Top Ten Documents Every Reporter Covering Exxon-Mobil Should Know


If you are a reporter covering ExxonMobil and the unfolding #ExxonKnew investigations underway in several states, the story can get very complex.  Exxon is claiming it did nothing wrong.  Exxon's paid accomplices are martyring themselves and screaming about the First Amendment.

We thought we would take it back to basics - the source documents. We created an online file cabinet of the key documents that have been revealed by investigative journalists over the past nine months and those in our Exxon archives from 25 years of watching the climate denial machine at work.  We will add documents as they arrive on our desks.

These documents all live at, an archive built on the Document Cloud platform familiar to journalists, created with a grant by the Knight Foundation.

There are three basic phases to this story. 

What Exxon knew and when they knew it - The crux of what was revealed in the fall and winter of 2015 by the Inside Climate News investigation and the Columbia University/ Los Angeles Times collaboration is extensive new evidence that Exxon and the rest of the oil industry had a more thorough understanding of climate science in the 1970s and 1980s than had previously been realized.  And that they also understood the policy and economic implications of the climate threat. Further revelations by DeSmog in April 2016 confirmed Exxon's unequivocal knowledge in the late 1970s that "there is no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage" were problematic for climate, and that these facts were known across Exxon's global operations. This serves as a new backdrop for what happened next.

What Exxon did to block rising concern about climate change - This phase starts in the late 1980s, heats up in the mid 1990s and extends into the late 2000s, changing shape and tone with increased governmental attention to the climate threat. Here there are key documents showing Exxon's (and Mobil's and later ExxonMobil's) ringleader role in driving the corporate campaign against advancing national and international policies to avert dangerous climate change.

What Exxon would like hide from investigators now - Exxon executed a turn about a decade ago with clever PR tactics, declaring that they had always known about climate change but had been "misunderstood".  This is detailed extensively in Steve Coll's increasingly important book Private Empire (see chapter 15 "On my honor").  Between 2006 and 2008, the company began to mark its words on climate change more carefully and abruptly stopped funding multiple non-profit organizations and front groups it had been coordinating to apply pressure in the public policy arena by attacking climate science, climate scientists and elected officials who took up the charge.  This campaign ramped up after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and escalated during the first 5 years of the Bush Administration. 


1. 1998 American Petroleum Institute Global Climate Science Communications Plan 

This leaked plan was launched the year after the Kyoto Protocol was signed. It was developed by representatives from the API, Exxon, Southern Company, Chevron and a team of people free market organizations along with communications professionals.  The plan includes a multimillion dollar, multi-year budget to install “uncertainty” in the public policy arena.  Target audiences are detailed including media, policy makers and science teachers and the plan includes an objectives list titled “Victory will be achieved…” itemizing the measurable goals of the plan. Multiple groups Exxon would subsequently fund are named in the plan. 





2. 1980 Imperial Oil’s Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1978-1979

3. 1981 Letter from Esso scientist on impact of Natuna Gas Project CO2 emissions

February 3, 1981 letter from Gilbert Gervasi, scientist at Esso Eastern to G.A. Northington, Exxon Research and Engineering regarding CO2 calculations for the Natuna Gas Project finding “the total release of CO2 from producing Natuna gas and burning of LNG manufactured from the gas would be almost twice that emitted by burning the equivalent amount of coal.”

There are multiple other key documents on Natuna in the ClimateFiles archive.  The majority of these were illuminated by the Inside Climate News team

4. 1995 Global Climate Coalition draft primer Predicting Future Climate Change a Primer

This document contains a "final draft" of a to-be-published document by the Global Climate Coalition responding to the IPCC Second Assessment.  It has been edited by Lenny Bernstein a Mobil Oil scientist (page 2).  The document contains a back section with extensive rebuttals of major counter-arguments used by climate deniers. This part was never published.

5. 1996 Exxon publication "Global Warming - Who's Right?"

Exxon Corporation’s Spring 1996 Publication, “Global warming: who’s right? Facts about a debate that’s turned up more questions than answers,” includes a statement by then Exxon CEO Lee Raymond trumping up uncertainty in the science behind global warming as well as the cost of a carbon-restricted market. The publication cites to Exxon funded climate change deniers.

6. 1997 Lee Raymond speech at China World Petroleum Congress

In this speech, delivered in October 1997, weeks before the Kyoto Protocol final negotiations commenced, Raymond launches attacks on climate science and policy proposals.  He exclaims that proposed international climate change policies will adversely affect Asian countries desiring economic growth.

7. 1998 ExxonMobil Pamphlet: Global Climate Change - everyone’s debate

This pamphlet, circulated to both U.S. and international policy-makers questions whether climate change is man-made and if so, the extent of contribution of fossil fuels to the problem. Although statements in this pamphlet are partially true in that Exxon “carefully studied” the science behind climate change, it contradicts its own internal early climate change research and findings and instead emphasizes unknowns in the “honest debate.”

8. 2000 ExxonMobil publishes collection of New York Times Op-ad series on climate change

In April 2000, Exxon published a collection of Op Eds it had submitted across the country in order to influence public understanding of the risks of climate change and proposed solutions. The series here includes articles entitled “Do No Harm,” “Unsettled Science,” “The Promise of Technology,” and “The Path Forward on Climate Change.” Each of these propaganda pieces highlights uncertainty regarding impacts and paints Exxon as a key to the solution for global climate change rather than the problem. Readers can review highlighted excerpts and the rhetoric used in 2000 with Exxon political activity at the time. 

9. 2001 FOIA-ed memo from Exxon Mobil’s Randy Randol to Bush Administration

This fax and memorandum dated February 6, 2001 from Exxon lobbyist Randy Randol to John Howard at the White House Center for Environmental Quality makes recommendations for changing the U.S. team working on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment and Synthesis Report and delaying IPCC proceedings.  

Another 2002 memo from Randy Randol to the Bush Whitehouse outlined what would eventually become the Bush program

10. 2006 ExxonMobil Heartland Institute DCI Group meeting targeting Clean Air Act

This meeting invitation and agenda illustrate the ongoing ringleader role ExxonMobil played in organizing asymmetrical attacks on the Clean Air Act and other environmental protections laws.  The meeting was hosted by Heartland Institute which received a $115,000 grant from ExxonMobil that year.  The meeting was held at the offices of DCI Group, a public relations firm contracted by ExxonMobil.



Competitive Enterprise Institute NYT Ad Signatories Got $10 Million from Exxon

Screen_Shot_2016-05-18_at_2.25.09_PM.pngThis week, the Competitive Enterprise Institute ran a full page ad in the New York Times complaining that the undersigned groups were being attacked in the course of several state investigations into Exxon's campaign of climate denial.  Not wanting to give the CEI broadcast any oxygen, but what really caught our eye is the list of signatories and their collective history of funding by Exxon.

Last time I looked it costs at least $100K to run a full page ad in the New York Times. What an analog tactic in this modern an ad as a show of strength and pretend that people saw it.

The gist of the ad, with an image of the gagged Statue of Liberty, is a martyred plea about the abuse of power by state Attorneys General investigating ExxonMobil (#ExxonKnew) and how such subpoenas and requests for transparency are infringements of First Amendment protections.  We wrote here the other day on how the First Amendment plea by Exxon's lawyers and minions mimics that of Big Tobacco decades ago.


(Note: happy to guide any reporter who asks through these documents)

In total, the signers of this ad have received $10.1 Million dollars from Exxon, ExxonMobil and the ExxonMobil Foundation from 1997 through 2014.  They were key nodes in Exxon's climate denial machine.  CEI was the largest active recipient to receive climate tagged funding from the company starting with a 1997 grant for $95,000 earmarked by Exxon for CEI's "Global Climate Change Program".  And I didn't even tally all of Steve Milloy's various grants from Exxon through the years.

These figures come from analysis of the ExxonSecrets database.  Looking more closely at the original documents, we found that these grants included over $2.2 Million in climate-specific funding from Exxon - grants earmarked for climate change work.

Further, the signatory list includes some clear VIPs of climate denial. In fact, several of the signatories were part of the infamous 1998 Global Climate Climate Science Communications Team, who crafted a multimillion dollar plan to challenge the "conventional wisdom" of climate science and replace it with "uncertainty".  This team was organized by American Petroleum Institute and included representatives from Exxon, Chevron and Southern Company.

CEI's ad signatories Myron Ebell, Steve Milloy and David Rothbard were all on that 1998 team who developed the campaign.






 In addition, the 1998 memo goes into great detail about the potential funders of such an effort and the so called "Potential fund allocators" who would receive the money implement the plan.  CEI itself was listed as a 'fund allocator" along with three groups who signed the CEI ad: ALEC, CFACT and Frontiers of Freedom.  (The Marshall Institute, alas, is no more...transformed into the CO2 Coalition)









Signatories to CEI NYT Advertisement Exxon funding 1997-2014 Climate-specific Exxon Funding
Competitive Enterprise Institute $2,100,000 $370,000
American Legislative Exchange Council $1,730,200 $238,500
Frontiers of Freedom $1,272,000 $617,000
Heritage Foundation $870,000 $25,000
Heartland Inst $686,500 $140,000
National Center for Policy Analysis $645,900  
Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow $587,000 $180,000
Foundation on Resource Economics FREE $450,000 $20,000
Nat. Center for Public Policy Research $445,000 $45,000
FreedomWorks (Citizens for a Sound Economy) $405,250 $250,250
Capital Research Center $265,000  
Ron Arnold, Executive VP, Center for Defense of Free Enterprise $230,000 $230,000
American Council on Science and Health $165,000 $15,000
Center for Study of CO2 and Global Change $100,000 $75,000
Independent Women's Forum $75,000 $15,000
Mountain States Legal Foundation $65,000  
Science and Environmental Policy Project $20,000  
TOTAL $10,111,850 $2,220,750

So there you have it, we assume Exxon (and others) went ahead with the 1998 API plan, even thought it was leaked and front page news in the New York Times.

These groups don't want people asking questions about their corporate funders, and don't want to be questioned about what exactly they did with Exxon's money.

Exxon doesn't want to answer questions about what they expected in return for these large grants.  (CEI already subpoenaed and clearly expects to be on the short list of future investigations.)  They want to change the subject to a discussion of free speech...

The list on this ad should serve as a pretty good field guide for lawyers seeking information on Exxon's campaign of climate science misinformation.

Lawsuit Against ExxonMobil Ties Climate Policy to Local Oil Hazard

Boston Harbor

 A Massachusetts conservation group says it will sue ExxonMobil for failing to protect the Boston harbor area from an old, leaky oil terminal that spews toxic material into nearby rivers, charging that the company's dual role of climate change expert and denier makes it uniquely culpable.

The landmark action by the Conservation Law Foundation is apparently the first to link a fossil fuel company's policy on global warming to a particular, localized environmental threat.

At issue is ExxonMobil's Everett marine terminal, an oil transfer and storage facility - a tank farm with three berths for ships to dock - a few miles northwest of Boston at the junction of the Mystic and Island End rivers. 

The terminal and surrounding area are built on landfill, which is at or close to sea level, and will be completely submerged in the foreseeable future as sea levels rise due to global warming, according to Bradley Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, which sent ExxonMobil a notification letter yesterday alleging numerous violations of clean water and environmental laws at the Everett facility, a required first step before it files a lawsuit in federal court. 

Rain and Toxins

Campbell noted that ExxonMobil put its expertise on global warming to work in taking measures to protect its off-shore oil rigs and other assets.  This followed a corporate research program beginning in the late seventies that proved warming was occurring and outlined specific threats.

Yet the company has done nothing to safeguard the sizeable population of the greater Boston area from the toxic hazard at Everett, CLF charges.  Campbell noted that intense storms that deposit two inches or more of rain during a 24 hour period are 70 percent more frequent in the northeast than in the recent past.

"In any intense rain period, the water treatment center at this facility is overwhelmed," Campbell said, explaining that when that happens, petroleum products and toxic material already in the soil pour into the Mystic river.  These spills have the most immediate impact on the communities nearest to the terminal, most of which are lower-income.

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