The Climate Deception Dossiers?

I'm not sure where this comes from (David Hone reminded me of it) but the UCS has The Climate Deception Dossiers which breathlessly tells us Internal fossil fuel industry memos reveal decades of disinformation—a deliberate campaign to deceive the public that continues even today. This is news? Its not news to me. But wait, there's UPDATE (July 9, 2015): As this report went to press, a newly discovered email from a former Exxon employee revealed that the company was already factoring climate change into decisions about new fossil fuel extraction as early as 1981 which leads to Former Exxon Employee Says Company Considered Climate Risks as Early as 1981. Which tells us

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (July 8, 2015)—Exxon employees considered how climate change should factor into decisions about new fossil fuel extraction as early as 1981... Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia...

and this leads to the exciting memo which is from a guy called Lenny Bernstein, and says things like Corporations are interested in environmental impacts only to the extent that they affect profits, either current or future. They may take what appears to be altruistic positions to improve their public image, but the assumption underlying those actions is that they will increase future profits. ExxonMobil is an interesting case in point. I think that's correct (I mean; as a description of their behaviour; though notice that statement is from a former Exxon guy and, I presume, doesn't represent Exxon's formal position).

Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia. This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70% CO2. That CO2 would have to be separated to make the natural gas usable... the usual practice was to vent the CO2 to the atmosphere... if Natuna were developed and its CO2 vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about 1% of projected global CO2 emissions... In the 1980s, Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue. Natural resource companies ‐ oil, coal, minerals ‐ have to make investments that have lifetimes of 50‐100 years. Whatever their public stance, internally they make very careful assessments of the potential for regulation, including the scientific basis for those regulations. Exxon NEVER denied the potential for humans to impact the climate system. It did question ‐ legitimately, in my opinion ‐ the validity of some of the science... Having spent twenty years working for Exxon and ten working for Mobil, I know that much of that ethical behavior comes from a business calculation that it is cheaper in the long run to be ethical than unethical. Safety is the clearest example of this. ExxonMobil knows all too well the cost of poor safety practices. The Exxon Valdez is the most public, but far from the only, example of the high cost of unsafe operations. The value of good environmental practices are more subtle, but a facility that does a good job of controlling emission and waste is a well run facility, that is probably maximizing profit.

This was spun by various, including the Graun, as Exxon knew of climate change in 1981, email says – but it funded deniers for 27 more years. A newly unearthed missive from Lenny Bernstein, a climate expert with the oil firm for 30 years, shows concerns over high presence of carbon dioxide in enormous gas field in south-east Asia factored into decision not to tap it.

Anyway, the point is, I don't understand any of this. Exxon had an interest in a gas field, it would have been troublesome to exploit, partly for CO2-GW-related reasons, so they backed off. But that's not a bad thing; if anything, its a good thing. As to funding the deniers, meh, that's old news.

Curiously, in all this they haven't got a moment to spare for what did happen to the Natuna gas field. says (via the internet archive)

A 1980, 50-50 venture in Natuna D-Alpha area, East Natuna, between Pertamina (Indonesia's state-owned petroleum company) and Exxon Mobil Corp of the US, didn't result in production. The 71% CO2 content made gas extraction from the huge 1.3-trillion-cubic-metre area expensive, and development difficult. Despite Exxon's $400m and Pertamina's $60m investments, the Indonesian Government terminated its contract with Exxon in 2007 leaving Pertamina in charge. East Natuna has been little explored over the last 15 years, mainly due to political disruption, its remoteness, and because discoveries such as Exxon's have proved uneconomic to develop.

So it kinda looks to me as though no-one else has touched it either. So this isn't even Exxon-specific.


More like this

Yes, there is hype - it's everywhere now. But I found it a useful collection, though most is pretty old.

On old stuff, though, I noted a remark (inter alia) by Paul Matthews:
"the 1970s ice age scare (yes, it did happen, despite the attempts of some to write it out of history)"

So I looked up the cited Lamb 1974, which I have seen similarly used. No ice age scare, just comparison with downturns 200 and 400 years ago, which did not lead to ice age. And Lamb's final conclusion:

"The question of whether a lasting increase of glaciation and permanent shift of the climatic belts results from any given one of these episodes must depend critically on the radiation available during the recovery phase of the 200-year and other, short-term fluctuations. An influence which may be expected to tip the balance rather more towards warming - and possibly inconveniently rapid warming - in the next few centuries is the increasing output of carbon dioxide and artificially generated heat by Man (MITCHELL 1972)."

[Thanks for that link. People do "use" Lamb (I have one from 1982 in my collection) by really they always abuse him (see-also Adoration of the Lamb). I find it weird the way the denialists link to stuff like Lamb with a simple "it did happen" as though that were adequate and convincing analysis. At least, if they're trying to talk outside the choir -W]

By Nick Stokes (not verified) on 18 Jul 2015 #permalink

Reminded that CO2 is a component of natural gas widely, (71% seems high) and I have no idea what they do with it when they do decide to use the production. Is it priced to sell?

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 18 Jul 2015 #permalink

There are 'natural gas ' feilds in which the gas is narly pure CO2.

Before and during World War II one in New Mexico was tapped and a CO2 pipeline constructed to furnish cheap dry ice refrigeration for frozen food ships servng Allied forces in the war in the Paciifc.

I don't know the present status of the fossil CO2 fields .

By Russell Seitz (not verified) on 19 Jul 2015 #permalink

It does make a difference whether Exxon is or was in denial or is lying. Calling someone a denier is more friendly than calling someone a liar.

By Victor Venema … (not verified) on 19 Jul 2015 #permalink

I did some Googling after I posted. It seems CO2 release from methane separation is small in the USA. I don't know about the rest of the world. I also found some claims that CO2 in all natural gas processing is a small percentage of total emissions.
It's complicated. I don't know how much is vented in preparation of chemical absorbtives made elsewhere.
I don't know about the rest of the world and whether some countries allow direct venting of CO2, or whether reinjection is just as integral (and therefore a good thing) as anywhere else.
I did get the idea that sequestration in the earth still seems not impossible and not terribly expensive if we were committed. ("not terribly expensive" is shamefully squishy, yes.)

[Sequestration is probably cheap enough that a modest carbon tax would permit it, though I admit I'm pretty ignorant of the economics. That does tell you something vaguely interesting though, if true: that a carbon tax would lead to "non useful" work, where "non useful" is a rather bad phrase meaning doing nothing except keep CO2 levels down whilst absorbing money aka effort. So that people (errm, like me) who tend to believe that a carbon tax would just redirect economic effort, are at least partly wrong -W]

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 19 Jul 2015 #permalink

So all trash disposal expense is non useful work. I suppose the petroleum engineer deciding which production enhancement techniques to use on a field would end up with different options if someone paid him to use their junk CO2. Sort of like the city doesn't have to pay as much as landfill to get rid of bulk plastic if they pay someone to recycle it.

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 19 Jul 2015 #permalink

Natural gas from different fields is incredibly varied, and that includes CO2, He, ethane etc. Part of the art of making a profit on them is to strip out the higher value components and send the methane merrily on its way.

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 20 Jul 2015 #permalink

I recall Gavin pointing out many years ago that, though the oil companies were funding disinformation about CO2 and climate change, they also employed their own climate scientists to model the paleo conditions under which sedimentary basins developed, so they could figure out where the continents had drifted while petroleum formed and salt domes and such strata were laid down over top of the stuff to hold it in place.

Helped with planning where to do the drilling, you see

Six impossible things before breakfast -- it's a business model.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 21 Jul 2015 #permalink

"Oil companies funding disinformation" (refer preceding comment) is a warmist mythology. Who gets such funding? Nobody, it seems. Yet the mythology of "billions" of such dollars continues. Were that it were true -- I could use some of that money.

[Oil companies funding disinformation is a reality, but one you choose to... deny. And why would anyone fund an anon with no credibility to say things that you'll say for free? -W]

Exxon did some of the pioneering work on palaeo-sea levels in the 1970s, which work was important for predicting sedimentary environments on continental margins and so on.

There is often CO2 in natural gas, especially in areas where there is or was some volcanic activity. In BC, the Horn River Basin gas is about 12% CO2 and is vented to the atmosphere without being subjected to BC's $30/tonne carbon tax, which is a disgrace.…

I'm with Wm in not really getting the outrage about Exxon. Yes, we know that Exxon et al funded some climate denial for years and they still to this day lobby against mitigation policies. That's deplorable, but all too well known.

That a company could foresee economic risks for venting huge quantities of CO2 to the atmosphere is not surprising, whether or not there was a corporate policy that said that AGW was a real environmental risk or not. It's in the nature of sociopathic corporations to do one thing for commercial reasons while believing another for technical reasons. The opinions of individual employees (except maybe for the CEO) count for little. Anyone who has worked in a large company knows that the way to get something done (or not done) is not to appeal to ethical values, but rather to focus on the financial costs, damage to the company's reputation or exposure to liability.

By Andy Skuce (not verified) on 22 Jul 2015 #permalink

NZ Dick.

I believe that Heartland spread some of its largess around your corner of the planet for exactly this purpose - you must have been deaf, blind and/or alseep when they did so.

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 24 Jul 2015 #permalink

Oh, I do apologise.

I'm not very good with names...

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 24 Jul 2015 #permalink

Once again, Doctor Connolley, I need to pick your brains.
There was an article on the IOL website. The original was once again from the Daily Fail, written by Colin Fernandez.…
"Hundreds of doom-laden studies about the effects of climate change on the Earth’s oceans may be flawed and unreliable, a major review has found."
The article sounds dodgy, but I don't have the technical knowledge to refute it.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 07 Aug 2015 #permalink

Julian Frost:

"The article sounds dodgy, but I don’t have the technical knowledge to refute it."

Julian, many of us, even if we have advanced scientific training in some field, don't have the expertise in climate science to refute particular specious AGW-denier claims. When we lack sufficient scientific literacy, we may be able to rely on our scientific meta-literacy to evaluate the credibility of sources:

We scientists rely upon a hierarchy of reliability. We know that a talking head is less reliable than a press release. We know that a press release is less reliable than a paper. We know that an ordinary peer-reviewed paper is less reliable than a review article. And so on, all the way up to a National Academy report. If we’re equipped with knowledge of this hierarchy of reliability, we can generally do a good job navigating through an unfamiliar field, even if we have very little prior technical knowledge in that field.

The website you linked to has a "newspaper" format, immediately placing it pretty low in J-NG's hierarchy of reliability. The article you linked raises several red flags for me, from the sensational headline to the use of loaded adjectives like "doom-laden". In any case, that not all peer-reviewed science meets the highest standards rigor isn't news. The actual news is in the last sentence:

"The authors, commenting in Nature, say the 'overwhelming evidence' of ocean acidifiation still stands."

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 07 Aug 2015 #permalink

@Mal Adapted: so basically, even though there were methodological issues with several studies, ocean acidification is genuine and needs to be addressed.

[A better report on the review is in Nature:…. A useful quote is: Cornwall says that the “overwhelming evidence” from such studies of the negative effects of ocean acidification still stands. For example, more-acidic waters slow the growth and worsen the health of many species that build structures such as shells from calcium carbonate. But the pair’s discovery that many of the experiments are problematic makes it difficult to assess accurately the magnitude of effects of ocean acidification, and to combine results from individual experiments to build overall predictions for how the ecosystem as a whole will behave, he says -W]

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 07 Aug 2015 #permalink

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am a student at the Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research (IPMZ) University of Zurich. As part of my Master's thesis, I am conducting a survey on how climate change bloggers’ perceive themselves and their role in the climate change debate.

If you blog about climate change, I would like to ask you to participate in my survey. Your contribution will help us to gain valuable insights into the field of climate change blogging.

Link to the survey:

The questionnaire will take about 7 minutes to fill out.
There are no right or wrong answers. I am interested in your personal opinion.
The study does not serve any commercial purpose. The data provided is solely for the purpose of scientific analysis and is evaluated anonymously.
The questionnaire can be filled out in English and German.
Please feel free to contact me if there are further questions or comments.

Angela Landolt B.A.

By Angela Landolt (not verified) on 14 Sep 2015 #permalink