When I was first offered a job covering the oil and gas industry back in 1981, I had to stop and think – did I want to move out of mainstream journalism into so-called ‘trade’ reporting? After some consideration – actually, quite a short deliberation as I needed the job – I thought that if I was going to make this move, it had to be into one of three areas – food, water or, of course, energy. I have never regretted that decision until last week.
I hope that those who have been involved in the oil and gas sector will have watched the first part of the BBC documentary ‘Big Oil v The World’ last week. I am hardly a naive onlooker. I am well aware that oil companies are very good at spinning stories to their own advantage or to make others look bad, usually those who they are butting heads with, mostly environmentalists. but also residents from areas where new activities will have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing. And yet the sheer cynicism of Exxon’s management in the 1980’s and 1990’s to suppress the findings of its own research teams into the effect of burning fossil fuels on the environment is simply staggering. I am sure that Lee Raymond, former CEO of Exxon, knew exactly what he was doing. It is amazing that he has never been charged with contempt for misleading congressional committees in a big way.
The only person who was truly naive was Chuck Hagel, former Republican senator from Nebraska, or at least that is what he is now claiming. Hagel was a poster boy for the rightwing in Congress back three decades ago, although by today’s standards, he would probably considered a socialist. He took at face value – without apparently any questioning – presentations he was shown on the ‘overstating’ of the threat of global warming due to the use of fossil fuels. He looked straight into the camera and simply claimed that he was misled rather than that his campaigns were supported, ie funded, by the very people who had told me big porkies, that is fibs. The only people less convincing were the public relations specialists who were working for the Global Climate Coalition. This organisation was created to rebut and disprove climate science and whose membership included many industrial bodies, such as API, chemical associations, coal mining companies, manufacturers and the like, who saw that if the truth came out about the effect of fossil fuels on the environment, it would cost its members millions and maybe billions to change the way they did business. These PR folks simply threw their hands up in the air and claimed they had no idea what purpose their work was for. Bollocks!
There was at least once person who worked for a consultant and analyst who saw what was being done – ie the manipulation – with its research and data, but admitted that everyone simply buried their heads in the sand and got on with their work. Shocking.
The question now is will anyone admit they were wrong or deliberately misled so many in government. I doubt it. The words ‘mea culpa’ will never come out of their lips. I hope that Lee Raymond is having a happy retirement. But then maybe has one of those houses in California or Arizona which has burned to the ground or is threatened by drought or wild fires. That would be most appropriate.
I have to admit that there was always some inkling that the oil and gas sector did not have clean hands, but that it was and remains, for the time being, a necessary evil. Just how evil is now clear.
(NB: Second part of the documentary is on Thursday at 9pm.)