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The Guardian: We have a bit of a PR problem on global warming, ExxonMobil admits

Terry Macalister
Tuesday January 9, 2007

ExxonMobil has promised investors it will “soften” its public image in an attempt to rid itself of a reputation as the green campaigners’ public enemy number one.

However, the chairman and chief executive, Rex Tillerson, made clear to a select group of Wall Street fund managers and analysts that the oil company would not be changing its position on global warming, it would just try to explain it better.

The world’s biggest publicly quoted oil company has funded research that took a sceptical line on global warming and faces a long-running boycott campaign against its Esso petrol brand by environmental activists in Europe. A pugnacious personal style and uncompromising stance on warming by its former boss, Lee Raymond, left it compared unfavourably with Shell and BP, which have courted the green lobby.

Mr Tillerson, who took over in January 2006, is said to have told the small meeting of analysts and major investors that the company accepted it had a public relations problem. “We recognise that we need to soften our public image. It is something we are working on,” he told them, according to one of the analysts.

The oil group has not only upset environmentalists, it has also crossed swords with the Royal Society in Britain which accused it of misrepresenting the science of climate change. Exxon said the Royal Society had “inaccurately and unfairly” depicted it as a climate change sceptic. The company told the Guardian it was determined not to change its position.”Greenhouse gas emissions are one of the factors that contribute to climate change. This is an extremely complex issue but even with the scientific uncertainties, the risk [of global warming] is so great that it justifies taking action,” the company said.

A note by Fadel Gheit, oil analyst at the Oppenheimer brokerage in New York, said the company “has clearly taken a much less adversial and more reconciliatory position on key environmental issues”.

But the note added: “Although the tone has changed, the substance remains the same.” Exxon has spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding research, but has not emulated companies such as Shell by moving into renewable energy. Shell wants to build the world’s biggest offshore wind farm off the Kent coast.

BP plans to construct hydrogen plants in Scotland and California and has set up an alternative energy division. It has also taken out a series of huge adverts to trumpet its green credentials.

But while BP and Shell have been through a torrid time on the oil front – due to US pipeline problems and a reserves scandal – their rival Exxon has continued to produce record profits.The Texas-based group now has cash balances of more than $30bn (£15.6bn) but Mr Tillerson said there was no need for it to to make any acquisitions unless they offered very big extra advantages.

Exxon has maintained better relations with host governments than has Shell or BP. Exxon claims to have encountered no problems with its Sakhalin-1 project in eastern Russia, unlike Shell.,,1985715,00.html and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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