#ExxonKnew : Deeply Flawed Methodology

I’m scrolling through Twitter, and a Promoted advertisement pops up in my timeline.

“Don’t be misled by news reports”, it reads, “WATCH to learn the real story behind #ExxonKnew”.

I double-checked. The account was @exxonmobil, and there was a big blue tick there, so it had to be valid. ExxonMobil was running an exposé.

I clicked the link, fascinated to learn what ExxonMobil had to say regarding the allegations made against them, that they had allegedly known about climate change decades ago, and yet had allegedly carried on with fossil fuel exploitation regardless, whilst allegedly keeping the facts from everyone.

I watched the little video, complete with clinky xylophone and tinkly pizzicato violin music, and it said,

‘GET THE FACTS about the manufactured allegations behind #ExxonKnew’

‘#ExxonKnew is a political campaign that aims to advance the special interests of environmental activists, plaintiff’s attorneys and politicians.’

‘The campaign is backed by wealthy funders and plaintiff’s attorneys who have…’

‘Placed inaccurate, “pay-for-play” news stories…’

‘Coordinated with sympathetic politicians to launch baseless investigations into ExxonMobil…’

‘And manufactured academic reports with deeply flawed methodology…’

It was at this point that I smelled a highly-whiskered public relations rodent.

For starters, there’s no good being scornful about their accusers being involved in politics. After all, ExxonMobil themselves seem to play quite a lot of politics. Their annual lobbying budget, as of 2019, was apparently $41 million.

As for the “special interests”, well, that stands to reason. Quite a lot of people have a special interest in curbing climate change these days, some of them even have businesses in the sector. ExxonMobil is being a little hypocritical, perhaps, as they seem to be one big “special interest” themselves.

As for the #ExxonKnew campaign having “wealthy funders”, ExxonMobil’s campaign against #ExxonKnew is probably being backed by the enormous capital of ExxonMobil.

And as for the accusation of “deeply flawed methodology”, well, that’s surely just opinion from a major oil and gas company ?

The video carried on :-

“To date the campaign has failed to achieve any substantive results or advance constructive dialogue on climate change.”

“ExxonMobil on Climate : THE FACTS”

“ExxonMobil is committed to reducing the risks posed by climate change.”

“We support the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.”

“Through our membership in the Climate Leader Council, we are working with the top business, environmental and economic minds to advocate for a revenue-neutral carbon tax.”

“ExxonMobil has supported such a tax for over a decade.”

“We have partnered with 13 of the world’s largest oil and gas producers as part of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative to pursue lower-emission technologies.”

“Since 2000, we have invested more than $9 billion to develop lower-emissions energy solutions, including carbon capture and storage, cogeneration, methane emissions reduction and algae-based biofuels.”

“And in agreement with the U.S. National Labs we are investing up to $100 million to research and advance lower-emissions technologies.”

Whoa there ! Such a lot of money ! But wait, how does this compare to annual investment in other things ? And how does ExxonMobil compare to other oil and gas companies ?

The video captions continue :-

“We have forged partnerships with more than 80 universities to promote and share emerging scientific research.”

Hang on a minute ! Partnerships with universities ? Producing academic research ? Doesn’t that stand the risk of results being just a little bit biased ?

“And support cost-effective federal regulations of methane emissions along with setting voluntary reduction efforts.”

“ExxonMobil”

“For more information visit : www.exxonmobil.com/getthefacts”

It seems ExxonMobil had the facts about global warming and the contribution from fossil fuel combustion around about 50 years ago. If so, they should have acted sooner to effect a low carbon transition, and they should now be investing much, much more in the solutions.

Towards the end of 2018, in their report, “Beyond the Cycle : Which oil and gas companies are ready for the low-carbon transition”, the Carbon Disclosure Project found that, as reported by Environmental Leader’s Alyssa Danigelis, “This year the global oil and gas industry is only investing 1.3% of total capital expenditure in low carbon assets […] European oil and gas majors were slightly ahead at 7%, but overall this represents a drop in the bucket compared to the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

It seems ExxonMobil are not spending nearly enough of their capital on low emissions technologies.

Their approach, to push for a carbon tax, risks shoving the issue of climate action into the political long grass, where change will take decades to coalesce. This is almost certainly a delaying tactic on their part. If they were serious, surely they would be taking corporate action right now, instead of making climate action somebody else’s fiscal or financial responsibility ?

ExxonMobil’s investment in carbon capture is minuscule compared to their annual capital expenditure on oil and gas production. And their carbon capture and storage uses carbon dioxide to help pump more petroleum oil. How do they dare to proudly show it off ?

Their involvement with universities clearly advances their own special interests; their paid-for research is not solely concerned with low emissions technologies.

Their contribution to all the international and national energy fora and colloquia could be said to be all about them, and lobbying for their own corporate survival.

What they say just doesn’t wash, in my opinion.

ExxonMobil’s rebuttal, to use their own accusation, could be said to be one giant “deeply flawed methodology”.