Photo: Steve Coll
In the new book Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, Steve Coll details the corporate dominance of Exxon/ExxonMobil over the past 20-plus years. Ever since March 23, 1989, when Exxon Valdez spilled upwards of 250,000 barrels of crude oil into Prince Williams Sound, Exxon has maintained billions in yearly profits despite losing its “equity position” in the Middle East.
At an industry meeting in Washington in the early 2000s, an executive asked ExxonMobil chairman Lee Raymond about building more refineries in inside the U.S. -- the corporation operated and licensed more gas stations overseas despite being headquartered in Irving, Texas -- to help protect the country against gasoline shortages.
Raymond replied, 'Why would I want to do that? ... I'm not a U.S. company and I don't make decisions based on what's good for the U.S.'
In the 1990s their families had lived near one another near Dallas, and they had hunted quail together.
As 'compatible personalities,' Raymond and Cheney shared in 'their ardent scepticism toward climate scientists and their opposition to all government regulation.'
In 1997 Raymond flew to Beijing and gave a speech arguing that evidence of man-made climate change was illusory and the Clinton administration's negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol would lead to 'slower economic growth, lost jobs, and a profound and unpleasant impact on the way we live.'
The No.1 through No.3 issues for ExxonMobil lobbyists on K Street were about taxation because even slight changes in the U.S. corporate tax code could cut into their yearly profits of more than $200 billion.
ExxonMobil Corporation PAC 'distributed about $700,000 during each two-year election cycle; during the 2000 and 2004 cycles, only 5 per cent of those contribution went to Democrats.'
The PAC gave $722,000 to candidates In the 2008 election cycle, with only 11 per cent going to Democrats.
All told, the plan worked.
Cheney 'gave away the environment' (in the words of then-EPA chief Christine Whitman) when he 'arranged for Bush to sign a letter to Congress repudiating his campaign position' that CO2 was a pollutant.
The Bush Administration helped protect ExxonMobil's interests in volatile places like Indonesia, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Chad as well as facilitated business-- in one case Vice President Dick Cheney called his contacts in the United Arab Emirates government and ExxonMobil subsequently won the exclusive right to negotiate -- because 'Oil, as the price increased, was a rising star' (in the words of former lieutenant colonel on Africa policy at the Department of defence).
Houston-based ExxonMobil scientists in charge of finding new deposits of oil and gas applied the Vail curve or Exxon curve in an attempt to predict how climate change 'might alter surface and ocean trends and lead the corporation to new oil finds. 'So don't believe for a minute that ExxonMobil doesn't think climate change is real,' said a former manager involved with the internal scientific review. 'They were using climate change as a source of insight into exploration.''
The bottom line was that 85 per cent of the world's energy came from extracting fossil fuels from the ground and burning them.
Around 2004 ExxonMobil analysts forecasted that 'worldwide energy demand would grow by about 35 per cent overall by 2030 and that demand for oil and gas liquids would rise by about 22 per cent, to 108 million barrels per day.'
As Barack Obama took office, ExxonMobil stayed 'firmly fixed in the 'Fuck you, no apologies, oil-is-here-to-stay mode,' according to one Obama advisor.
'As the global financial system teetered, ExxonMobil shuffled its billions to safe havens and waited for the economic storm to pass.'
By late 2009 ExxonMobil sat on $30 billion in cash and CEO Rex Tillerson bought leading shale and unconventional gas producer XTO for $41 billion.
In 2010 the company earned $30.5 billion in profits as the 'corporation had earned more profit than any publicly traded corporation in America in each year of Tillerson's reign so far.'
The spill response plans of BP and ExxonMobil were almost identical except that Exxon's contained a 44-page 'media management appendix,' which was 'four times longer than the plan for oil removal, and eight times longer than the plan for 'resource protection.''
Throughout 'Private Empire' Colls deftly explains how ExxonMobil has consistently controlled the discussion in the media and the courts about the harmful environmental impacts of oil spills, climate change, fracking and refining tar sands while simultaneously recognising (but not acknowledging) the established scientific facts.
In terms of tar sands, for example, oil companies undertook the practice with full knowledge that the manufacturing process was 'environmentally destructive, expensive, and energy intensive' while also requiring 'immense water use.'
The Bush administration invested $4 billion of U.S. taxpayer funds over six years to repair Iraq's oil infrastructure, but the country had nothing to show for it besides a sectarian war and crude production that remained below its pre-war peak at about 2.5 million barrels per day.
In late 2009 ExxonMobil -- who saw Iraq as 'the last of the easy oil' --reached a deal with Iraqi officials for exclusive access to develop at least 8.7 billion barrels in Iraq's West Qurna oil field. The U.S. embassy estimated that the deal would 'raise Iraq's oil production by 2 million barrels per day within six to eight years.'
In 2011, when ExxonMobil signed agreements concerning six Kurdish oil fields (against the wishes Baghdad's government and the Obama administration), Tillerson told State Department Officials: 'I had to do what was best for my shareholders.'
Because in the end, it's all about reserve replacement — that's why ExxonMobil has at least 734 million barrels in holdings in the Alberta oil sands
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