ExxonMobil is the world’s largest company, and the first company to ever make a billion dollars in a single day. It is a mighty powerhouse of the oil industry, with lobbyists to match. Those lobbyists are currently hard at work undermining Obama’s climate change bill, through organisations such as the American Petroleum Institute.
Exxon is notorious in the environmental movement for funding false and misleading science on climate change, with the website ExxonSecrets.com dedicated to unravelling its web of donations. Its corporate giving reports record a long list of donations to think tanks, research centres, and educational bodies with a history of climate scepticism. Second only to Enron, ExxonMobil was also one of the biggest funders of the Republican party during the Bush administration.
You may also remember the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. One of the worst environmental disasters in history, the spill polluted 11,00o square miles of Prince William Sound. Why bring up something that happened in 1989? Because it’s not over yet – a court ruled against Exxon and demanded a fine of $5 billion. After years of appeals and counter-appeals that went all the way to the Supreme Court, the company knocked that down to $507.5 million. In the latest twist, the company has been told to pay the interest on their fine, a further $480 million. Naturally they have appealed against this too, so ten years after the oil spill, the ordinary Alaskans who lost their livelihoods have yet to receive compensation and Exxon are still dodging their responsibilities.
More recently, Exxon were the targets of a major consumer boycott for their involvement in Alaskan oil. For years the oil companies have wanted to drill in the vast and untouched Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Over the years BP, Chevron and others decided not to press for drilling rights in the reserve, and by 2005 Exxon was the only major oil company still lobbying for access. As one investor put it at the time, ExxonMobil remains “far outside the mainstream on environmental issues”.
To come back to a current case, Exxon are the biggest corporate partners in Russia’s Sakhalin 1 oil project. As such, they are currently presiding over the extinction of the Western Gray Whale, which feeds in the area in the summer months. The whales, which are rare, are disturbed by seismic oil surveying. Since there are only 25 remaining female Gray Whales of breeding age, a petition requested that oil companies cease these activities during the summer season. Not an unreasonable request – Shell and Gazprom agreed to it. Exxon did not.
All of which begs the question – why on earth did Forbes Magazine name Exxon its ‘Green Company of the Year’?