ExxonMobil Corp. is condemning reports by two news organizations that the energy giant deliberately played down the impact of fossil fuels on the Earth’s climate, even though Exxon’s own scientists were working closely with academic and government organizations to rectify the problem.
“The facts are that we identified the potential risks of climate change and have taken the issue very seriously,” Ken Cohen, ExxonMobil’s vice president for government and public affairs, said in a company statement. “Activists deliberately cherry-picked statements attributed to various company employees to wrongly suggest definitive conclusions were reached decades ago by company researchers.”
Cohen was reacting to a five-part series by InsideClimate News, which was published from Sept. 21 through Aug. 8, and a story by the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 9 on what they called the disconnect between ExxonMobil’s internal concern about how climate change may affect the company’s operations, yet publicly “worked instead at the forefront of climate [change] denial,” as InsideClimate News put it.
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The reports said ExxonMobil had done ground-breaking research into the effects of burning fossil fuels as long ago as the late 1970 in collaboration with leading universities, as well as the agencies of various governments, yet didn’t share them with the public.
The company dismissed that premise. “These activists [reporters] took those statements out of context and ignored other readily available statements demonstrating that our researchers recognized the developing nature of climate science at the time which, in fact, mirrored global understanding,” Cohen said.
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“The facts are that we identified the potential risks of climate change and have taken the issue very seriously,” Cohen said. “We embarked on decades of research in collaboration with many parties, including the Department of Energy, leading academic institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and others to advance climate science.”
The company said its scientists are still studying the effects of fossil fuels on the environment, and that they are publishing their findings. For example, ExxonMobil said, the “have produced more than 50 peer-reviewed publications on topics including the global carbon cycle, detection and attribution of climate change, low carbon technologies and analysis of future scenarios for energy and climate.”
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Making matters worse, ExxonMobil said, the reports “have prompted political attacks” by members of Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, as well as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Reps. Mark DeSaulnier and Ted Lieu, both California Democrats.
On Oct. 20 Sanders wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging her to investigate the reporting to determine whether ExxonMobil’s behavior was illegal. “These reports, if true, raise serious allegations of a misinformation campaign that may have caused public harm similar to the tobacco industry’s actions – conduct that led to federal racketeering convictions,” he wrote.
Another Democrat running for the White House, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, also called for a Justice Department investigation. “We held tobacco companies responsible for lying about cancer,” he said in a Twitter message. “Let’s do the same for oil companies & climate change.”
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com