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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Shell Annual Report Delivers A Fossil-Fueled Bombshell

Believe it or not, Shell — of all companies — gets it.

— By Brett Fleishman

Brett_Fleischman

Royal Dutch Shell buried a bombshell in its recently released 2013 annual report.

Amid 200 pages of predictably and mind-numbingly dry text, the world’s seventh-largest oil company foreshadowed something big. Here are the exact words, which Shell buried in the  report’s “risk factors” section:

If we are unable to find economically viable, as well as publicly acceptable, solutions that reduce our CO2 emissions for new and existing projects or products, we may experience additional costs, delayed projects, reduced production and reduced demand for hydrocarbons.”

Believe it or not, Shell — of all companies — gets it.

Shell gets that unless things change quickly, another big financial market bubble has the potential to bring people to their knees.

It’s called the “Carbon Bubble,” and it’s a very simple equation.

Fossil-fuel companies already hold more coal, oil, and gas reserves than people and industry can possibly use before climate change reaches the point where life as we know it can’t continue.

Simply put, these companies have more product than they can sell. And their value is based on their total reserves. That means fossil-fuel assets are significantly overvalued.

Why hasn’t Wall Street imploded over this yet? Well, remember how “nobody” could see the housing bubble coming?

The truth is, Wall Street is still profiting from fossil fuels. And when economists and analysts tried to warn people about the housing bubble, just like some of them are now attempting to do about the carbon bubble, their foresight fell on deaf ears.

And if memories of the last economic crisis or even the phrase “market bubble” give you goose bumps, ask yourself how exposed you are to investments in oil, gas, and coal — the three kinds of fossil fuels. Does your pension plan, retirement plan, or family nest egg invest in the likes of Shell Oil?

As a senior analyst for 350.org, an activist organization that fights climate change, my job is to help persuade college endowments, city pension funds, and foundations to divest from fossil fuels.

In my conversations (really they’re debates) with boards of trustees and treasurers of multibillion-dollar pension funds and endowments, the biggest concern is always risk and return.

People charged with these investment decisions want to maximize returns.

Well, as our ability to burn carbon safely diminishes and the reserves of fossil-fuel companies increase, those investments will continue to become riskier and less profitable.

The logic is so clear, even Shell doesn’t think they are a good investment. The oil giant is looking for “viable solutions to reduce” its own CO2 emissions.

Shell’s not the only oil giant reckoning with this reality. Bowing to shareholder pressure, ExxonMobil just announced plans to produce a first-of-its-kind report showing how the growing trend in climate change activism is destabilizing their financial security.

“The deal is a big victory for the relatively new movement by some investors to get energy companies to consider how climate change policies will affect the bottom line,” according to Politico Morning Energy.

If you do one thing for your future, consider divesting from fossil fuels. It’s a great way to minimize your vulnerability to a serious financial crisis while investing in a more hospitable future for your children.

Brett Fleishman is a senior analyst for 350.org.  Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

How would you like this scene in your backyard?

The ExxonMobil Pegasus tar sands pipeline spilled around 185,000 gallons of tar sands, undisclosed toxic chemicals and contaminated water in Arkansas yesterday.  Looks like these folks live in a neighborhood with “public” water.  If they had (have) wells, the contaminated water and toxic chemicals would destroy their wells.

Like many tar sands pipelines, Pegasus was actually an older pipeline which had its flow reversed. This is also the case for the Seaway pipeline in Texas and possible tar sands pipelines in New England.

And this wasn’t even the only spill this week! Read more about the 30,000 tar sands spill in Minnesota HERE.

“Folks, these are neighbohood pictures of the Mayflower, AR oil spill on that Exxon pipeline. The local authorities have denied the press access to these areas so few have actually seen the extent of the spill. This picture was taken by a friend’s daughter who lives next door to this house.” — A.J. Zolten

Related Posts:

ALEC and ExxonMobil Push Loopholes in Fracking Chemical Disclosure Rules

— By Cora Currier, ProPublica | News Analysis

One of the key controversies about fracking is the chemical makeup of the fluid that is pumped deep into the ground to break apart rock and release natural gas. Some companies have been reluctant to disclose what’s in their fracking fluid. Scientists and environmental advocates argue that, without knowing its precise composition, they can’t thoroughly investigate complaints of contamination.

Disclosure requirements vary considerably from state to state, as ProPublica recently charted. In many cases, the rules have been limited by a “trade secrets” provision under which companies can claim that a proprietary chemical doesn’t have to be disclosed to regulators or the public.

One apparent proponent of the trade secrets caveat? The American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, a nonprofit group that brings together politicians and corporationsto draft and promote conservative, business-friendly legislation. ALEC has been in the spotlight recently because of its support of controversial laws like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” provision.

This weekend, as part of a story on ALEC’s political activity, The New York Times noted that the group recently adopted “model legislation” on fracking chemical disclosure, based on a bill passed in Texas last year. According to The Times, the model bill was “sponsored within ALEC” by ExxonMobil, which runs a major oil and gas operation through its subsidiary, XTO Energy. The advocacy group Common Cause, which provided the documents on ALEC’s lobbying efforts to The Times, describes model legislation, in many cases identifying by name the company that proposed it to ALEC’s task forces.

ALEC has recently removed its list of model bills from its main website, and did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for XTO Energy confirmed that the company is a member of ALEC, but he did not provide details on the company’s involvement with the disclosure bill.

The spokesman said ExxonMobil supports “full disclosure of the ingredients and additives in hydraulic fracturing fluids,” but added that when vendors request it, ExxonMobil has “respected the trade secret status of their products.” Last year, the company began voluntarily uploading chemical disclosures to FracFocus, a clearinghouse website run by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

In a recent blog post, ALEC claimed that legislators in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Ohio have introduced versions of its model bill, but many of those states vary in the level of disclosure required and how they handle the trade secrets provision. Laws in 11 states require at least partial disclosure, and the Bureau of Land Management recently drafted disclosure guidelines for drilling on federal land.

These laws have been relatively well-received by environmental advocates, though the trade secrets issue remains a concern for some. In Ohio, for example, proprietary chemicals don’t have to be disclosed to regulators or the public. In Pennsylvania, they are disclosed to regulators, and the public can request information on them from the state Department of Environmental Protection on a case-by-case basis.

The Texas law, which ALEC cites in the post as its template, codifies the trade secrets exemption, and who can challenge it:

Otherwise, Texas’ law requires that companies post disclosure forms for each completed well on the FracFocus site. They must disclose all chemicals but only report the concentrations of those that are hazardous. The law also requires that the companies give the total volume of water used in fracking.

The Environmental Protection Agency cannot regulate fracking in order to protect groundwater, because in 2005 Congress exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, which controls how industries inject substances underground.

According to ALEC’s blog, the model disclosure legislation is designed to promote “responsible resource production” and “aims to preempt the promulgation of duplicative, burdensome federal regulations” from the EPA, in particular. ALEC has consistently opposed any federal control over fracking. In 2009, the group adopted a “Resolution to Retain State Authority Over Hydraulic Fracturing.”

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.