Get Popcorn, Oil Execs on Hot Seat Today

October 28, 2021

Get popcorn.

Ro Khanna’s grilling of Oil executives starts at 10:30 today, here.

New York Times:

Executives of some of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies — Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Shell — are set to appear before a congressional committee Thursday to address accusations that the industry spent millions of dollars to wage a decades-long disinformation campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change and to derail action to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels.

The hearings mark the first time oil executives will be pressed to answer questions, under oath, about whether their companies misled the public about the reality of climate change by obscuring the scientific consensus: that the burning of fossil fuels is raising Earth’s temperature and sea levels with devastating consequencesworldwide, including intensifying storms, worsening drought and deadlier wildfires.

House Democrats compare the inquiry with the historic tobacco hearings of the 1990s, which brought into sharp relief how tobacco companies had lied about the health dangers of smoking, paving the way for tough nicotine regulations. Climate scientists are now as certain that the burning of fossil fuels causes global warming as public health experts are sure that smoking tobacco causes cancer.

The evidence showing that fossil fuel companies distorted and downplayed the realities of climate change is well documented by academic researchers.

“For the first time in American history, Big Oil is going to have to answer to the American public on their climate disinformation,” said Ro Khanna, the Democratic representative from California who has led the effort to bring executives before Congress.

It is not at all clear that Thursday’s hearing will have the explosive fallout of the tobacco inquiry, in which seven executives stood with their hands raised to swear under oath before telling Congress they did not believe cigarettes were addictive. Photos of the moment were splashed across front pages nationwide.

The oil company executives are being allowed to attend Thursday’s events remotely by video, diminishing the possibility of a similarly arresting visual moment. And much of the hearing’s effectiveness will depend on coordination between the members, who are each allotted limited amounts of time to examine the executives, a format that can hinder a coherent line of questioning.

Some Republican leaders have denounced the hearing as a distraction and plan to use it to air concerns about the Biden administration’s climate change agenda, which they argue is harming the economy. They intend to call as a witness a former worker on the Keystone XL pipeline who lost his job when President Biden canceled the project on his first day in office.

“This is another publicity stunt by the Democrats,” said Representative James Comer of Kentucky, the senior Republican on the oversight committee. “It’s a terrible time to move away from fossil fuels when the economy is attempting to recover from a pandemic.”

Oil companies have denied lying to the public about climate change, and have said the industry is now taking bold steps to rein in emissions. “Meeting the demand for reliable energy — while simultaneously addressing climate change — is a huge undertaking and one of the defining challenges of our time,” Gretchen Watkins, president of Shell Oil, will tell lawmakers, according to a preview of her remarks provided by the company.

A spokesman for the company said it had provided thousands of pages of documents to the committee. BP and Exxon said they were also cooperating.

Casey Norton, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, said in a statement that the company “has long acknowledged that climate change is real and poses serious risks.” He said the company’s statements about climate science have been “truthful, fact-based, transparent and consistent with the broader mainstream scientific community at the time” and “evolved” as the science did.

As late as 2000, Exxon Mobil advertised in The New York Timesthat “scientists have been unable to confirm” that the burning of oil, gas and coal caused climate change. A decade before that, United Nations scientists had confirmed the planet had warmed by 0.5 degrees Celsius over the previous century because of fossil fuel-driven greenhouse gases.

The American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in statements that they looked forward to sharing their views in favor of climate change policies. A representative from Chevron did not respond to requests for comment.

The hearings come more than four decades after the oil industry first started to collect scientific evidence on global warming.

In 1978, Exxon Mobil embarked on a major project to study climate change, fitting one of its giant tankers with instruments to monitor rising levels of carbon dioxide in the sea and the atmosphere. But as oil prices collapsed in the 1980s, hurting profits, Exxon ended the research.

“The evidence that had been gathered in the late ’70s and early ’80s was already unequivocal,” said Edward A. Garvey, a geochemist who worked on Exxon’s early climate research in the those years. “We had a significant window, but we squandered the opportunity,” he said. 

Oil executives themselves have said publicly that there was inconclusive evidence that human activities were having a significant effect on the global climate, even as scientists warned that such evidence was unequivocal. In one prominent example, Lee Raymond, Exxon’s chief executive at the time, said in 1997 that “Currently, the scientific evidence is inconclusive as to whether human activities are having a significant effect on the global climate.”

Meanwhile, Big Oil companies are facing increasing pressures, not just externally, but internally, with activist shareholders pushing for change.

Wall Street Journal:

Daniel Loeb’s Third Point LLC has taken a large stake in Royal Dutch Shell RDS.A 2.27% PLC and is urging the oil giant to separate into two companies to retain and attract investors as many flee stocks seen as environmentally unfriendly.

The activist’s stake is worth well over $500 million, making it one of the Anglo-Dutch company’s largest investors, people familiar with the matter said. 

Third Point believes Shell should consider creating two stand-alone companies: one with legacy businesses such as refining that would provide steady cash flow and another that houses renewables and other units requiring substantial investment, it said in a letter to its investors Wednesday that was viewed by The Wall Street Journal. It reasons that doing so would clarify the company’s strategy and appeal to different sets of investors who have been making competing demands of Shell. 

Among the major oil companies, Shell has been faster-moving than peers such as Exxon Mobil Corp. when it comes to remaking its business and reducing emissions. It isn’t clear whether Shell will be receptive to the idea of separating into two companies. Third Point said in the letter the two sides have been in early discussions.

Shell has a market value of nearly $200 billion, according to S&P Capital IQ. Third Point, which says in the letter that Shell is trading at a discount to its peers despite having a better collection of businesses, estimates that a new company including Shell’s liquefied natural gas, renewables and marketing businesses could have the same enterprise value as the company in its current form. 

Shell said Wednesday that it “regularly reviews and evaluates the company’s strategy” and that it welcomes open dialogue with all shareholders, including Third Point. Shell also said its strategy had been endorsed by the majority of its shareholders in a vote earlier this year. Shell is set to report its third-quarter earnings Thursday.

The role of climate change in investment decisions has taken center stage this year, as many institutional investors pare holdings in pollution-heavy industries and activists urge companies to remake themselves faster. Upstart activist investor Engine No. 1 in May won seats on Exxon Mobil’s board with only a toehold position after arguing that the company was dragging its feet on preparing for a post-fossil-fuel world. 

That same month, a Dutch court ruled that Shell must cut its emissions by 45% by 2030. Shell has said it plans to appeal the decision.

The video below starts out with a clip from the famous Tobacco hearings of the 1990s, with executives lying thru their teeth. Still extraordinary.

7 Responses to “Get Popcorn, Oil Execs on Hot Seat Today”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    ” “It’s a terrible time to move away from fossil fuels when the economy is attempting to recover from a pandemic.””

    As if that had the slightest relevance to the point. Besides, people are driving less than at any point in the recent past – the pandemic would be a perfect time to “move away” from fossil fuels, as if such a thing could be done overnight.

    But you gotta hand it to Republicans, who are on the wrong side of most issues and who have not even a pretense of caring about the general public. Their messaging team makes that of the Democrats look like a bag of rocks. And it has been that way for decades. You would think they would wise up to this, but…. nope.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Cleek’s Law
      Today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today, updated daily.

      Example of usage:
      Republicans deciding resistance to common-sense steps to help limit COVID-19 spread are just a Democratic ploy is dumb, but Cleek’s Law requires it.

      • jimbills Says:

        Ah, good one, largely accurate. Found this about it:

        ‘That is, American political conservatism is inherently reactionary and takes positions, more often than not, which are simply rejections of policies liberals put forward.’

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I understand that it’s hard to wrap a narrative around the problem of AGW and catastrophic climate change, but the Tobacco Wars were a skirmish compared to the fight against global fossil fuel interests and embedded policy.

    As oppressive as the Chinese government is, I don’t see them as that much worse than the deadly disinformation campaigns of Murdoch Media, modern conservatives (Trumpistas) and Fossil Fuel doubtmongering. It’s one of life’s paradoxes that we may be depending on a fiat government—not beholden to massive corporate donations—to make the transition away from coal and oil by being the biggest adopters of RE/storage and EVs, while democracies dither through compromise, lack of will and bought politicians.

    • jimbills Says:

      Mmm….they are much worse in one way, though. The difference between U.S. Republican propaganda and Chinese propaganda is that one appeals to what half of the country already wants to believe, and the other is backed by governmental force if anyone dares to question it:
      https://www.businessinsider.com/how-china-deals-with-dissent-threats-family-arrests-2018-8#1-make-you-disappear-1

      That’s a living hell. Imagine posting something on this blog that goes against the policies of the U.S. government, then having your home barged into by police in the middle of the night because of it. That’s China.

      If by worse you mean causing AGW to be worse than it otherwise could be, then yes, Republican propaganda is much worse than Chinese propaganda. Still, China is doing its level best to even that score:

      Report: China emissions exceed all developed nations combined
      https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-57018837

      • J4Zonian Says:

        China has huge disadvantages: same area as US, 4 times the people, ⅓ the per capita income. It’s done remarkable things anyway, making it possible for global civilization to survive by massively deploying clean safe renewable energy, batteries, EVs, HSR, and more.

        The US, richest country in the world both in money and clean safe renewable resources, has squandered its chances to benefit itself and the world by leading the shift to a sustainable civilization. It now risks squandering the opportunity China has created by brute force lowering of RE prices.

        Lacking superpowers, repressive rulers always appeal to that part of their subjects that welcomes oppression—the Chinese just as much as Republicans and corporate Democrats. Details of techniques and specific mix of tendencies (aka symptoms) differ from government to government, but the actions are always in the service of narcissistic psychopathy and trauma-related addiction to domination—iow, Wetiko disease.

        I’m not arguing that China’s repression is OK, but I’m guessing Steven Donziger doesn’t agree that the force behind the corporate attempt to squash resistance here is significantly less oppressive than in China. Here, it’s getting worse, fast.


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