At 12.04am on 24 March 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hit rocks
in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into pristine
waters and devastating both wildlife and the local economy.
Ten years on, Exxon (represented in the UK by Esso) has not learned its
lesson. As the area still struggles to recover from the spill, new research
shows that such a disaster could happen again. Elsewhere, Exxon's activities
in countries around the globe are threatening ecosystems and local communities.
What's more, Exxon is leading the oil industry's opposition to international
climate change treaties that could ensure a secure future for our global environment
Exxon's merger with Mobil, which also has a poor environmental and human rights record, will create the world's third largest corporation.
Worth: $230 billion -- greater than the GDPs of Austria or Sweden and 144
times that of Chad.
Combined annual revenue: $193.1 billion (1997)
Oil and gas reserves: approx. 21 billion barrels -- enough to satisfy the
world's energy needs for over a year)
Operations: Exxon (and its affiliates Esso) trade in over 100 countries,
Mobil in more than 125.
Profits: In 1997 Exxon made a record profit, the largest of any global corporation,
of $US8.5 billion.
History: The merger re-unites two parts of Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company,
established in 1882.
Personnel: Chairman, CEO and President: Lee R Raymond (Exxon); Vice Chairman:
Lucio A Noto (Mobil).
Head Office: Irving, Texas, USA
The Exxon Valdez disaster killed more wildlife than any other environmental disaster in American history, including sea otters, harbour seals, up to 22 killer whales and half a million birds. The oil covered 10,000 square miles, affecting national parks, national wildlife refuges and important fish breeding habitats.
Ten years after the spill, the area is still suffering, according to the Alaska Wilderness League. To the naked eye, Prince William Sound may now appear "normal". But just beneath the surface, the oil remains (only 3-4% was ever cleaned-up). Important food sources, such as Pacific herring and mussel beds, are still affected, with severe impacts on predators such as seabirds, seals and Stellar sea lions. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has recently reported that only two out of 28 injured species have recovered. Wildlife population declines continue for killer whales, harbour seals, harlequin ducks, common loons and other bird species. Native communities were still affected and commercial fishermen have suffered greatly, with income still below that of 1989.
Conservationists are warning that such a disaster could happen again. Oil
is still being shipped in outdated, single-hull tankers and the ageing Trans-Alaska
Pipeline is leaking. Two new proposals pose further risks. BP is planning
an under-sea pipeline, making leaks difficult to detect and clean up, and
creating a one in 4 chance of a major spill, say experts. Exxon and three
other oil companies also want to erect hundreds of miles of pipelines, roads,
and industrial facilities in the heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,
home to polar bears, wolves and millions of birds, and threatening important
calving grounds for thousands of caribou.
As global temperatures climb and the world is ravaged by severe weather linked
to climate change, Exxon and Mobil are leading the struggle by industry to
block international legislation to cut greenhouse gases. Through lobby groups
such as the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) and the American Petroleum Institute
(API), these two companies are questioning the science of climate change and
claiming that cutting pollution will cripple the US economy.
Exxon and Mobil were two of the most aggressive lobbyists opposing the 1997
Kyoto Protocol, an historic agreement to cut greenhouse gases. In the run-up
to the Kyoto summit , they contributed to a $US 13 million advertising campaign
in the USA aimed at preventing agreement on targets for cuts in emissions.
Mobil placed ads in major newspapers to question climate science. They failed
to prevent the Kyoto Protocol; they are now opposing ratification of it and
trying to make governments go back on this historic deal.
At the latest round of climate talks, Exxon (through the US Business Round
Table) pushed for a deal that would benefit US business at the expense of
poorer nations. Exxon's position was echoed by Republican politicians opposing
Exxon and Mobil question climate science -- even though 160 nations have signed the Kyoto Protocol and over 2500 top scientists say that human activities could be affecting climate. Exxon was behind plans, exposed in 1998, for a $US6 million PR campaign to undermine
climate science. Exxon and Mobil spread scare stories about the treaty's
damaging impacts on jobs, even though leading economists claim cutting greenhouse
gases could bring economic benefits. The Exxon Mobil merger will reportedly
result in 9,000 job losses.
Neither Exxon nor Mobil are investing significantly in renewable energy. Shell and BP Amoco, having left the GCC and supported action on climate change, have set up renewables programmes. Exxon and Mobil stubbornly remain fossil fuel companies. Exxon has even urged developing countries to fight limits on emissions and increase fossil fuel use, while at the same time insisting these same countries be included in climate legislation.
This year, Exxon is trying to stop its shareholders debating a proposal
at its AGM for an independent review of how global warming will affect the
company. So much for public debate.
* "We believe that the current state of science on this subject is too uncertain to justify the drastic and damaging steps that were agreed on in Kyoto ... we would have to stop all driving in the US or close all electric power plants or shut down every industry" --
RE Wilhelm, Senior VP of Exxon, 1998
* The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven, but when the possibility cannot be discounted ... We in BP have reached that point -- John Browne, Chief Executive of BP, 1997
* I hope the governments of this region will work with us to resist [climate] policies that could strangle economic growth -- Lee Raymond, Chief Executive of Exxon, Beijing, 1997.
* The US would be able to reduce its emissions to slow global warming without damaging the economy -- statement by 2000 economists, 1997.
* We in Bangladesh are experiencing the impacts of climate change first hand. Last year's floods brought death and devastation to our country and people. We hold companies like Exxon and Mobil responsible! -- Chowdhury M F, Friends of the Earth Bangladesh
Oil exploration threatens old growth frontier forests in 22 countries, coral reefs in 38 countries and mangroves in 46 countries. Indigenous peoples on every continent, including at least 8 isolated groups, face immediate or near-term threat.
In 1998, Exxon was fined up to $4.7 million for nearly 200 violations of the Clean Air Act and (with another company Tosco) $4.8 million following toxic discharges in San Francisco Bay. Exxon was fined for exceeding benzene limits in Louisiana and discharging chemicals above underground drinking water sources. In 1997, Mobil tried but failed to block new clean air rules.
Exxon is leading development of a multi-billion dollar oil project with serious environmental and social risks. The Cameroon pipeline would go through fragile rainforest home to indigenous people. Exxon wants World Bank funding, but should aid for two of Africa's poorest countries go to rich oil companies? Alleged corruption in the Chad and Cameroon governments means the revenues might not be used to alleviate poverty. Chad and Cameroon have poor human rights records. In March 1998, according to Amnesty International, 100 civilians were massacred by security forces in Southern Chad and a parliamentarian opposing the project was recently jailed.
Since 1980, the Wayuu people have been fighting Exxon over its practices
at the immense El Cerrejon coal mine, 30 miles long and 2-3 miles wide. 5,000
Wayuu were dismissed when the mine opened. The rest were fired in 1988 for
attempting to unionise. One of them, Valbuena Gouriyu, said "Exxon only
cares about profits" adding that people near the mine lived in "total
misery", suffering respiratory diseases from coal dust, noise from explosions
and fumes from 100 diesel trucks on a 24-hour schedule.
Imperial Oil (owned by Exxon) produces much of the dirtiest gasoline in Canada, according to confidential
test results obtained by FOE Canada. Imperial is resisting proposed federal government regulations to reduce sulphur levels.
Exxon and Mobil are leading development of three oilfields at Sakhalin in the Okhotsk and Bering Seas, which are important habitats for whales, endangered sea lions and seabirds. The companies insist on discharging toxic wastes into the sea instead of re-injecting them underground. The projects threaten half the world's remaining Pacific salmon and communities dependent on the fish. F ishermen have alledgedly been silenced because they rely on the pro-oil local government for quotas. Exxon also plans to build pipelines across Sakhalin Island, which could open up roads for loggers to fell pristine forest.
In 1998, Exxon Chemical, a major producer of phthalates, teamed up with toy manufacturer Mattel to oppose an EU-wide ban on PVC toys containing phthalates, which could prove harmful to children. Exxon lobbied the US Government, which pressured the European Commission, and the ban was dropped.
Exxon is one of a group of companies planning to extract oil shale on or near the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The 2,000 kilometre reef and associated environments, already suffering from pollution and coral bleaching from global warming, will be put at further risk from toxic spills. Using this oil will add to climate change, threatening coral reefs worldwide. The plans have encountered intense opposition from environmentalists.
In January 1998, over 40,000 barrels of oil spilled from a ruptured Mobil pipeline off the coast of Nigeria, affecting 120 coastline communities, home to some 500,000 people.
Mobil's exploration in the Peruvian Amazon caused international concern over the threat to isolated Indian tribes from western diseases to which they have no immunity. Exploration in the area in the 1980s caused the deaths of 50-100 Indians. Survival International campaigned against the project and in 1998 Mobil withdrew.
Mobil's exploration in the volatile area of North Aceh on Sumatra has devastated
communities who depend on agriculture and fishing, through forced relocations,
oil and industrial spills into rivers and seas and explosions. Mobil, which
has military support, is being held responsible for human rights abuses by
Indonesian NGOs, who alleged in October 1998 that the company provided logistic
support to the army, including excavators to dig mass graves and facilities
for interrogation and torture. Mobil denies this.
Oil companies like Exxon are taking advantage of deregulation to exercise
thir might in our region, from megaprojects like El Cerrejon coal mine to
blocking measures to cut greenhuse gas emissoins. Our governments are hostage
to these companies because of the vast revenues they bring in. - - Roque
Pedace, Friends of the Earth Argentina
Quite possibly. Its environmental record across the globe shows its lack
of corporate responsibility -- sadly not uncommon in the oil industry.
But what sets Exxon Mobil apart is its leading role in blocking international legislation on climate change -- possibly the most serious environmental threat facing the world. While some companies have begun to address climate change and are now investing in renewable energy, Exxon Mobil is content to remain a fossil fuel dinosaur. Ironically, this stance threatens the future of the company itself. As climate change becomes more apparent, Exxon Mobil shareholders and workers will lose out unless the company shifts to cleaner, safer technologies.
On the tenth anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, it is time for Exxon
Mobil to take responsibility for the environmental impact of its activities.
Friends of the Earth International calls on Exxon Mobil to:
Note: Background briefings on all of the case studies mentioned in this
briefing are available from Friends of the Earth.
FOEI Amsterdam, PO Box 19199, 1000GD, Amsterdam, The Netherlands Tel: +31 20 622 1369 Fax: +31 20 639 2181 Email: email@example.com