Exxon Mobil and the public showdown!

Oil and gas is one of the major industries that is impacted by climate change, though it plays a pivotal role in influencing climate change as well. In this post, I will discuss the impact of climate change on Exxon Mobil, one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world.

Oil and gas is one of the major industries that is impacted by climate change, though it plays a pivotal role in influencing climate change as well. In this post, I will discuss the impact of climate change on Exxon Mobil, one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world.

A. Impact of climate change on Exxon Mobil

Exxon Mobil faces major implications of climate change, especially [1]:

  1. Physical asset failure:many existing plants and equipment have been designed on the basis of historic climatic conditions and may not withstand changing environmental conditions. Fluctuating temperatures can affect efficiency and performance of physical assets leading to transport disruption, damaged buildings and increased operational delays and costs.
  2. Employee health and safety risks:volatile working conditions in extreme environments and physical assets not suitable for changing climatic conditions may potentially impact the health and safety of employees; hence, compromising Exxon’s employer and public liability insurance covers
  3. Drop in value of financial assets: Potential investors and stakeholders are placing greater importance on the business impacts as insurance costs could potentially rise because of greater chances of physical plant damage and the current reported value of proved reserves is also affected
  4. Damage to corporate reputation:failure to monitor and report the impacts of climate change is increasingly likely to harm Exxon’s reputation with stakeholders as the risk of turning to litigation increases
  5. Increased pressure on water resources: changing rainfall patterns, water shortages, poor water quality, drought and flooding are significantly increasing the demand for water. Growing competition for available resources could create operational problems and create conflicts with local communities for Exxon in locations where they rely heavily on water for production.

One example that crystallizes few of the aforementioned threats (especially 1,2, and 4) [2]

  • In September 2016, The Conservation Law Foundation filed a complaint in U.S. District Court of MA, alleging that Exxon Mobil has failed to comply with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and the U.S. Clean Water Act at the Everett facility (i.e. claiming that Exxon did not prepare the oil storage Massachusetts terminal for the impacts of climate change.).
  • “Because Exxon Mobil has not taken climate change impacts into account in its storm water pollution prevention plan, spill prevention, control and countermeasures plan, and facility response plan, CLF and its members are placed directly in harm’s way and have no reasonable assurance that they will be protected from pollutants released and discharged from the Everett Terminal”


B. Mitigation action steps by Exxon Mobil

Exxon Mobil has been reacting to the threats of climate change in two ways:

  1. Addressing the root cause of the problem (i.e., climate change). ExxonMobil is taking action by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in its operations, helping consumers reduce their emissions, supporting research that leads to technology breakthroughs and participating in constructive dialogue on policy options. [3]
  2. Mitigating the direct impact threats of climate change on its operations [4]:
  • Engineer facilities resilient to extreme events: local climate, as well as potential changes in local conditions over the life of the investment (such as changes to sea level or permafrost) are carefully assessed and considered. Given the spatial and temporal uncertainties of many extreme weather events, particularly with respect to future changes in climate, facilities are generally engineered to be resilient to extreme event “tails”
  • While assessing capital investment opportunities, Exxon considers the potential for future climate-related controls, including the potential for restriction on emissions, through the use of a proxy cost of carbon.


C. Additional steps that can be taken by Exxon Mobil

In a shift in 2014, Exxon Mobil agreed to report on climate change’s effect on business model and its fossil fuel assets. However, it was put on the spotlight recently for allegations of improper disclosure. For example:

  • In Oct 2015: calls for a U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) for investigation to determine whether Exxon Mobil should face federal charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act for knowingly misrepresenting scientific knowledge regarding global climate change and its impacts [5]
  • In Sept 2016: New York Attorney General claimed Exxon might have misled investors about the impact of climate change on its reserve valuation. The U.S. SEC is reportedly looking into Exxon Mobil’s accounting practices and how the company evaluates the potential impact of climate regulation. [6]

Exxon Mobil has very good clarity on the threats of climate change, and is doing a good job in addressing the potential threats and implications. However, I believe the most important action step is for them to focus on doing a better, more diligent job in enhancing transparency with investors, shareholders, and regulators on their research and findings on climate change, and the impact of climate change on its (a) its business model and (b) the value of its assets (e.g., reserves).


Word count: 800



[1] “Global Oil & Gas – The Adaptation Challenge” report backed by IBM- based on the Carbon Disclosure Project’s annual request for investor information that was sent to the world’s largest 128 oil and gas companies globally (based on market capitalisation). Analysed using the Acclimatisation Index™

[2] http://www.naturalgasintel.com/articles/107933-exxonmobil-failed-to-prepare-massachusetts-terminal-for-climate-change-impact-lawsuit-claims

[3] http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/current-issues/climate-policy/climate-perspectives/our-position

[4] http://cdn.exxonmobil.com/~/media/global/files/energy-and-environment/report—energy-and-climate.pdf

[5] http://www.climatesciencewatch.org/2016/05/25/exxonmobil-and-climate-change-a-story-of-denial-delay-and-delusion-told-in-forms-10-k-2001-2008/

[6]  http://www.wsj.com/articles/sec-investigating-exxon-on-valuing-of-assets-accounting-practices-1474393593




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Student comments on Exxon Mobil and the public showdown!

  1. Interesting perspective. In the particular case of Exxon, do you feel that there is room to diversify into clean alternatives in an aggressive way? This would help maintain regulatory goodwill and reduce the risk of large regulatory change, but I am not sure if it fits into Exxon’s structure or core competencies. The fact remains that while Exxon can factor in the cost of carbon for new capital investments, most of its current investments were made without factoring that, and a high price on carbon could turn many of these investments unprofitable overnight.

  2. This article perfectly highlights two connections Exxon has with climate change that many people don’t often consider: shareholder responsibility and its own facility and operations sustainability. Most people assume that because Exxon is an oil producer and contributes directly to increased CO2 they aren’t impacted negatively by climate change but that’s not true.

    It sadly appears from news sources that Exxon had leading information on climate change as early as the 1970’s and deliberately misled Washington and shareholders, and even lobbied against research efforts on Capitol Hill (1). However, they are somewhat making up for it now with a small effort toward a diversified energy portfolio. This portfolio includes research and forays into natural gas, biofuels, wind power, nuclear, and landfill efforts (2) (3).

    It’ll be a long time before Exxon is perceived as an environmentally sustainable company but I do think that, given the industry they operate in, they are making strong progress towards this goal.


    1) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-07/will-exxonmobil-have-to-pay-for-misleading-the-public-on-climate-change
    2) https://lubes.exxonmobil.com/Lubes/sustainability_productsandprocesses_diversification.aspx
    3) http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/energy/natural-gas

  3. What metrics would you suggest we use to measure whether Exxon Mobil has done a good job in addressing the potential threats and implications of climate change?

    Without better disclosure to the public and shareholders quantifying the impact of some of their environmental initiatives, I find it difficult to evaluate how much they are really doing to save the environment compared with the damage they are doing with core business of extracting and selling oil.

  4. Great post! I agree that ExxonMobil should be more proactive in sharing its data about climate change. The company has recently taken steps to state that climate change is real and to disseminate their research regarding climate change: http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/current-issues/climate-policy/climate-perspectives/our-climate-science-history

    However, burying blog posts on their corporate website is not enough. I believe that ExxonMobil could unlock significant shareholder value by publicly decrying that natural gas is more climate-friendly than oil and coal. Given their significant recent acquisitions in natural gas, ExxonMobil stands to gain from lobbying for more natural gas use by power utilities and manufacturers.

  5. Great article, thank you. It is interesting to note how a company operating in oil and gas can mitigate climate change, while creating maximum value to it’s shareholders. I agree with you that they can play a much bigger role in rallying other stakeholders to play a much bigger role in combating climate change, given their position as an industry leader.

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