ExxonMobil denies climate research stories after attacks by U.S. senators

ExxonMobil Corporation, an American multinational oil and gas corporation, on Wednesday denied media allegations claiming the company was aware of the role of fossil fuels in global warming after several U.S. politicians asked for federal investigation to be launched.

Namely, following an eight-month investigation, InsideClimate News, a news organization covering clean energy, carbon energy, nuclear energy and environmental science, is claiming that ExxonMobil’s research confirmed fossil fuels’ role in global warming decades ago.

In addition, according to Los Angeles Times, the oil company’s scientists concluded in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s that climate change was real, would transform the Earth’s landscape and was driven by human activity — especially the burning of fossil fuels.

ExxonMobil said that these news reports prompted political attacks by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Sheldon Whitehouse and Representatives Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier.

On October 14, 2015, Lieu and DeSaulnier sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch regarding allegations that ExxonMobil intentionally hid the truth about the role of fossil fuels in influencing climate change. In their letter, Congressman Lieu and Congressman DeSaulnier requested an investigation by the Department of Justice into whether or not ExxonMobil has broken any laws.

Lieu and DeSaulnier compared ExxonMobil to cigarette companies that repeatedly denied harm from tobacco and spread uncertainty and misleading information to the public.

“In this case, Exxon scientists knew about fossil fuels causing global warming and Exxon took internal actions based on its knowledge of climate change. Yet Exxon funded and publicly engaged in a campaign to deceive the American people about the known risks of fossil fuels in causing climate change. If these allegations against Exxon are true, then Exxon’s actions were immoral. We request the DOJ to investigate whether ExxonMobil’s actions were also illegal,” Lieu and DeSaulnier said.

Sanders calls for probe

Furthermore, on October 20, Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate for President of the United States, asked the Department of Justice to investigate potential fraud by Exxon Mobil Corp. over conflicts in what it knew and what it told the public and shareholders about the cause of climate change.

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Sanders asked for a probe into what he called a “potential instance of corporate fraud” by the oil giant.

“Exxon Mobil knew the truth about fossil fuels and climate change and lied to protect their business model at the expense of the planet,” Sanders said.

In his letter, Sanders cited an investigation by InsideClimate News which suggested that ExxonMobil scientists conducted extensive research on climate change as early as 1977. The company’s scientists reportedly found that climate change is real and caused partly by carbon pollution from petroleum products.

“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,” Sanders wrote in the letter to the nation’s top law enforcement official.

“Based on available public information, it appears that Exxon knew its product was causing harm to the public, and spent millions of dollars to obfuscate the facts in the public discourse. The information that has come to light about Exxon’s past activities raises potentially serious concerns that should be investigated,” Sanders told the attorney general.

Sanders requested that the Department forms a taskforce by December 19, 2015, to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to launch an official inquiry against any actors and entities involved.

Whitehouse: It’s time to wake up

Furthermore, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, in his speech on October 20, 2015, titled “Time to Wake Up”, focused on the mounting evidence that ExxonMobil may have actively misled the American people about the realities of climate change.

Whitehouse said: “From their work, we now know that Exxon, for instance, knew about the effect of its carbon pollution as far back as the late 1970s, but ultimately chose to fund a massive misinformation campaign rather than tell the truth.”

ExxonMobil: Climate research stories inaccurate and misleading

As a response to media reports, ExxonMobil issued a statement denying the allegations calling them inaccurate and misleading.

“For nearly 40 years we have supported development of climate science in partnership with governments and academic institutions, and did and continue to do that work in an open and transparent way,” said Ken Cohen, vice president of public and government affairs.

“Activists deliberately cherry-picked statements attributed to various company employees to wrongly suggest definitive conclusions were reached decades ago by company researchers. These activists 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.

The company said that both InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times ignored evidence provided by the company of continuous and publicly available climate research that refuted their claims.

“The facts are that we identified the potential risks of climate change and have taken the issue very seriously,” said Cohen. “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 added: “ExxonMobil scientists continue to research and publish findings to improve understanding of climate system science as a basis for society’s response to climate change and 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.”

“We recognize that our past participation in broad coalitions that opposed ineffective climate policies subjects us to criticism by climate activist groups,” said Cohen. “We will continue to advocate for policies that reduce emissions while enabling economic growth.”

Furthermore, ExxonMobil said it joined other companies to provide initial and ongoing funding to create and support the MIT Joint Program on Climate Science and Policy and Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project, which has engaged scores of researchers, faculty and students and has resulted in hundreds of scientific publications on climate change and low carbon technologies.

Offshore Energy Today Staff