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. Photo: Morten Hval / Associated Press

By Amy Lieberman and Susanne Rust
31 December 2015

(Los Angeles Times) – 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. [more]

Big Oil braced for global warming while it fought regulations

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