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It’s easy enough to dismiss oil and gas company claims of sustainability as out of hand, but what happens when a respected outside source asserts green claims? That’s what happened recently with ExxonMobil, which was named the Green Company of the Year in this month’s issue of Forbes Magazine. The business magazine claims that ExxonMobil’s big liquified natural gas investments in Qatar save millions of gallons of oil from being burned and stop millions of tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the air. But is that enough to make ExxonMobil a truly green company?
It’s true that natural gas (AKA methane) is cleaner than both oil and coal. As the Forbes article states, “Per unit of energy delivered, methane releases 40% to 50% less carbon dioxide than coal and a quarter less than petroleum. Coal fuels half of U.S. power generation. Replacing all of it with methane would cut CO2 emissions by 1 billion tons a year. Could windmills come close to that in reducing greenhouse gases? Not easily.” So yes, ExxonMobil deserves kudos for building plants in Qatar that will soon pump out 1.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas annually, but natural gas isn’t a renewable resource. Just like with oil, the liquid fuel will hit a peak point of production, and after that less and less natural gas can be produced each year. It’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem. But there’s more to the Exxon story than just methane.
Greenpeace has run a long-standing campaign against the oil company dubbed ExxonSecrets, and some of their findings are downright shameful. As recently as this May, Exxon has been accused of directly funding junk scientists that claim global warming is a farce. Last year, NASA scientist James Hansen proclaimed that CEO’s (like Exxon’s Rex Tillerson) who fund these junk scientists “should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”
At the same time, though, Exxon has begun a campaign to invest more in renewable technology. It’s a campaign that is obviously being financed for financial reasons — after all, Tillerson has in the past referred to biofuels as “moonshine“. But that hasn’t stopped Exxon from partnering with Synthetic Genomics for a $600 million investment in the production of biofuel from algae. Exxon also recently announced plans to provide materials that are instrumental in the production of the Maya 300 electric car’s lithium-ion batteries.
Again, these are financially motivated decisions made by a company that operates with the idea in mind that the world won’t move past coal, natural gas, and crude oil for at least 100 years. Algae fuel and lithium-ion materials are simply the company’s attempt at hedging its bets.
Photo by thetruthabout
Is It Green?
Since Exxon is a company driven purely by profit, it will never incorporate sustainability into the way it does business. It will always just be a byproduct of money-making schemes. And as long as profits from Exxon’s more sustainably-minded endeavors (like algae fuel) are funneled into climate change-denying science, Exxon doesn’t come even close to deserving titles like “Green Company of the Year”.
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