates rights of those who spoke out against oil giant’s devastating actions in Ecuador

– Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Following their guilty sentence for the dumping of 18.5bn gallons of toxic waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Chevron is amassing the personal information of the environmentalists and attorneys who fought against them in an effort to prove ‘conspiracy.’  The US government is not the only entity who, with judicial approval, is amassing massive amounts of personal information against their so-called enemies.

A federal judge has ruled to allow Chevron, through a subpoena to Microsoft, to collect the IP usage records and identity information for email accounts owned by over 100 environmental activists, journalists and attorneys.

The oil giant is demanding the records in an attempt to cull together a lawsuit which alleges that the company was the victim of a conspiracy in the $18.2 billion judgment against it for dumping 18.5 billion gallons of oil waste in the Ecuadorean Amazon, causing untold damage to the rainforest.

The "sweeping" subpoena was one of three issued to Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

"Environmental advocates have the right to speak anonymously and travel without their every move and association being exposed to Chevron," said Marcia Hofmann, Senior Staff Attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who—along with environmental rights group EarthRights International (ERI)—had filed a motion last fall to "quash" the subpoenas.

"These sweeping subpoenas create a chilling effect among those who have spoken out against the oil giant’s activities in Ecuador," she added at the time.

According to ERI, the subpoena demands the personal information about each account holder as well as the IP addresses associated with every login to each account over a nine-year period. "This could allow Chevron to determine the countries, states, cities or even buildings where the account-holders were checking their email," they write, "so as to ‘infer the movements of the users over the relevant period and might permit Chevron to makes inferences about some of the user’s professional and personal relationships.’"

In their statement about the ruling, ERI notes that the argument given by presiding US District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan—who was previously accused of prejudice against the Ecuadorians and their lawyers—was as "breathtaking as the subpoena itself." They continue:

According to Judge Kaplan, none of the account holders could benefit from First Amendment protections since the account holders had “not shown that they were U.S. citizens.”

Now, let’s break this down. The account-holders in this case were proceeding anonymously, which the First Amendment permits. Because of this, Judge Kaplan was provided with no information about the account holders’ residency or places of birth. It is somewhat amazing then, that Judge Kaplan assumed that the account holders were not US citizens. As far as I know, a judge has never before made this assumption when presented with a First Amendment claim. We have to ask then: on what basis did Judge Kaplan reach out and make this assumption?

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This work was published on Thursday, July 11, 2013 by Common Dreams and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License (Photo: Rainforest Action Network/ cc/ Flickr)

Reject the Confirmation of Moniz for DOE

Please reject President Obama’s nomination of “fracking” proponent Dr. Ernest Moniz to serve as the next head of the Department of Energy.

“Fracking” is a highly polluting form of oil and gas extraction that requires blasting huge volumes of water mixed with toxic chemicals and sand…

If you think blasting toxic chemicals into the same ground that gives us the food we eat and the water we drink, is dangerous, if you think allowing fracking to destroy our farmland, contaminate our groundwater and endanger our health sounds like a bad idea, you’re part of a growing movement that is determined to ban fracking across the U.S. and move the country toward a sustainable future of clean energy and organic food and farming.

President Obama has nominated ardent “fracking” supporter Dr. Ernest Moniz as the next head of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).  Moniz is the director of MIT’s Energy Institute, which boasts such Big Oil financial backers as BP, Chevron and Saudi Aramco.

Please sign our petition. Tell the Senate: Reject Moniz!

Fracking is a highly polluting form of oil and gas extraction that requires blasting huge volumes of water, mixed with toxic chemicals and sand, deep into the earth to break up rock formations. There are more than 600,000 fracking wells and waste injection sites littering the United States.

Contaminated crops and farm animals raised for food subsequently serve as possible avenues for exposing humans to these same hazardous chemicals, including arsenic, benzene, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), formaldehyde, lead, toluene, Uranium-238 and Radium-226. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ list of common health problems from exposure to these fracking chemicals includes autism, asthma, cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, infertility, birth defects, allergies, endocrine diseases and immune system disorders.

recent study that involved interviews with animal owners who live near gas drilling operations revealed frequent deaths. Animals that survived exhibited health problems including infertility, birth defects and worsening reproductive health in successive breeding seasons. Some animals developed unusual neurological conditions, anorexia, and liver or kidney disease.

Increasing numbers of farmers on the front lines of the fracking fight have fallen ill, too:

  • Carol French, a Pennsylvania dairy farmer is surrounded by nine gas wells. Two weeks after she noticed her water had changed her daughter developed a fever and diarrhea that turned to blood. She lost ten pounds in seven days.
  • Steve and Jacki Schilke, two North Dakota ranchers, are surrounded by 32 oil and gas wells within three miles of their 160-acre ranch. Jacki blames the wells for the loss of two dogs, five cows and a number of chickens, as well as the decline of her own health. Her symptoms began a few days after the wells were fracked, when a burning feeling in her lungs sent her to the emergency room.
  • Christine Moore, an Ohio horse rescuer, had a well fracked five miles from her house. Within two months her water went bad. An oily film formed across the surface of the water in her horses’ bowls. The water inside her home, pumped from her well and filtered through a softener, began giving her severe stomachaches.

Stories like these are no longer isolated incidences but increasingly common place. President Obama needs to hear from you: Expanding fracking operations won’t serve as a bridge to a cleaner future. Instead, it will sound the death knell for sustainable farming, healthy food, clean water, and a stable climate.

PBO Needs to Put His Appointment Where His Mouth Is

Tell President Obama: Don’t appoint fracking proponent Dr. Ernest Moniz to lead the Department of Energy

President Obama keeps saying we need to confront climate change. Yet it’s rumored he’s considering nominating Dr. Ernest Moniz to lead DOE.  "As a proponent of fracking, Dr. Ernest Moniz is the wrong choice for to lead the Department of Energy. Appoint an energy secretary who will move us away from toxic, climate-heating fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy." 

So why is he considering appointing a major proponent of fracking to lead the Department of Energy?

According to Reuters, President Obama is seriously considering appointing Dr. Ernest Moniz – the director of MIT’s Big Oil-sponsored Energy Institute and a big believer in expanding toxic, climate-heating gas fracking.1

At a time when the last thing we should be doing is undermining our progress against climate change, Moniz is the wrong choice to head one of the most important agencies in the fight for a sustainable energy future.

Tell President Obama: Stop promoting fracking, and don’t appoint Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy!

Moniz’s Energy Institute at MIT is sponsored by the likes of BP, Chevron and Saudi Aramco. So it is no surprise that the gas industry and pro-fracking groups welcomed the rumor of Moniz’s appointment to head DOE.2

Moniz is a strong backer of the deeply flawed notion that we should expand our fracking infrastructure and development to serve as a "bridge" to low-carbon sources of energy.

But fracking isn’t a bridge to a better future; it’s an expressway to climate change and toxic pollution. Expanding fracking will worsen its toxic air pollution and increase its huge volumes of toxic wastewater, will increase incidents of groundwater contamination, and will unleash an absolutely catastrophic amount of greenhouse gas3 — not just through burning gas, but through the tremendous leakage from fracking wells of methane, a greenhouse gas that has 20 times the heat-trapping power of C02 over 100 years, making fracked gas as bad for the climate than burning coal.

What’s more, heavy reliance on burning gas slows the implementation of the sustainable carbon-free sources of energy that will put a dent in our climate emissions.

Tell President Obama: Stop promoting fracking, and don’t appoint Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy!

Climate change won’t be solved by tradeoffs, compromises, or moderate-sounding catch phrases like "all of the above." President Obama cannot make a serious attempt at confronting climate change as long as he is pushing policies to "encourage" fracking and appointing administration officials who will undermine the progress he could be making.

This week, we delivered to the White House our open letter co-signed by over 240,000 people, calling on President Obama to lead on climate change and abandon his "all of the above" energy policy. But he still doubled down in his State of the Union address. By publicly protesting one of his rumored top picks for Energy secretary, we know that he’ll hear the message.

Tell President Obama: Stop promoting fracking, and don’t appoint Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy!

1. "EXCLUSIVE-Obama considering MIT physicist Moniz for energy secretary -sources," Reuters, February 6, 2013
2. "Will Ernest Moniz be the next Energy secretary?," Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2013
3. "Bridge To Nowhere? NOAA Confirms High Methane Leakage Rate Up To 9% From Gas Fields, Gutting Climate Benefit," Think Progress, January 2, 2013