2015’s Most Underreported Story: What Exxon Knew

December 31, 2015

Oil giant Exxon was studying climate change impacts in the 1970s and 80s, and their projections from 35 years ago accurately portray what is happening now.

Knowing what they knew, they chose to continue business as usual.

Now this astounding article in the LA Times.


A few weeks before seminal climate change talks in Kyoto back in 1997, Mobil Oil took out a bluntly worded advertisement in the New York Times and Washington Post.

“Let’s face it: The science of climate change is too uncertain to mandate a plan of action that could plunge economies into turmoil,” the ad said. “Scientists cannot predict with certainty if temperatures will increase, by how much and where changes will occur.”

One year earlier, though, engineers at Mobil Oil were concerned enough about climate change to design and build a collection of exploration and production facilities along the Nova Scotia coast that made structural allowances for rising temperatures and sea levels.

“An estimated rise in water level, due to global warming, of 0.5 meters may be assumed” for the 25-year life of the Sable gas field project, Mobil engineers wrote in their design specifications. The project, owned jointly by Mobil, Shell and Imperial Oil (a Canadian subsidiary of Exxon), went online in 1999; it is expected to close in 2017.

The United States has never ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse emissions.

A joint investigation by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Energy and Environmental Reporting Project and the Los Angeles Times earlier detailed how one company, Exxon, made a strategic decision in the late 1980s to publicly emphasize doubt and uncertainty regarding climate change science even as its internal research embraced the growing scientific consensus.

By all means, go to the link and read the entire, jaw-dropping piece.

Anyone with any doubts about whether Exxon will be vulnerable to a RICO action needs to read this.


19 Responses to “2015’s Most Underreported Story: What Exxon Knew”

  1. 350 dot Org had a people’s tribunal for Exxon at Paris cop21. The resulting video has gotten a cool 114 views on YouTube.

    The media is responding to a public that is in massive denial about the seriousness of climate collapse. I thought that the Exxon revelations would be enough to derail the most inane of the deniers’ bromides, but they’re just as prevalent now as they were before the Exxon story broke. Schneiderman’s attempt to bring Exxon to trial will go nowhere as long as people don’t think climate will collapse anytime soon. And the denialists have a stake in all this–to admit that AGW is a serious problem implies that people need to do something about it. It’s an emotional Rubicon that most aren’t willing to address. http://brooklynculturejammers.com/2015/12/17/were-screwed-evidence-no-longer-matters/

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yep. Go look at BCJ’s “we’re screwed” piece. An excellent read—he nails it..

      • redskylite Says:

        Agree it is a well written piece – wish I could sound sincere in wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016, but after reading that bcj article it sounds kinda forced. Happy New Year DOG !

        • dumboldguy Says:

          We have a saying in the U.S. that “The opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings”, which may sound like something Yogi Berra said, but came from some sports writer. Some corollaries are “The rodeo ain’t over ’til the bull riders ride”, and “Church ain’t out ’til the fat lady sings”, all of which came from the benighted “Suth’run” parts of our country that have given us Inhofe, Lamer, Gomer, Scott, and Cruz.

          Happy new year to you too, Redsky, and don’t despair (yet). The fat lady is merely humming a bit, we are still watching the bronc riders, and the fat lady is dozing in the back of the choir because God and Ben Carson are having an extended conversation and the service is running long

  2. RICO?

    The L.A. Times article made no mention of any laws that Exxon broke. Exactly what are they going to be charged with?

    • greenman3610 Says:


      see also video above.
      One set of information for internal use, another for public and investors, might put them in violation of securities laws. per NYTimes –
      “The investigation focuses on whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.”

      in addition:
      “I think the case is already there to be made,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island. He has raised the possibility of a Justice Department investigation under federal racketeering law. A former prosecutor, he is one of the Senate’s leading voices for action to address the climate crisis.

      “If these allegations against Exxon are true, then Exxon’s actions were immoral,” Lieu and DeSaulnier wrote in the letter. “We request the [Department of Justice] investigate whether ExxonMobil’s actions were also illegal.””

    • As Greenman3610 pointed out, the numerous speeches given by former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond are not simple bromides uttered by some country bumpkin. He is required by law to give truthful statements to stockholders and to Congress regarding the corporate understanding of the ramifications of the continuing burning of their products. The strategies of sowing confusion about AGW employed by Exxon and its numerous ‘astroturf’ organizations are similar to what the Tobacco industry pursued over some 30 years in denying the health effects of both tobacco use and second-hand smoke. And the tobacco industry agreed to payouts of $206 B over 25 years to the states to compensate for the healthcare effects of smoking.
      If it could be proved that Exxon shared its knowledge with other oil companies (and there’s compelling evidence that all the major oil companies knew that AGW was the real thing), NY AG Schneiderman could pursue a RICO case that would force the big oil companies into forfeiture of hundreds of billions in profits. Such a case might also affect the equipment companies (Bechtel and Halliburton). The sheer scale of the damage that has been done by AGW could force the world’s most powerful companies into receivership.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        The RICO case is compelling, but IMO the path that will get results sooner is the case that Exxon has violated the securities laws.

        Once the fat cats that own most of the stock and wealth in this country realize that Exxon’s misdeeds are going to hit them in their piggy banks, they will go ballistic, and the courts and regulators that the fat cats have bought and paid for will jump to crucify Exxon on their behalf.

        I myself will be laughing my rear end off at the spectacle of the plutocratic “cannibalism” that will represent. My only hope is that it doesn’t cause some serious economic disruption when it occurs, and that the 99% doesn’t pay (again) for Exxon’s corporate mal-mis-non-feasance.

  3. lerpo Says:

    0.5 meters in 25 years??? Where did they get that from?

    • dumboldguy Says:

      A good question. They did their calculations back in 1996, and 0.5 meters is nearly 20 inches, or a rate of SLR of ~.8 inch per year over the projected 25 year life span of the project. And .8 of an inch per year equates to ~7 feet by the year 2100. Don’t recall anyone predicting that high a rate of SLR back the mid-90’s.

      It would seem that they were being way more “alarmist” in the back room about what damage might occur to THEIR property while pooh-poohing global AGW impact to the public. Or maybe they were just being good engineers, who carefully calculate and overbuild things by factors of 5 or 10 to ensure safety (except when they don’t quite get it right, and things break, blow up, poison people, fall down, or heat up the world).

  4. The tobacco industry was never charged with any lawbreaking – their agreement was voluntary. But, remember, if they were guilty of anything, it was misrepresentation of the direct health effects of their product.

    Exxon makes petroleum products. These products work as advertised. No one is making a case that Exxon is deceptively advertising a product which has direct effects on the health of its users.

    What Exxon knew in the ’70’s from internal reports about [CO2] and AGW is irrelevant to their actions over the last twenty years. Exxon’s scientists had nothing to do with any scientific consensus about AGW, and the company was free to ignore them.

    So, the question is, again – exactly what can they be prosecuted for?

    I know what *I* would like to see them prosecuted for – crimes against humanity for a deliberate sustained propaganda campaign designed to subvert the scientific consensus, avert regulation of the fossil fuel industry and which has resulted in a lack of political reform which has already killed millions.

    But no one else seems to be raising that issue at all. There is just some vague saber-rattling about RICO, and perhaps some sort of securities honesty issue which they can likely delay for decades and settle for billionths of a penny on the dollar.

    • Commenter Roger Lambert and the collective lot of pro-AGWers would love to prosecute Exxon, Peabody, etc for deliberate sustained propaganda campaigns …….. if only they could prove any such campaign has ever existed. To do so, y’all would have to prove the two sides of the conspiracy (‘shill scientists’ & industry execs) fully knew what they were saying were fabrications, mutually agreed on narratives, and mutually agreed that the fabrications would occur as purchased services from ‘shill scientists’.

      And that, friends, is where your whole belief system implodes, because that is all you’ve ever had on the whole matter. You believe corporate donations proves the conspiracy, and you never bothered to follow up on any of the rest of what would be required in courtroom evidentiary hearings. Worst of all, you placed all your beliefs in one basket, an utterly lame initial effort in the early ’90s surrounding a set of leaked memos out of the Western Fuels Association which finally got real media traction at the hands of the non-Pulitzer winner Ross Gelbspan and his pals at “Greenpeace USA née Ozone Action”. No need to trust me on this, dig deep into any repetition of the ‘industry-corrupted skeptic climate scientists’ accusation and they all spiral right back to the same core source.

      Keep hammering on prosecuting skeptics for a ‘tobacco industry tactics’ parallel, I openly invite it. It is your funeral if you really want it, though.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Russell the non-lawyer, non-scientist, paid Heartland whore for fossil fuels is back singing his one note Globspit song and lecturing us on matters of courtroom procedure and science.

        What you need to “openly invite” is outside comments on your Globspit website, so that we can go over there and challenge your bullshit there rather than waste everyone’s time on Crock. Or have you forgotten that I offered to spend an hour a day there if you opened it up to outside commenters? What about it, Russell? Are you ready to do that?

        Now you’ve made another useless comment and can put it on your timecard for Heartland, I’ve helped by responding and doubled its value. Merry Christmas. Now go away.

  5. redskylite Says:

    Whether Exxon (and peers) have broken any law/s, either national or international, is a lengthy conundrum for lawyers, judges and courts to decide. They certainly have broken common decency and violated any pretence of ethics or morals, but I am not surprised, especially in the 1970’s, when bribery and corruption was rife in industry and governments, with large (so called respectable) outfits taking part. I would hope that now in the 21st century that this particular industry would face up to the serious implications that long term use of their product has and is causing, be more ethical and more supportive of promoting, embracing and investing in non carbon producing energy. If they did they could be forgiven for past sins, at least by me. As I type this post, I can heavy building machinery rolling away on a nearby development site, aircraft above, people mowing lawns and trimming weeds, motorway snakes travelling by (EV’s haven’t been promoted much here in N.Z) . We are a long way off from de-carbonizing and are still well and truly hooked on EXXON and peers. I wish we were further along the road in taking action, for our own sakes. But we are not.

    To top it all it seems that our dear laws could even challenge the COP21 agreement, who said the law was an ass.

    “Trade deal gives polluters power to sue governments who try to implement the Paris agreement”


  6. […] Sinclair, the blogger behind Climate Change Crock of the Week, put the highlighted text as the title of his year-end post. The title says most of what you need to know about the article (though you should read it and […]

  7. […] What Exxon Knew is an ongoing story, currently making its way thru the courts. […]

  8. […] What Exxon Knew is an ongoing story, currently making its way thru the courts. […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: