Big Oil Braced for Global Warming While It Fought Regulation

Big Oil Braced for Global Warming While It Fought Regulation

Postby admin » Sat Jan 02, 2016 11:30 pm

Big Oil Braced for Global Warming While It Fought Regulations
by Amy Lieberman and Susanne Rust
December 31, 2015

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.




Image

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.

An examination of oil industry records and interviews with current and former executives shows that Exxon’s two-pronged strategy was widespread within the industry during the 1990s and early 2000s.

As many of the world’s major oil companies — including Exxon, Mobil and Shell — joined a multimillion-dollar industry effort to stave off new regulations to address climate change, they were quietly safeguarding billion-dollar infrastructure projects from rising sea levels, warming temperatures and increasing storm severity.

From the North Sea to the Canadian Arctic, the companies were raising the decks of offshore platforms, protecting pipelines from increasing coastal erosion, and designing helipads, pipelines and roads in a warming and buckling Arctic.

The industry contends that the difference between its public relations effort and its internal decision-making was not a contradiction, but a strategy to protect its business from misguided federal regulations while taking into account the possibility that the climate change predictions were valid.

“During planning and construction of major engineering and infrastructure projects, it is standard practice to take into account many types of risks both short-term and long-term, likely and unlikely,” said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, which merged in 1999. “These risks would naturally include a range of environmental conditions, some of which could be associated with climate change.”

Image
The gas platform "Troll" is the world's largest concrete construction, standing 1,548.6 feet high. In this 1995 photo, a boat tows the platform from Stavanger in Western Norway to its position in the North Sea. (Associated Press)

By the late 1980s, calls by scientists and environmentalists to limit fossil fuel emissions were gaining traction. A growing scientific consensus was emerging, suggesting a link between climate change and carbon dioxide emissions, and a concern that those changes could cause global upheaval — from warming temperatures to rising sea levels and melting glaciers.

Governments across the globe took heed.

In 1988, Democratic Sen. Timothy Wirth of Colorado called a congressional hearing on the topic, and James Hansen, a NASA scientist, asserted “with 99% confidence” that global warming was occurring. That same year, the United Nations formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to examine its future impact.

Facing a growing environmental and political movement, a collection of energy companies, primarily from the coal sector, created the Global Climate Coalition to fight impending climate change regulations.

The group approached the American Petroleum Institute for funding and support in the early 1990s.

William O’Keefe, executive vice president of the Petroleum Institute at the time, delivered. The major oil companies, he recalled, decided “something has to be done.”

By 1993, he was sitting on the board, and within a few years, he was chairman. He brought with him support from the trade group, as well as individual trade group members, including Exxon, Mobil, Shell and others.

For the next 10 years, the coalition, whose annual revenue peaked at about $1.5 million before Kyoto, spent heavily on lobbying and public relations campaigns. As part of the effort, it distributed a video to hundreds of journalists, the White House and several Middle Eastern oil-producing countries suggesting that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were beneficial for crop production, and could be the solution to world hunger.

The coalition’s campaign emphasized the uncertainty surrounding climate change science, and warned of dire economic consequences for consumers should regulations on the industry be enacted.

Two recent papers published in the journal Nature Climate Change and in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that the coalition effort helped polarize public discourse on climate change.

“The ramifications of this multiyear effort by these funders are immensely important,” said Justin Farrell, a sociologist at Yale University and author of the studies, which looked at how the industry’s messaging affected the public debate. Their influence explains, he added, why the issue went from being bipartisan to polarizing.

O’Keefe said no one in the coalition denied the existence of global warming, but there was uncertainty about how well the models could project its future impact.

What coalition members felt certain about, he said, was that any government-mandated emission reductions would have “a clear negative impact,” including unemployment, higher energy prices and a drop in the U.S. standard of living.

When it came to their own investments, though, coalition members relied on scientific projections — from rising sea levels to thawing permafrost — to design and protect multibillion-dollar investments in pipelines, gas developments and offshore oil rigs.

O’Keefe, who is now chief executive of the George C. Marshall Institute, a conservative think tank that focuses on science and policy issues, contends that there was nothing inconsistent in the industry’s actions. “Companies always take into account a range of possible outcomes” before making billion-dollar investments, he said, and they didn’t “dismiss the potential of increased warming.”

Image
Shell Oil announced in 1989 that it was raising its "Troll" North Sea natural gas platform a meter or two in anticipation of climbing sea levels caused by climate change. (Morten Hval / Associated Press)

In 1989, before Shell Oil joined the Global Climate Coalition, the company announced it was redesigning a $3-billion North Sea natural gas platform that it had been developing for years.

The reason it gave: Sea levels were going to rise as a result of global warming.

The original design called for the platform to sit 30 meters above the ocean’s surface, but the company decided to raise it by a meter or two.

The company’s then-chief offshore engineer, Chris Graham, said rising sea levels and increasing wave heights were “really showing” during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the company was taking them seriously. A rash of storms and monster waves that had battered the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico during those years was particularly concerning, and engineers wondered whether climate change might be behind it.

“The tipoff to there being changes came from hurricanes,” said Bob Bea, another Shell offshore engineer at the time who also worked for the global engineering firm Bechtel. “Even back in those days ... hurricane intensities were changing.”

In 1994, representatives from the oil industry, insurance companies and several North American and European governments formed a quasi-governmental organization called Waves and Storms of the North Atlantic Group to determine whether climate change was behind the worsening weather.

The group concluded that if carbon dioxide levels continued to climb, there’d be “moderate increases of surges along the North Sea coast and of wave heights in the North Atlantic.”

“Even back in those days ... hurricane intensities were changing.”
— Bob Bea, former director of Shell research


That same year, industry engineers submitted a document to European authorities on the construction of the Europipe, a natural gas pipeline leading from a North Sea offshore platform to the German coastline, via the ecologically fragile Wadden Sea.

In it, the engineers noted that sea levels had risen over the last century, and suggested there could be a “considerable increase of the frequency of storms as a result of a climate change.” They concluded that although climate change was a “most uncertain parameter,” their pipeline designs should include protections against its impact.

The Europipe was jointly operated and owned by a group of companies, including Shell, Exxon, Conoco, Total and the biggest investor, Norway’s Statoil. They included climate change protections in their design specifications in part to convince German authorities to give them the go-ahead, according to Romke Bijker, a Dutch engineer who co-wrote the design specifications.

“We had to think at the time, what are the most important aspects we have to include if we look 50 years ahead,” he said.

By the mid-1990s, though, Shell had joined the Global Climate Coalition, and with its partners was publicly questioning the science behind climate change and casting doubt on its projected impact.

“There has been a great deal of speculation about a potential sea level rise,” the coalition said in a 1995 mission statement obtained by Greenpeace. But, the statement continued, “most scientists question the predictions of a dangerous melting of Greenland or Antarctic ice caps.”

In a section on the science of sea level projections, the document concluded that warmer air temperatures could actually “increase snowfall, decreasing the likelihood of sea level rise due to polar ice cap melting.”

Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell, declined recently to comment on the company’s actions two decades ago. However, he said Shell recognized the “importance of the climate challenge and the critical role energy has in determining quality of life for people across the world.”

Shell left the Global Climate Coalition in 1998 after the Kyoto agreement had been effectively derailed.

::

Image
The Rowan Gorilla V jackup oil rig is silhouetted in the evening light near Sable Island. (Peter Parsons / Herald)

During this period, Mobil Oil (now part of Exxon Mobil) considered climate change when designing its Sable gas development off Nova Scotia.

Big storms, monster waves and sea level rise were “all part of the discussion,” said Bassem Eid, author of the report. Eid’s firm, Maclaren Plansearch, was hired by Mobil to conduct the company’s environmental assessment for the Canadian government.

“I used the engineering standards of the day to incorporate potential impacts of Global Warming on sea-level rise,” Eid said in an email. “It was a hot topic in the early 1990s.”

Regulators and engineers at the time were beginning to incorporate such planning into other large infrastructure projects, including a bridge designed to span Northumberland Strait from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island. Climate change was discussed as project plans were assembled, according to regulators and contractors who worked on the project.

In public, though, the coalition partners, including Exxon’s CEO, Lee Raymond, said that the impact of climate change was uncertain, and that even if the models did prove to be accurate, the effects from warming were not imminent.

“It is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now,” Raymond told a 1997 gathering of energy executives at the World Petroleum Congress in Beijing.

: :

By the early 2000s, the Canadian government explicitly required companies to consider climate change in their operations.

Exxon Mobil’s Canadian affiliate, Imperial, addressed the effect that climate warming could have on its plan to build pipelines, gas processing and separation facilities, airstrips, helipads and barge landings in the Northwest Territory’s Mackenzie Delta. Its conclusion: very little.

In a 28-page report examining the effects of climate change on the project, Imperial concluded that although “uncertainty exists” and “climate change could affect the northern environment,” those changes were unlikely to have any meaningful impact.

However, at a public hearing on the project, an Imperial engineer told an audience that “the project generally accepts that climate warming is occurring and that’s generally included in the design calculations.” At other hearings, company engineers noted that Imperial had incorporated climate change projections into its plans.

During this same period, Exxon Mobil provided money to organizations questioning that science, including more than $200,000 in 2004 to the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, which supported the work of Willie Soon, a well-known climate change skeptic. Between 1998 and 2005, Exxon Mobil’s foundation provided more than $15 million to similar organizations.

“There is nothing inconsistent about Exxon Mobil managing potential environmental risks while speaking publicly about the limits of scientific knowledge and advocating for effective public policy approaches,” said Exxon Mobil’s spokesman, Jeffers, referring to all of the company’s projects at the time, including those in Canada. “Any suggestion to the contrary would be inaccurate and a distortion of the company’s position.”

::

When Shell left the Global Climate Coalition in 1998, it was followed by Ford Motor Co., Daimler Chrysler, Texaco, Southern Co. and General Motors. The organization disbanded in 2002.

O’Keefe, the coalition’s former chairman, said he had recommended it be shut down because members were “taking a lot of heat” for a job they had already accomplished — effectively quashing any regulation that would have limited fossil fuel use.

Today, all of the major oil companies publicly acknowledge the risks of climate change.

In the mid-2000s, the American Petroleum Industry began funding a project by the National Center for Atmospheric Research to better understand the relationship between climate change and hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2007, Exxon Mobil disclosed to shareholders — for the first time — the potential risks that climate change posed to its bottom line.

“What is most unfortunate,” said Farrell, the Yale sociologist, “is that polarization around climate change ... was manufactured by those whose financial and political interests were most threatened.” Even today, he added, that polarization has crippled any hopes for bipartisan policy solutions.

Meanwhile, the sea level along the Nova Scotia coast, as Mobil Oil’s engineers originally forecast, is indeed rising — and at rates higher than the global average.

Michael Phillis, Melissa Masako Hirsch, Elah Feder and Asaf Shalev contributed to this report.

Contact the reporters

About this story:


Over the last year, the Energy and Environmental Reporting Project at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, with the Los Angeles Times, has been researching the gap between Exxon Mobil’s public position and its internal planning on the issue of climate change. As part of that effort, reporters reviewed hundreds of documents housed in archives in Calgary’s Glenbow Museum and at the University of Texas. They also reviewed scientific journals and interviewed dozens of experts, including former Exxon Mobil employees. This is the third in a series of occasional articles.

The Energy and Environmental Reporting Project is supported by the Energy Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Family Fund, Lorana Sullivan Foundation and the Tellus Mater Foundation. The funders have no involvement in or influence over the articles produced by project fellows in collaboration with The Times.

Additional credits: Digital producer: Sean Greene. Lead photo caption: The Dartmouth ferry passes by the Rowan Gorilla V, left, as it and the Galaxy II sit in Halifax Harbor. (Eric Wynne / Herarld)
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 18073
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Big Oil Braced for Global Warming While It Fought Regula

Postby admin » Sat Jan 02, 2016 11:37 pm

What Exxon knew about the Earth's melting Arctic
By SARA JERVING, KATIE JENNINGS, MASAKO MELISSA HIRSCH AND SUSANNE RUST
OCT. 9, 2015

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.




Image

Back in 1990, as the debate over climate change was heating up, a dissident shareholder petitioned the board of Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil companies, imploring it to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its production plants and facilities.

The board’s response: Exxon had studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action. The company’s “examination of the issue supports the conclusions that the facts today and the projection of future effects are very unclear.”

Yet in the far northern regions of Canada’s Arctic frontier, researchers and engineers at Exxon and Imperial Oil were quietly incorporating climate change projections into the company’s planning and closely studying how to adapt the company’s Arctic operations to a warming planet.

Ken Croasdale, senior ice researcher for Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, was leading a Calgary-based team of researchers and engineers that was trying to determine how global warming could affect Exxon’s Arctic operations and its bottom line.

Image
The loss of sea ice due to climate change has taken a toll on wildlife. (Mike Lockhart / U.S. Geological Survey, Associated Press)

Image
Rapidly thawing permafrost is changing the landscape in Canada’s Northwest Territories. (Scott Zolkos / The Canadian Press)

“Certainly any major development with a life span of say 30-40 years will need to assess the impacts of potential global warming,” Croasdale told an engineering conference in 1991. “This is particularly true of Arctic and offshore projects in Canada, where warming will clearly affect sea ice, icebergs, permafrost and sea levels.”

Between 1986 and 1992, Croasdale’s team looked at both the positive and negative effects that a warming Arctic would have on oil operations, reporting its findings to Exxon headquarters in Houston and New Jersey.

The good news for Exxon, he told an audience of academics and government researchers in 1992, was that “potential global warming can only help lower exploration and development costs” in the Beaufort Sea.

But, he added, it also posed hazards, including higher sea levels and bigger waves, which could damage the company’s existing and future coastal and offshore infrastructure, including drilling platforms, artificial islands, processing plants and pump stations. And a thawing earth could be troublesome for those facilities as well as pipelines.

As Croasdale’s team was closely studying the impact of climate change on the company’s operations, Exxon and its worldwide affiliates were crafting a public policy position that sought to downplay the certainty of global warming.

The gulf between Exxon’s internal and external approach to climate change from the 1980s through the early 2000s was evident in a review of hundreds of internal documents, decades of peer-reviewed published material and dozens of interviews conducted by Columbia University’s Energy & Environmental Reporting Project and the Los Angeles Times.

Documents were obtained from the Imperial Oil collection at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum and the Exxon Mobil Historical Collection at the University of Texas at Austin’s Briscoe Center for American History.

“We considered climate change in a number of operational and planning issues,” said Brian Flannery, who was Exxon’s in-house climate science advisor from 1980 to 2011. In a recent interview, he described the company’s internal effort to study the effects of global warming as a competitive necessity: “If you don’t do it, and your competitors do, you’re at a loss.”

::

Image
Imperial Oil’s Dartmouth refinery in Halifax, Canada. Exxon Mobil owns about 70% of the company. (Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press, Associated Press)

The Arctic holds about one-third of the world’s untapped natural gas and roughly 13% of the planet’s undiscovered oil, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. More than three-quarters of Arctic deposits are offshore.

Imperial Oil, about 70% of which is owned by Exxon Mobil, began drilling in the frigid Arctic waters of the Canadian Beaufort Sea in the early 1970s. By the early 1990s, it had drilled two dozen exploratory wells.

The exploration was expensive, due to bitter temperatures, wicked winds and thick sea ice. And when a worldwide oil slump drove petroleum prices down in the late 1980s, the company began scaling back those efforts.

Changes in Arctic sea ice from 1984 to 2013

Image
Before: Arctic ice coverage in 1984. After: Receding coverage in 2013.

But with mounting evidence the planet was warming, company scientists, including Croasdale, wondered whether climate change might alter the economic equation. Could it make Arctic oil exploration and production easier and cheaper?

“The issue of CO2 emissions was certainly well-known at that time in the late 1980s,” Croasdale said in an interview.

Since the late 1970s and into the 1980s, Exxon had been at the forefront of climate change research, funding its own internal science as well as research from outside experts at Columbia University and MIT.

With company support, Croasdale spearheaded the company’s efforts to understand climate change’s effects on its Arctic operations. A company such as Exxon, he said, “should be a little bit ahead of the game trying to figure out what it was all about.”

Exxon Mobil describes its efforts in those years as standard operating procedure. “Our researchers considered a wide range of potential scenarios, of which potential climate change impacts such as rising sea levels was just one,” said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil.

The Arctic seemed an obvious region to study, Croasdale and other experts said, because it was likely to be most affected by global warming.

That reasoning was backed by models built by Exxon scientists, including Flannery, as well as Marty Hoffert, a New York University physicist. Their work, published in 1984, showed that global warming would be most pronounced near the poles.

Between 1986, when Croasdale took the reins of Imperial’s frontier research team, until 1992, when he left the company, his team of engineers and scientists used the global circulation models developed by the Canadian Climate Centre and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies to anticipate how climate change could affect a variety of operations in the Arctic.

These were the same models that — for the next two decades — Exxon’s executives publicly dismissed as unreliable and based on uncertain science. As Chief Executive Lee Raymond explained at an annual meeting in 1999, future climate “projections are based on completely unproven climate models, or, more often, on sheer speculation.”

One of the first areas the company looked at was how the Beaufort Sea could respond to a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which the models predicted would happen by 2050.

Greenhouse gases are rising “due to the burning of fossil fuels,” Croasdale told an audience of engineers at a conference in 1991. “Nobody disputes this fact,” he said, nor did anyone doubt those levels would double by the middle of the 21st century.

Using the models and data from a climate change report issued by Environment Canada, Canada’s environmental agency, the team concluded that the Beaufort Sea’s open water season — when drilling and exploration occurred — would lengthen from two months to three and possibly five months.

They were spot on.

Image
Seismic lines are used to detect natural gas and other underground deposits on the frozen Beaufort Sea. (Tom Cohen / Associated Press)

In the years following Croasdale’s conclusions, the Beaufort Sea has experienced some of the largest losses in sea ice in the Arctic and its open water season has increased significantly, according to Mark Serreze, a senior researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo.

For instance, in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, west of the Beaufort, the season has been extended by 79 days since 1979, Serreze said.

An extended open water season, Croasdale said in 1992, could potentially reduce exploratory drilling and construction costs by 30% to 50%.

Image
Members of the environmental group Greenpeace work to hang a banner protesting oil drilling at the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.’s Valdez, Alaska terminal, on August 5, 1991. (Carey Anderson / Associated Press)

He did not recommend making investment decisions based on those scenarios, because he believed the science was still uncertain. However, he advised the company to consider and incorporate potential “negative outcomes,” including a rise in the sea level, which could threaten onshore infrastructure; bigger waves, which could damage offshore drilling structures; and thawing permafrost, which could make the earth buckle and slide under buildings and pipelines.

::

The most pressing concerns for the company centered on a 540-mile pipeline that crossed the Northwest Territories into Alberta, its riverside processing facilities in the remote town of Norman Wells, and a proposed natural gas facility and pipeline in the Mackenzie River Delta, on the shores of the Beaufort Sea.

The company hired Stephen Lonergan, a Canadian geographer from McMaster University, to study the effect of climate change there.

Lonergan used several climate models in his analysis, including the NASA model. They all concluded that things would get warmer and wetter and that those effects “cannot be ignored,” he said in his report.

As a result, the company should expect “maintenance and repair costs to roads, pipelines and other engineering structures” to be sizable in the future, he wrote.

A warmer Arctic would threaten the stability of permafrost, he noted, potentially damaging the buildings, processing plants and pipelines that were built on the solid, frozen ground.

In addition, the company should expect more flooding along its riverside facilities, an earlier spring breakup of the ice pack, and more-severe summer storms.

But it was the increased variability and unpredictability of the weather that was going to be the company’s biggest challenge, he said.

Record-breaking droughts, floods and extreme heat — the worst-case scenarios — were now events that not only were likely to happen, but could occur at any time, making planning for such scenarios difficult, Lonergan warned the company in his report. Extreme temperatures and precipitation “should be of greatest concern,” he wrote, “both in terms of future design and … expected impacts.”

The fact that temperatures could rise above freezing on almost any day of the year got his superiors’ attention. That “was probably one of the biggest results of the study and that shocked a lot of people,” he said in a recent interview.

Lonergan recalled that his report came as somewhat of a disappointment to Imperial’s management, which wanted specific advice on what action it should take to protect its operations. After presenting his findings, he remembered, one engineer said: “Look, all I want to know is: Tell me what impact this is going to have on permafrost in Norman Wells and our pipelines.”

As it happened, J.F. “Derick” Nixon, a geotechnical engineer on Croasdale’s team, was studying that question.

He looked at historical temperature data and concluded Norman Wells could grow about 0.2 degrees warmer every year. How would that, he wondered, affect the frozen ground underneath buildings and pipelines?

“Although future structures may incorporate some consideration of climatic warming in their design,” he wrote in a technical paper delivered at a conference in Canada in 1991, “northern structures completed in the recent past do not have any allowance for climatic warming.” The result, he said, could be significant settling.

Nixon said the work was done in his spare time and not commissioned by the company. However, Imperial “was certainly aware of my work and the potential effects on their buildings.”

::

Exxon Mobil declined to respond to requests for comment on what steps it took as a result of its scientists’ warnings. According to Flannery, the company’s in-house climate expert, much of the work of shoring up support for the infrastructure was done as routine maintenance.

“You build it into your ongoing system and it becomes a part of what you do,” he said.

Today, as Exxon’s scientists predicted 25 years ago, Canada’s Northwest Territories has experienced some of the most dramatic effects of global warming. While the rest of the planet has seen an average increase of roughly 1.5 degrees in the last 100 years, the northern reaches of the province have warmed by 5.4 degrees and temperatures in central regions have increased by 3.6 degrees.

Since 2012, Exxon Mobil and Imperial have held the rights to more than 1 million acres in the Beaufort Sea, for which they bid $1.7 billion in a joint venture with BP. Although the companies have not begun drilling, they requested a lease extension until 2028 from the Canadian government a few months ago. Exxon Mobil declined to comment on its plans there.

Croasdale said the company could be “taking a gamble” the ice will break up soon, finally bringing about the day he predicted so long ago — when the costs would become low enough to make Arctic exploration economical.

Amy Lieberman and Elah Feder contributed to this report.

Image
Coast Guard crew members at work on a mission with NASA to study changing Arctic conditions. Exxon has used such studies to help plan future operations. (NASA / Kathryn Hansen / Rex Features)

Contact the reporters

About this story: Over the last year, the Energy and Environmental Reporting Project at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, with the Los Angeles Times, has been researching the gap between Exxon Mobil’s public position and its internal planning on the issue of climate change. As part of that effort, reporters reviewed hundreds of documents housed in archives in Calgary’s Glenbow Museum and at the University of Texas. They also reviewed scientific journals and interviewed dozens of experts, including former Exxon Mobil employees. This is the first in a series of occasional articles.

The Energy and Environmental Reporting Project is supported by the Energy Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Family Fund, Lorana Sullivan Foundation and the Tellus Mater Foundation. The funders have no involvement in or influence over the articles produced by project fellows in collaboration with The Times.

Additional credits: Digital producer: Evan Wagstaff. Lead photo caption: Ice in the Chukchi Sea breaks up in open water season, making oil exploration cheaper and easier.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 18073
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: Big Oil Braced for Global Warming While It Fought Regula

Postby admin » Sat Jan 02, 2016 11:48 pm

How Exxon went from leader to skeptic on climate change research
By KATIE JENNINGS, DINO GRANDONI AND SUSANNE RUST
OCT. 23, 2015

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.




Image

Throughout much of the 1980s, Exxon earned a public reputation as a pioneer in climate change research. It sponsored workshops, funded academic research and conducted its own high-tech experiments exploring the science behind global warming.

But by 1990, the company, in public, took a different posture.

While still funding select research, it poured millions into a campaign that questioned climate change. Over the next 15 years, it took out prominent ads in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, contending climate change science was murky and uncertain. And it argued regulations aimed at curbing global warming were ill-considered and premature.

How did one of the world’s largest oil companies, a leader in climate research, become one of its biggest public skeptics?

The answer, gleaned from a trove of archived company documents and the recollections of former employees, is that Exxon, now known as Exxon Mobil, feared a growing public consensus would lead to financially burdensome policies.

Duane LeVine, Exxon’s manager of science and strategy development, gave a primer to the company’s board of directors in 1989, noting that scientists generally agreed gases released by burning fossil fuels could raise global temperatures significantly by the middle of the 21st century — between 2.7 and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit — causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise, “with generally negative consequences.”

But he also made it clear the company was facing another threat as well — from public policymakers.

“Arguments that we can’t tolerate delay and must act now can lead to irreversible and costly Draconian steps,” LeVine said.

Heat waves and drought had scorched North America in 1988, fueling public concern that the planet was warming. Top government scientists testified in Congress that year, pushing for action.

Lawmakers at home and abroad began calling for reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels — the lifeblood of Exxon’s business. And, in 1988, the United Nations established a panel of scientists to study the issue and make policy recommendations.

Image
William W. George, left, a director on the Exxon Mobil board, talks with Brian Flannery before the Exxon Mobil annual shareholders meeting in Dallas. (Brian Harkin / Getty Images)

Brian Flannery, Exxon’s longtime in-house climate expert, outlined the threat in a note to his colleagues in an internal company newsletter in 1989.

Government and regulatory efforts to reduce the risk of climate change, Flannery wrote, would “alter profoundly the strategic direction of the energy industry.” And he warned that the impact on the company from those efforts “will come sooner … than from climate change itself.”

The company’s shift — from embracing the science of climate change to publicly questioning it — emerged from interviews with former and current Exxon Mobil employees, and a review of internal company documents by Columbia University’s Energy & Environmental Reporting Project and the Los Angeles Times.

The documents were obtained from the Exxon Mobil Historical Collection at the University of Texas at Austin’s Briscoe Center for American History. (Some of those documents have also been the subject of recent reports by InsideClimate News.)

In a recent interview, Flannery said the company was understandably concerned in the 1980s that government regulations being proposed were simplistic and drastic.

“I followed the climate negotiations, and they’d say things like, ‘We should reduce our emissions of CO2 by 10% by 1990.’ And you’re sitting there, and you say, ‘You guys haven’t a clue’” how difficult and disruptive that would be to global industry and the average consumer, he said.

“This isn’t like making low-fat yogurt,” he said.

In an internal draft memo from August 1988 titled “The Greenhouse Effect,” a company public affairs manager laid out what he called the “Exxon Position.” Toward the end of the document, after an analysis that noted scientific consensus on the role fossil fuels play in global warming, he wrote that the company should “Emphasize the uncertainty.”

Image
An internal Exxon memo from August 1988 titled “The Greenhouse Effect.”
EXXON POSITION: EMPHASIZE THE UNCERTAINTY IN SCIENTIFIC CONCLUSIONS REGARDING THE POTENTIAL ENHANCED GREENHOUSE EFFECT; URGE A BALANCED SCIENTIFIC APPROACH


::

In 1989, Exxon scientists and managers began briefing employees at all levels of the company on the policy implications of climate change.

LeVine made his presentation to the Exxon board as part of that effort, describing the known science and outlining the company’s position.

Other documents in the archives indicate Exxon scientists had been researching the topic for more than a decade — outfitting an oil tanker with carbon dioxide detectors and analyzers and building models to project how a doubling of the gas in the atmosphere would affect global temperatures.

“Data confirm that greenhouse gases are increasing in the atmosphere,” LeVine told the board, according to a copy of his presentation in the Exxon Mobil archive. “Fossil fuels contribute most of the CO2.”

LeVine argued that the growing push by lawmakers to address the problem was “rooted in the evolution of the just-completed Montreal Protocol.”

Two years earlier, the Montreal Protocol, which was signed by the United States and other countries and went intro effect in 1989, had called for phasing out chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, a group of chemicals responsible for thinning the ozone layer, which protects Earth from harmful solar radiation.

LeVine pointed out that CFCs had been increasing in the atmosphere, just as carbon dioxide levels were increasing. And just as in the case of greenhouse gases, scientific models predicted that CFCs could have serious future environmental effects.

After years of resistance, chemical companies like DuPont were forced to develop alternatives to CFCs.

CFCs might never have been regulated, LeVine noted, had it not been for one crucial event: the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica. That discovery, he said, was just the evidence environmentalists needed to rally the public.

The greenhouse gas issue, LeVine explained, had now reached a similar “critical event”: the hot and dry summer of 1988, which caused one of the worst droughts in U.S. history.

Image
Walking through his drought-damaged cornfield in Gilbertville, Iowa, in June 1988, Firmin Rottinghauf, 72, calls the conditions “the worst I've seen since ’36.” (John Gaps III / Associated Press)

At the time, a growing number of experts were “talking about what climate change could mean in the near-term and long-term future,” recalled Joseph Carlson, a now-retired public affairs manager for Exxon who helped draft the company’s position.

That summer, James Hansen, then a NASA climate scientist, told Congress global warming had already begun. His testimony, enhanced by the sweltering temperatures outside, prompted many Americans to begin taking the threat of a hotter planet seriously. Time magazine even put the Earth on its cover as “Planet of the Year.”

Image
Jim Hansen, background, works with student Josh Wilder at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York in 1997. (Jim Cooper / Associated Press)

Climate scientists, then and now, note that isolated heat waves and droughts are not necessarily the direct result of planetary warming. But, coming in the midst of that debate, that heat wave, which caused more than 5,000 deaths in the United States and cost nearly $40 billion, had a big impact.

So LeVine laid out a plan for the “Exxon Position”: In order to stop the momentum behind the issue, LeVine said Exxon should emphasize that doubt. Tell the public that more science is needed before regulatory action is taken, he argued, and emphasize the “costs and economics” of restricting carbon dioxide emissions.

Banning CFCs “pales by comparison to the difficulties of applying similar approaches” to carbon dioxide, an unavoidable byproduct of burning fossil fuels, which produce most of the world’s electricity, he said.

The company recently declined to comment on the 1989 board meeting. LeVine declined to comment for this story as well. Of the six living members of that board of directors, one declined to comment and five could not be reached.

Alan Jeffers, an Exxon Mobil spokesman, said: “Exxon Mobil has always advocated for good public policy that is based on sound science” and the archived documents reflect “a balanced approach to communicating the risk of climate change.” And he provided a list of more than 50 peer-reviewed publications showing the company continued investigating climate change science throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

::

By the early 1990s, Exxon began putting its new public relations strategy into practice.

At the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in 1990, the board of directors denounced a dissident shareholder proposal that called for Exxon to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, citing “great scientific uncertainties” about the environmental effects of global climate change. The board also criticized “drastic and precipitant proposals,” like those being considered by the United Nations.

In 1992, Exxon joined the Global Climate Coalition, an association of companies from industries linked to fossil fuels, which vigorously fought potential climate change regulations by emphasizing scientific uncertainty and underscoring the negative economic impact of such laws on consumers.

From 1998 to 2005, Exxon contributed almost $16 million to at least 43 organizations to wage a campaign raising questions about climate change, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental activist group. Greenpeace has estimated that Exxon spent more than $30 million in that effort.

Exxon’s executives also publicly questioned climate change science.

In 1997, Exxon’s chairman and chief executive, Lee Raymond, derided potential regulations on carbon emissions at a meeting of the World Petroleum Council in Beijing.

“Many people — politicians and the public alike — believe that global warming is a rock-solid certainty,” Raymond said. “But it's not.”

Image
An Exxon Mobil ad from the Washington Post in 2000.
Political cart before a scientific horse
by Exxon Mobil Corporation
© 2000 Exxon Mobil Corporation

The Clinton administration has released a draft overview of the purported potential effects of climate change on specific U.S. geographic regions and economic sectors. It's called the National Assessment Synthesis Report. Such an assessment would be of great value to policymakers and the public if it were possible to produce an accurate one. But as climate scientists will tell you, we currently have neither the knowledge nor the tools to do that.

The report bases many of its conclusions on two climate models developed in Canada and the United Kingdom. Climate models are evolving research tools but are not yet capable of predicting Earth's global climate and are currently unsuitable for making national or regional assessments. Professor Freeman J. Dyson of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study said it best at the March 1999 American Physical Society Centennial Meeting: "[T]he climate models on which so much effort is expended are unreliable ... [W]e must continue to warn the politicians and the public, don't believe the numbers just because they come out of a supercomputer."

Today's global models simply don't work at the regional level. For example, one of the report models says the Great Lakes' water level will be five feet lower; the other says it will be one foot higher. One model says most of the country will be wetter; the other says it will be drier. Even apparent agreement between the models in some places does not mean they are accurate.
The overview report was released even though most of the underlying reports and analyses are not yet available for scientific peer review or public comment. Important cautions and caveats from academic authorities are buried in detailed language that makes it easy for key scientific uncertainties to be missed and for conclusions to be misunderstood or misrepresented.

So why base the report on unreliable models, and why release it now? The report's language and logic appear designed to emphasize selective results to convince people that climate change will adversely impact their lives. In releasing this report, the administration seeks to gain support for its own policies, which could damage the economy and employment while accomplishing little in addressing potential long-term climate risks. The report is written as a political document, not an objective summary of the underlying science.

Climate change is an important public issue. That is why we support emphasis on further climate research, the development and encouragement of promising technology, the promotion of more efficient use of energy, the removal of barriers to innovation, and cost-benefit assessments of proposed policies.

Sound science and policy are at the core of this approach, which should never become the horse behind anyone's political cart.

ExxonMobil


In the U.S., Exxon took out newspaper ads disparaging federal research into the effect of climate change on different areas of the U.S.

“Today’s global models simply don’t work at a regional level,” read an Exxon Mobil ad in an August 2000 edition of the Washington Post. It went on: “That is why we support emphasis on further climate research.”

::

In 1997, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify a U.N. treaty committing states to reduce greenhouse gases because restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions “could result in serious harm to the United States economy” — an argument Exxon used repeatedly in its public-relations campaign.

Today, the effect of climate change is widely accepted. Average global temperatures have risen approximately 1.5 degrees since 1880, and the sea level has risen at a rate of 0.06 of an inch per year and is accelerating. Moreover, Arctic sea ice coverage is shrinking so drastically that last August, National Geographic had to redraw its atlas maps.

In 2007, the company, for the first time since the early 1980s, publicly conceded that climate change was occurring and that it was in large part the result of the burning of fossil fuels.

“There was a fork in the road. They had the opportunity to make a decision to go one way or the other way,” said Martin Hoffert, an Exxon consultant in the 1980s and professor emeritus of physics at New York University. “If Exxon had listened to its scientists and endorsed our research — and not started that campaign — it would have had, in my opinion, an enormous impact.”

Amy Lieberman, Sara Jerving and Masako Melissa Hirsch contributed to this report.

Image
A gasoline tanker delivers fuel to an Exxon station in Keller, Texas, in 2007. (Donna McWilliam / Associated Press)

Contact the reporters

About this story:


Over the last year, the Energy and Environmental Reporting Project at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, with the Los Angeles Times, has been researching the gap between Exxon Mobil’s public position and its internal planning on the issue of climate change. As part of that effort, reporters reviewed hundreds of documents housed in archives in Calgary’s Glenbow Museum and at the University of Texas. They also reviewed scientific journals and interviewed dozens of experts, including former Exxon Mobil employees. This is the second in a series of occasional articles.

The Energy and Environmental Reporting Project is supported by the Energy Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Family Fund, Lorana Sullivan Foundation and the Tellus Mater Foundation. The funders have no involvement in or influence over the articles produced by project fellows in collaboration with The Times.

Additional credits: Digital producer: Evan Wagstaff. Lead photo caption: The Baytown Exxon gas refinery, seen in 2006, produced more processed oil than any other facility in the United States. (Benjamin Lowy / Getty Images)
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 18073
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Return to Corporate Crime

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest