Exxonomics

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

The British rag “The Guardian” gets astounding web traction. Here’s the headline and first part of a story that, despite only being posted yesterday, has already spawned ninety-five copies across the web:

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

exxon valdez

ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, knew as early as 1981 of climate change – seven years before it became a public issue, according to a newly discovered email from one of the firm’s own scientists. Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.

The email from Exxon’s in-house climate expert provides evidence the company was aware of the connection between fossil fuels and climate change, and the potential for carbon-cutting regulations that could hurt its bottom line, over a generation ago – factoring that knowledge into its decision about an enormous gas field in south-east Asia. The field, off the coast of Indonesia, would have been the single largest source of global warming pollution at the time.

Now, with that as the lead-in, what would you say was the date of the “newly unearthed missive” that they are discussing? At first I naively figured it must be from 1981 … but then I thought “wait a minute, genius, wasn’t much email in 1981″ … so then I figured that perhaps it was from a 2003 internal Exxon email describing some in-house Exxon memo from the 1980s, or something like that.

However, with the Guardian, truth is always stranger than fiction, and rarely found within its pages. The “newly unearthed missive” was not from 1981, nor from 1989, nor 1999. It was not an Exxon document at all. Instead, it was an email written in 2014 to someone at Ohio University and publicly printed by the University with the author’s permission on the University website … hardly a “newly unearthed missive” under any rubric.

In fact, the “newly unearthed” email is an interesting insider’s view of Exxon, so I’m going to reproduce it here in full:

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.

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. Natural gas often contains CO2 and the technology for removing CO2 is well known. In 1981 (and now) the usual practice was to vent the CO2 to the atmosphere. When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that 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. I’m sure that it would still be the largest point source of CO2, but since CO2 emissions have grown faster than projected in 1989, it would probably account for a smaller fraction of global CO2 emissions.

The alternative to venting CO2 to the atmosphere is to inject it into ground. This technology was also well known, since the oil industry had been injecting limited quantities of CO2 to enhance oil recovery. There were many questions about whether the CO2 would remain in the ground, some of which have been answered by Statoil’s now almost 20 years of experience injecting CO2 in the North Sea. Statoil did this because the Norwegian government placed a tax on vented CO2. It was cheaper for Statoil to inject CO2 than pay the tax. Of course, Statoil has touted how much CO2 it has prevented from being emitted.

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.

Political battles need to personify the enemy. This is why liberals spend so much time vilifying the Koch brothers – who are hardly the only big money supporters of conservative ideas. In climate change, the first villain was a man named Donald Pearlman, who was a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. (In another life, he was instrumental in getting the U.S. Holocaust Museum funded and built.) Pearlman’s usefulness as a villain ended when he died of lung cancer – he was a heavy smoker to the end.

Then the villain was the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a trade organization of energy producers and large energy users. I was involved in GCC for a while, unsuccessfully trying to get them to recognize scientific reality. (That effort got me on to the front page of the New York Times, but that’s another story.) Environmental group pressure was successful in putting GCC out of business, but they also lost their villain. They needed one which wouldn’t die and wouldn’t go out of business. Exxon, and after its merger with Mobil ExxonMobil, fit the bill, especially under its former CEO, Lee Raymond, who was vocally opposed to climate change regulation. ExxonMobil’s current CEO, Rex Tillerson, has taken a much softer line, but ExxonMobil has not lost its position as the personification of corporate, and especially climate change, evil. It is the only company mentioned in Alyssa’s e-mail, even though, in my opinion, it is far more ethical that many other large corporations.

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. All major companies will tell you that they are trying to minimize their internal CO2 emissions. Mostly, they are doing this by improving energy efficiency and reducing cost. The same is true for internal recycling, again a practice most companies follow. Its just good engineering.

I could go on, but this e-mail is long enough. SOURCE

Let me draw your attention to a few points.

The first is that for a company like Exxon, all decisions are made with respect to the “bottom line” of the balance sheet, which shows whether the company is gaining or losing economic ground. However, as the author points out, this is often also the most ethical decision. In the author’s example, an emphasis on safety is both the ethical choice and the best choice for the bottom line. Note how the author describes how that plays out for natural resource companies (emphasis mine)

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.

Not exactly the slant the Guardian put on it … next, the author details the attempts of the alarmists to find one single evil company to personify the evil supporters of skeptical climate science, and closes that section by saying (emphasis mine):

Exxon, and after its merger with Mobil ExxonMobil, fit the bill, especially under its former CEO, Lee Raymond, who was vocally opposed to climate change regulation. ExxonMobil’s current CEO, Rex Tillerson, has taken a much softer line, but ExxonMobil has not lost its position as the personification of corporate, and especially climate change, evil. It is the only company mentioned in Alyssa’s e-mail, even though, in my opinion, it is far more ethical than many other large corporations.

Of course, the Guardian carefully avoided giving either a quote of this interesting section, or for that matter even a link to the location of the original publication of the email …

The author of the email was Lenny Bernstein, a PhD in Chemical Engineering who was also a Coordinating Lead Author of Chapter 7 (Industry) of the Mitigation section of the IPCC AR4. However, I would not describe him as an alarmist, as he was also involved with the George C. Marshall Institute’s production entitled “Climate Science and Policy: Making the Connection”. I can find no details of his work for Exxon, but I doubt greatly that he was Exxon’s “in-house climate expert” as is claimed by the Guardian. Although he discusses Exxon’s position in 1981 about climate change involving the Natuna Gas Field, he says he himself didn’t become aware of it until 1989.

After working for the petroleum industry, he had a short-lived environmental consulting business from 2005 to 2008 called L S Bernstein & Associates LLC., and an extensive involvement with the IPCC. Prior to leaving the petroleum industry, however, I don’t find anything at all by Dr. Bernstein involving the climate.

Finally, both the Guardian article and the email strongly imply that Exxon decided not to develop Natuna because of Exxon’s concerns about climate change. However, to the contrary, Exxon did try to develop Natuna, starting in 1980. In the event, the economic and political situations both mitigated against development, and climate was a minor concern. Exxon sunk $400 million into the field and got nothing out of it. Big oil is a big money gamble, and sometimes it involves big losses like Natuna. From Offshore Technology.com  (emphasis mine):

Natuna Gas Field

Natuna gas field is in the Greater Sarawak Basin about 1,100km (700 miles) north of Jakarta and 225km (140 miles) northeast of the Natuna Islands, Indonesia’s northernmost territory in the South China sea.

Discovered in 1970 by Italy’s Agip, the field is the biggest in Southeast Asia with an estimated 46 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of recoverable reserves, but has been developed only recently.

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. Reservoirs in the region are in the Middle to Late Miocene reefs, underlain and overlain by deltaic sediments.

Note the lack of any comment about climate concerns in the reasons for not developing the field.

Anyhow, that’s my effort towards promoting a more balanced view and discussion of the issues.

Rain here today in July, unheard of and most welcome. I’d say it must be global warming but everyone knows that global warming only causes bad things …

w.

The Usual Request: If you disagree with someone please have the courtesy to quote the exact words that you disagree with, so we can all understand just what you are objecting to.

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112 thoughts on “Exxonomics

  1. Willis,
    You are fact checking the Guardian. An admirable but ultimately doomed effort. Don Quixote would salute your choice of windmills.
    The Guardian has yet to let facts stand in the way of acting out their inner climate kook.
    Exxon did not produce the field because it would have cost too much. Concerns like that are beneath the dignity of the rarefied soul of the climate obsessed.
    Ironically, if that lunatic Lewandowsky was actually a researcher, he would find The Guardian a target rich environment in which to research conspiratorial clap trap.

    • Thanks, hunter. You say:

      You are fact checking the Guardian. An admirable but ultimately doomed effort. Don Quixote would salute your choice of windmills.

      A couple of points. First, I’m not “fact-checking” them, or that’s not my main intention. My intention is to provide a counter-weight, even if only a small one, to their opinion. Another objective is to provide the interesting information that the Guardian missed in the email. Finally, I’m hoping to “inoculate” those folks who haven’t yet come across one of the 95 copies of the article against an uncritical reading of said piece of yellow journalism.

      So I don’t think it is a “doomed effort”. It’s kinda like why I’m never concerned about back-seat drivers telling me about things on the road … even though most of their effort is useless, if it saves my life once, it’s probably worth it …

      w.

      • Thanks Willis. Perhaps it could be called a “doomed effort” because the deck is stacked against this perspective getting the fair hearing it deserves. But it is a noble effort in any case. I see this link, like so much other crap, being reposted on Facebook as “end of discussion”, ” it’s settled” fodde. I appreciate efforts to provide balance to these oversimplified and skewed depictions of supposed facts. I would love to see a regular section or site where, as you did here, these oversimplified memes are put in a broader context. I don’t argue with anyone on FaceBook, but it’s nice to have a link to a more balanced discussions such as ypurs which could be provided with a simple statement such as, “Here’s a little more background on that link.”

      • oh they didnt Miss it…Willis
        they intentionally dont mention it.
        usual garbage they produce knowingly
        and I am also one of the banned ones
        only took one comment for me to get the red card ;-)
        one of my better days I guess:-)

      • The British rag “The Guardian” gets astounding web traction.

        It gets traction because it is a very well presented on-line publication linked to a quality paper edition. They are totally off the rails on climate, I agree, and I email their readers editor about the crap they publish on climate, which means they get an email most days of the week.

        reader@guardian.co.uk if anyone is interested.

        Be polite and make well argued points about factual inaccuracy. I’m sure they have a policy similar to that of our host here for flames and abuse.

        Far from being a sensational tabloid rags they do some outstanding investigative journalism and are very active about protecting press freedoms and democracy in the UK, and have been deeply involved in legal challenges to govt. gagging orders, torture, police abuse, etc. In general they do top quality journalism.

        Sadly they seem to have a different set of journalistic standards for anything related to climate. This hypocrisy and double standards needs to be pointed out ( in a factual way ).

        I have had meaningful personal replies to several issues I’ve raised, sometimes the journalist in question has been contacted to respond to criticism, so I’d say they are generally responsive to intelligent feedback.

      • Being totally incompetent I cannot find how to reply to Mike below who writes “Sadly they seem to have a different set of journalistic standards for anything related to climate. This hypocrisy and double standards needs to be pointed out ( in a factual way ).” Hence this will probably appear in the wrong place (if it does appear).

        The Guardian, which serves as the print version of the BBC, does not confine its hypocrisy and double standards to climate. A professor of my acquaintance used to blog regularly on the Guardian’s site to correct so-called “facts” about the Middle East and, in particular, Israel and Palestine. After a while the professor was banned from the site.

        Unlike most other UK newspapers there are certain subjects – not just climate, for which the Guardian does not take kindly to corrections, preferring to banish the rather than to publish.

      • One small correction that I think is warranted, Wilis: the Guardian did not “miss” the information that you noted. Of course they read the entire mail, since they would have been looking for even more damaging info. They knew exactly what was there, and deliberately chose to hide it in the hope (and justified belief) that their target audience wouldn’t care at all about the manipulation.

        The people and institutions, like the Guardian, who do these things have long ago forfeited the “benefit of the doubt” (which in this case is what, they’re too incompetent to actually read their source material?)
        It should be continually pointed out that the people doing this are deeply immoral idealogues who will say and write anything to advance their political narrative. And they don’t just do it once in a while, they do it in every article they publish and every statement they make.

      • Solomon Green, Guardian comments section is a blog. It seems to be policed by the same AGW zealots that control WP and the editorial staff are not interesting is dealing with that kind of crap. Comments are comments…. farting into the wind.

        Your professor should contact the editor if he thinks there is a substantial, factual error.

        If you want to deal with journalistic content, email the readers’ editor as I indicated above. They are interested about the perception of the journalistic content that they publish. Public comments, a lot less.

      • re: Willis Eschenbach July 9, 2015 at 8:22 pm

        “It’s kinda like why I’m never concerned about back-seat drivers telling me about things on the road … even though most of their effort is useless, if it saves my life once, it’s probably worth it …”

        Until someone like my wife does it then you just want to drive off a cliff. (thankfully there are no cliffs in SW Florida)

      • Unlike most other UK newspapers there are certain subjects – not just climate, for which the Guardian does not take kindly to corrections

        Go to any other UK daily’s web site and try to find an email for the editor. Then see how far you get when you criticise their content.

        I have found that many things I’ve corrected the Guardian on have been reflected in future articles. ( I may not be the only one their backs ! )

        That I find outstanding, it may even be unique in MSM.

        They are still an evangelical mess on climate, but we live in hope….

      • It’s is most certainly not a “doomed effort” – one has to keep firing away at this stuff even if it doesn’t seem to have any immediate effect. (In this context it might be worth recalling that in France in the 1890’s there were only a few dozen Dreyfusards in a country of many millions – but in the end they prevailed.)

    • La Lewny writes all his own material inspired by the nutjob he sees in the mirror each morning as he clips his facial hair to groomed purrrfection. I think he then sits down to read The Guardian and get some cognitive resonance happening. Ommmmmm….

    • Willis,
      Thanks for your reply.
      Perhaps I should have made it clear that the doomed effort is due to the amazing ability of The Guardian to resist facts and avoid truth.
      Your article succeeded as inoculation. If only more people recognized the contagion of climate obsession for what it is and would seek out the cure of reason, critical thinking and historical literacy.

    • The Guardian has yet to let facts stand in the way of acting out their inner climate kook.

      “The believing mind is eternally impervious to evidence. The most that can be accomplished with it is to induce it to substitute one delusion for another. It rejects all overt evidence as wicked…”
      –HL Mencken

      • rejects all overt evidence as wicked
        =====================
        indeed, the underlying belief, underlying assumption behind the Granaudian article is that Exxon in particular and Big Oil in general are EVIL. And every time someone fills up their car at the pump, this belief is reinforced due to the large amount of money spend in energy.

        This is understandable because a car takes a lot of energy to run, which means oil companies take in a lot of money, and of course money makes hem evil. A good sized house uses the equivalent of about 1 gallon of gasoline a day. How many vehicles can make this claim?

        A question that comes to mind. Why, when you go to the store, it lost less to buy 4 liters of milk than 1 liter of milk. Why does it cost the same to buy 1 liter of gasoline as compared to 100 liters?

    • These people clutch their pearls as though the everyday behavior of all corporations was “news.” And I suppose they make THEIR personal spending and investment decisions on the basis of “carbon” impact? Gimme a BREAK!

  2. Viability is always an issue with an exploration effort.
    Schlumberger and Halliburton have made millions in the service industries required to make those assessments.

  3. Truth be tolled, England is the Soviet of the United Kingdom.

    When the troops of Scotland kill the dogs of England, now that will be a GOOD DAY.

    Ha ha

    • “When the troops of Scotland kill the dogs of England, now that will be a GOOD DAY.”

      Lol

      The day that happens Satan will be skating to work.

      Why did the Scots bottle it when it came to independence???

    • What is this balderdash? It’s ‘told’, not ‘tolled’. England is the principle country within the state of the United Kingdom. There are no troops of Scotland, they are part of the British Army. And ‘Soviet’ (sic) is a umbrella demonym for a collection of states. Hence England could not be ‘soviet’ anything. Other than that, your piece was well-constructed! If you are on medication, please go back to your doctor and ask him to lower it.

      • “tolled” is actually a correct word here; a bit antiquated perhaps.

        Verb

        toll (third-person singular simple present tolls, present participle tolling, simple past and past participle tolled)

        (transitive) To announce by tolling.  [quotations ▼]

        The bells tolled the King’s death.

    • I’d be more concerned about the penpushers in Brussels. They seem to be doing a better job of destroying Scotland than Edward Longshanks ever did. Thing I can’t understand is if the SNP so ardently wish for independence and self-rule, then why do they want to keep us under the thumb of an organisation that’s not even on the same land mass, and which has no mandate whatsoever to impose laws on us?

    • I’m betting this 601nan is based at the University of Exeter.

      Perhaps a certain pseudoscientist there has realised that sampling sceptics on non-sceptic sites is slightly flawed.

      Same with Coeur de Lion below.

  4. Actually ExxonMobil and Pertamina agreed again in 2010 to develop the field – currently with partners Total and Thailand’s PTTEP. Fiscal terms, development concept and equity percentages are still to be agreed – and thus the delay. But at the end of the day – the cost of the supply of this gas (with the added cost of injecting the CO2) will have to compete with other supplies of natural gas. The fiscal framework will be key to the decision. But one good thing – any other operator would have just separated and vented the CO2.

    http://www.rigzone.com/news/oil_gas/a/101870/Pertamina_Exxon_Ink_Deal_to_CoDevelop_Natuna_Gas_Project

    • “But one good thing – any other operator would have just separated and vented the CO2.”

      I need help here. Why is it a good thing not to separate and vent CO2?

      In my world CO2 is plant food and the more the better — if you want people to eat and live. On the other hand you may have information I lack — and I’m always eager to learn.

      • The mayhem and scorn that would have ensued would have (rightly or wrongly) been a flashpoint issue for years and years. Logic need not apply.

      • Venting CO2 is not Politically Correct and Exxon-Mobile has no intention or desire to strip the Koch Brothers of their “fame n’ glory” of being the #1 Whippingboy of the CAGWers.

      • RalphB: There are two main things in this field, from what I gather. One is ‘natural gas’ (often consisting of methane, ethane, butane, propane, etc etc etc, in various proportions, and possibly even some condensate), which are the “resource” part of this field. The other main constituent is carbon dioxide, which cannot be marketed, and must be separated from the ‘natural gas’ part.

        It is well known that miscible materials will usually increase the production and life of a field. Waterflooding has been used since the 1930’s and 1940’s to keep bottom hole pressures up, and slow down production declines. Of late, newer materials are often injected to keep fields “alive”.

        In the case of a field here in Wyoming (Buck Draw, for those who might know of it), the field flowed spontaneously under a self-drive mechanism. The Petroleum Engineers working the field soon realized that the drive mechanism was the dissolved gas (mostly methane) in the oil, and the field was approaching ‘bubble point’, at which time, oil would cease to flow, and only the methane part would be recoverable. The field was shut-in until such time as the infrastructure was in place to separate ( and re-inject ) the methane from the crude. In this way, the field, to this day, produces high-gravity sweet crude, and the reinjected methane is sweeping the pore space of most of the oil, keeping the drive mechanism alive, and eventually becomes the primary recoverable resource sometime down the road.

        It makes perfect sense here, not from an environmental standpoint, to re-inject the carbon dioxide, to maximize the recovery of marketable ‘natural gas’ .

        Hope that helps,

        Mark H.

      • Wow, I guess substantial long term investments (50 -100 year) with your own money necessitate well reasoned cost-benefit analysis. In this case including the public image issues. It looks as if data led the conclusions rather than the other way around; though in this case it probably wasn’t the conclusion they would have liked.

        So this oil field is like a big oil soda with CO2??

      • CO2 Availability
        Although the large Permian Basin reservoirs were readily recognized as ideal candidates for miscible flooding through CO2 injection, it was the ready availability of a low-cost source of CO2 that drove the Permian Basin’s EOR boom in the 1970s and 1980s. The technical success of this project, coupled with the high oil prices of the late 1970s and early 1980s, led to the construction of three major CO2 pipelines
        connecting the Permian Basin oil fields with natural underground CO2 sources located at the Sheep Mountain and McElmo Dome sites in Colorado and Bravo Dome in northeastern New Mexico (see map). Construction of the pipelines spurred an acceleration of CO2 injection activity in Permian Basin fields. Today, operators inject more than 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of naturally-sourced CO2 into Permian Basin oil fields to produce 170,000 barrels of incremental oil per day from dozens of fields.

        But even with CO2 sources just a few hundred miles away, the cost of delivering and injecting the CO2 is significant. Industry has spent more than $1 billion on 2,200 miles of CO2 transmission and distribution pipeline infrastructure in support of CO2 flooding in the Permian Basin. Typically, it costs $0.25-0.75 per thousand cubic feet to transport CO2 to West Texas fields from the sources to the north. With a substantial CO2 pipeline and distribution infrastructure in place, Permian Basin operators have spread the costs among several large fields, and the infrastructure in these “anchor” fields in turn has helped reduce the cost of delivered CO2 to smaller fields in the basin. Still, analysts have estimated that there is as much as 500 million cubic feet (25,974 metric tons) per day of pent-up demand for CO2 in the basin from oil field operators seeking to implement economic CO2 EOR projects. Additional natural CO2 resource has been discovered in the Arizona-New Mexico region and may be developed if the economics remain favorable.

        https://www.netl.doe.gov/file%20library/research/oil-gas/small_CO2_EOR_Primer.pdf

        There is always a need to supply someone with their needs and desires Now that there is a market for the other 70% of the gases in the field, it may be more profitable.

  5. Willis, thank-you for posting more information on the Guardian article. It showed up on my FB page yesterday and I’ve been checking WUWT to get more of the background. As I suspected, there was a different slant to the email than what The Guardian presented. It helps to have these facts in hand when the inevitable AGW dogfights ensue.

    Also, you might want to double check the name. I’m finding Lenny Bernstein, not Larry, as the email’s originator.

    “The author of the email was Larry Bernstein, a PhD in Chemical Engineering who was also a Coordinating Lead Author of Chapter 7 (Industry) of the Mitigation section of the IPCC AR4.”

    • Yeah, it’s Larry/Lenny, blame my editor … oh, wait, I don’t have an editor …

      Fixed, thanks.

      w.

  6. I stumbled accidentally onto The Guardian website the other night reading viewpoints about Greece’s economic problems. Surreal is one way to describe what I read there–partisan and disingenuous also come to mind.

  7. This sentence caught my eye:

    Of course, Statoil has touted how much CO2 it has prevented from being emitted.

    It reads as if they are criticising Statoil yet carbon capture and storage is now touted as one of the preferred methods to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

    Hard to tell what the CAGW crowd want.

    • Bernstein’s not one of the CAGW crowd. He was laughing about how Statoil was forced to inject the CO2, and now they are putting it out as proof they are green …

      w.

  8. “Exxon did try to develop Natuna”

    And they are still trying. Every few years the question comes up what to do with it.

    “When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that 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.”

    Eh. This kind of overstates the problem. The reason that it would account for about 1%…. is that it is a truly massive field with an approximate CO2 impact of the same Btu’s as coal.

  9. I was working in the Indonesian gas business through most of the 1990s, Co2 was a problem in many fields, but climate change was not the big issue. There were more important concerns, such as killing entire shiploads of people if you vented the CO2 and it did not disburse.

    The biggest problem for the Natuna field has always been economics At the time, 50% of Mobil’s world wide profit came from another Miocene reef, the Arun field. It was only 15% CO2, and was vented safely. A 70% CO2 concentration is a bit harder to deal with. It was just too expensive.

    In the end, there has always been a glut of huge isolated gas reserves, and the Natuna D-alpha field has never been competitive with the likes of Qatar, the Australian shelf, East Kalimantan, etc

    .

    • Many thanks for that, Doug. One thing that always amazes me about WUWT is the depth of our readership. No matter what I might write about, there is always someone like you to provide the point-of-view only available to someone who was there. It’s surreal, like hearing Harrison Schmidt say something like “One time when I was examining a boulder … on the moon …”

      All the best,

      w.

      • I’ll add another note: In 1994 President Clinton visited Jakarta. He had a little ceremony where he signed a $35 billion deal for American business projects in Indonesia, and made a big point about “where I come from $35 billion is still a significant amount of business” The largest item in the memorandum was a plan to develop the Natuna d-alpha gas field. None of us in the business believed that was actually going to happen: Exxon, like all companies, tries to tie up large reserves where ever they can, even if they are not economically viable. Price and technology might change. In this case, technology perfected the horizontal multi-stage frack in shale, and price dropped, I doubt we will ever see that field developed.

      • Willis, It has been a long time but I worked on the Natuna D-Alpha project from 1979 to 1983 in Indonesia. We were very concerned about the CO2, but largely from the suffocation angle. That is, if we had a blow out the CO2 would collect just above the ocean surface displacing the air since it is heavier than air. This could cause a huge catastrophe. The other problem we had was the H2S in the gas, it is very poisonous. To the best of my recollection, climate change was never considered as a problem. Our plan at the time was to reinject the CO2 after scrubbing the H2S out of it, into the aquifer under the gas cap. Chrome steel pipe was required throughout due to the corrosiveness of the carbonated water.

      • andymay2014 July 12, 2015 at 5:35 am

        Willis, It has been a long time but I worked on the Natuna D-Alpha project from 1979 to 1983 in Indonesia.

        Thanks greatly, Andy. As I said, I’m always amazed at the experiences of the folks that read WUWT. I am not at all surprised to find that your memory is that there was little or no discussion of climate change at the time.

        Much appreciated,

        w.

    • I’m curious. How many fields like this vent directly into the ocean via the ocean floor? The methane at the temperatures and pressures of the sea bottom would precipitate out as clathrates, would they not, but the CO_2 would just go into solution until upwelling currents pulled it up to where the water is warmer. If one single field would have been a world-class source of CO_2, and there are (quite reasonably) hundreds of such fields venting into the ocean bottom over million year time scales, might this not be an ongoing source of atmospheric CO_2 that is highly lagged and not really subject to Henry’s Law per se, as the upwelling pulls new disequilibrated CO_2 up from the depths?

      I know that this is Bart’s favorite hypothesis — I just want to hear from an expert what the plausibility of it is.

      rgb

      • Very few, and those (central GOM thermogenic methane clathrate) only seep slowly. Else there would be no field left after millions of years. All oil and gas fields have some impervious caprock, frequently a thick layer of salt or mudstone. Caprock ‘domes’ overlying a porous ‘trap’ is one of the things looked for in the seismic work.

      • Thanks. I would have thought earthquakes would be constantly cracking the caps at a fairly predictable rate so that new leaks would constantly be appearing (and sometimes disappearing). There is a lot of surface area under the oceans, most of it pretty inaccessible several thousand meters down. But I don’t really know how much is known about this sea floor geology on a global basis (or how it is known, given 70% of the surface of the Earth is down there where one needs special equipment just to reach it to look AT the surface, let alone to look UNDER the surface at its subsurface geology tens to hundreds of meters further down).

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/25/widespread-methane-leakage-coming-from-hundreds-of-vents-off-east-coast-ocean-floor/

        suggests that the issue is not particularly clear even in “plain sight” right offshore of the US. I’d guess that in mid-Atlantic or almost all of the Pacific, it is almost completely unknown, and quite possibly will turn out to be “surprising” (as this article indicates) relative to our current beliefs about sources.

      • I would have thought earthquakes would be constantly cracking the caps at a fairly predictable rate so that new leaks would constantly be appearing.
        _______________________________________

        Which is why you don’t find oil and gas in mountain ranges…..

        R

      • Reply to

        Silver ralph
        July 10, 2015 at 12:05 pm

        I would have thought earthquakes would be constantly cracking the caps at a fairly predictable rate so that new leaks would constantly be appearing.
        _______________________________________

        Which is why you don’t find oil and gas in mountain ranges…..

        R

        But oil and gas are found in tectonically and volcanically active areas like Indonesia and California.

      • rgb – “I’m curious. How many fields like this vent directly into the ocean via the ocean floor?
        * * * * * * * * * * *
        ristvan – “Very few, and those (central GOM thermogenic methane clathrate) only seep slowly. Else there would be no field left after millions of years”.
        =========================

        “Far more natural gas is sequestered on the seafloor—or leaking from it—than can be drilled from all the existing wells on Earth
        http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewArticle.do

        The abiotic explanation for hydrocarbon origins allows for the observation of a leaky planet infested from pole to pole by greedy gas guzzling microbes. The fossil explanation requires adjustments to the observations to make them conform to the limitations of the model.

        e.g.: How many fields vent directly into the ocean?
        fossil-fueled answer – “very few

      • I would have thought earthquakes would be constantly cracking the caps at a fairly predictable rate so that new leaks would constantly be appearing (and sometimes disappearing).

        That is likely the case in offshore California where there are numerous natural oil seeps (think underwater La Brea Tar Pits). Woods Hole estimated over 20 tons per day is released in the Santa Barbara Channel. http://www.whoi.edu/oilinocean/page.do?pid=51880&tid=201&cid=54634&ct=362

        In the Gulf of Mexico, there are also numerous natural oil seeps (probably driven by sedimentary loading and salt movement, at least in the northern Gulf).
        http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10388&page=191

  10. I have some cool seismic lines over the field. Perhaps the obvious drilling target I have ever seen.

  11. I think one of the articles I read about this said that even the founding family descendants , Rockefeller, of course, were dismayed that this information had leaked out. Thanks Willis for giving the full report

  12. It just occurred to me that if Big Oil is spending Big Bucks on Big Den*al, they’re not getting much out of it. I mean, where are the:

    Billboards?
    TV ads?
    Full page newspaper ads?
    Glossy magazine ads?
    Celebrity endorsements?

    First big bucks campaign ever that is completely invisible! What ad agency came up with that AND got paid for it?

    • You use the “d”- word lightly, but you know they are out there, those people. Ugh! Can we even call them that- “people”? They are so beneath us and stupid! However, they are exceedingly cunning and clever and bear considerable watching.

    • Here’s a relevant comment I made 10 months ago:
      —————

      rogerknights September 27, 2014 at 9:14 pm
      From the Mann one-minute video a few comments upthread: “The greatest disinformation campaign in history … Hundreds of millions of dollars”

      Ridiculous. Who has ever seen a contrarian billboard or TV or radio spot, or print ad? How many contrarian articles can be found in the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature?

      For a list of 20-plus things that would be happening (but aren’t) if climate contrarians were actually well-organized and well-funded, see my WUWT guest-thread, “Notes from Skull Island” at
      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/12/16/notes-from-skull-island-why-skeptics-arent-well-funded-and-well-organized/

  13. Saw this at the Guardian and didn’t bother commenting there. Why? Because I don’t care what Exxon did or didn’t do so long as it was legal and fulfilling its obligations to its shareholders. Why should I. Why should any of us?

    It amazed me that the Guardian put in the statement “Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial” based only on the opinion of Kenneth Kimmel, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    As such, it was clearly an opinion piece, not news. And everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. Even those loonies who believe in mad conspiracy theories.
    (Like this – Big OIl are out to Kill us All).

  14. Exxon discovered Global Warming years before the scientific community and then covered it up, like Phillip Morris and tobacco?

    They’ve made some crazy claims before, but that has to be among the most bizarre!

    • LarryFine: You beat me to it. The Guardian article works because the greens are ready for the argument that CO2 causes environmental disaster, just like smoking causes cancer; and Big Oil (along with Big Coal) is playing the role of Big Tobacco. Lawsuits in the U.S. have been based on the argument: I would have quit smoking if only Big Tobacco had told the truth. Since they didn’t, my illness is all their fault. This is an infantile argument, but if there is an analogy to climate, there has to be a cover-up somewhere.

  15. Has anyone posted this over at the Guardian? I would but they pre-moderate all my postings like the Stasi that they are

  16. Someone mentioned the Guardian article to me yesterday as if it was the discovery of the last shroud , incontrovertible evidence of CAWG and the hiding of facts by people like the oil companies.
    I read it through my usual jaundiced eyes and saw no more than I normally do in such articles ,alarm , panic, hand waving and confirmation through the comments of the fact that they were right all along.
    Since I have been banned from commenting around about a dozen times from that rag ,I am well versed in the psychobabble and propaganda issued almost on a daily basis.
    Someone above mentioned Lowendowsky should examine the comments for confirmation bias,ignorance and group thinking , but guess what ? one of the lead writers is Nutticelli , big big buddies with skeptical seance and Cook ,who in turn is big big buddies with Lowendowsky ,,not that I would allege a conspiracy or anything like that , just saying you know.
    To be fair to the commentators , they do have some smart attack dogs trolling the comments to ensure any straying from the paths of righteousness is greeted with howling and derision.
    I would recommend Rocky Rex as one of the politest and very knowledgeable on the subject but stuck in a 90,s loop he cannot escape. Semyorka is a vicious protagonist again very knowledgeable but with such a disgusting attitude, and his/her left wing bias is paraded daily in the Grauniad , a fickle rag ,pandering to champagne socialist media types.
    Thank you for clarifying matter Willis ,more power to your elbow.

  17. As Willis pointed out, For ALL entreprises it’s the bottom line that keeps them in business.

  18. Willis another good article, thank you.
    Over here the Guardian is read by “champagne socialists” people who are intellectual and prosperous, but with a guilt complex for those who aren’t. They embrace any left-wing view no matter how crazy it is.

    I think the following sentence in the e-mail says it all: “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.”

    There is an old expression in journalism “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story” , in this instance it is certainly true.

  19. The Guardian cited a study last year predicting record global CO2 emissions of 40 billion tons, up from 32 billion tons in 2010. This “alarming” study was carefully timed to precede a UN meeting on global warming. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/21/record-co2-emissions-committing-world-to-dangerous-climate-change

    Yet in March of this year, no less an authority than the BBC (ahem) reported that global emissions of CO2 remained static at 32 billion tons for 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31872460

    If Willis were trying to fact-check these media outlets, he would have time for very little else.

    • Big corporations have many employees. Tens of thousands, all with their own beliefs. Bernstein is published by the Guardian because they like what he says, not because he is any sort of expert. It is the bane of corporations that they have employees who carry the name of the corporation into whatever they do outside. It’s one of the appeals of outsourcing.

  20. They’re really throwing a lot of p00 at the wall and hoping some sticks, aren’t they? These last few weeks, it’s something every day.

  21. As I read this about the Natuna gas field having a CO2 concentration of 70% I was reminded of the 1986 Lake Nyos disaster in Cameroon, which killed 1,700 people due to a large release of CO2, which is heavier than air, so can form a large, lethal cloud under the right conditions.

    • Not a cloud in the traditional sense, just pushed O2 out of the way. People then suffocated. Concentrations of CO2 were reported to be 17,000ppm/v.

  22. In October 1983, following a leak, the Guardian exclusively revealed that nuclear cruise missiles would arrive at Greenham Common, Berkshire, England on 1st November

    There followed a legal battle with the British government, who demanded that documents be handed over so that the source of the leak could be identified

    Given the strong tradition of fearless journalism that prevailed at the time from the likes of Bernstein and Woodward, it was reasonable to suppose that the Guardian would protect its source

    Not a bit of it. The Guardian surrendered the documents and the whistleblower was identified as Sarah Tisdall, a Foreign Office clerk who subsequently received a 6-month vacation at one of Her Majesty’s ‘hotels’

    The Guardian – the newspaper that doesn’t do what it says on the tin

    • I was driving through Newbury on the A34 from Basingstoke on the A339 the night the missiles were delivered. The base was lit up like a Christmas tree, flood lights galore! The base was also surrounded by thousands of very unclean looking women! Wonderful examples of humanity, spitting, throwing excrement and rocks at passing cars trying to get through “protest” lines!

  23. Since no one in government funds those who disbelieve climate scientists surely the companies actually have a duty of care to their shareholders to fund studies investigating the honesty and accuracy of the climate non-scientists. (I actually mistyped scientist and this is what the auto correct gave me)
    If I had shares in any energy company I would actually demand they funded checks before paying into any extortion racket.

  24. They seem to be trying to build a parallel argument used with the tobacco companies. “They knew about it but promoted it”…type of argument is will be used as an example of how deniers are are just as bad as they perceive tobacco companies to be. They’ve already said so in other venues. This is more of the same because most people don’t follow whole news stories – just sound bytes. It’s a form of “Subliminal Seduction” that first reared it’s head around the 1970’s. During movies, pictures of drinks and other goodies were flashed in between frames of a movie and intermission sales at the lobby concession stands rose. Marketing is about making people think what you want them to think. Marketers work in politics too. Beware.

  25. The Guardian says, “ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company…”

    Aren’t Saudi Aramco and France’s Total SA both significantly larger than Exxon?

  26. What sort of proof is there that Exxon “funded den!er$ for 27 more years”. If its 27 years from 1981 does that mean den!er$ have had no big oil funding for the last 7 years? Are den!ers like plants in that we get 30% greener from increased CO2?

  27. The Guardian´s CIF also deliberately manipulates contrarian comments to their perceived advantage. They publish only the weakest or faulty `denier`comments – on purpose, leaving their Green extremists a total free hand and to rant, insult, ridicule etc. They will cut and slice online discussions to their Climate Change convenience.
    Dishonest, tyrannical, hypocritical, ultra religious.

  28. Exxon is a private enterprise. It’s none of my or anyone else’s business what they do w/their money — that’s up to the Board & shareholders.

  29. It’s written by Suzanne Goldenberg, the Guardian’s DC environmental trollop. What did you expect, facts?

  30. I like the idea of using some handy bug such as Pyrococcus furiosus to turn the otherwise (mostly) useless CO2 into fuel via a co-production process. Of course, that biotechnology is definitely in the “not ready for prime time and may never be” category. Oh well–as RalphB says, it’s still plant food.

  31. Having spent 15 years “in the business” I must remind folks that even a PhD in Chemistry can often be the VP of Human Resources in that business……degrees are rarely indicative of material knowledge.

  32. I once tried to complain about dishonest reporting but was told the Guardian does not even subscribe to the idea of balanced reporting so the press complaints commission cannot touch them for even the most blatant lies.
    As for funding anti climate change research i believe the energy companies are in breach of due diligence in not funding anti climate change research significantly given the costs to the business.

  33. Willis,

    Thanks for this piece. I worked for Exxon for 30 years. Never came across Bernstein. Worked on Natuna D-Alpha several times going back to late 70’s. You and others here have it right, it’s just never been and probably never will be commercial.

    I can say with absolute certainty that Exxon (now ExxonMobil) is the most ethical, professionally run large corporation in the world. Stuff like the Guardian article goes on all the time. I am glad you took the time to debunk it.

    • An hour and a half north of San Francisco, about six miles in from the coast.

      w.

  34. The Guardian is a laughable rag with extremely low circulation figures. It is indeed the print arm of the BBC; the bed-hopping of staff between the two is astonishing. There used to be a very good satirical magazine in the UK called Private Eye. It is still published but isn’t very good. The editor, Ian Hislop, doesn’t appear to be very keen to publish anything that contradicts the green line or renewables. The fact he regularly appears on the BBC and his wife works in the renewable sector is obviously irrelevant. The Eye used to refer to the Guardian as the Grauniad because of the number of typos it contained. Sadly, the errors now contained in the Grauniad are not just typos.
    My laboured point being the rag’s influence is due solely to it being supported by a climate activist monopoly funded by an unpopular poll tax. I recommend a read of the comments section under any Guardian article in order to get a feel for the mentality of its readership.

  35. I had read this Guardian article, and read it as carefully as possible, to see WHERE in it it said that IN 1981 EXXON was worried about climate change, per se. Nowhere in the article does it say this.

    This part certainly doesn’t, “When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that 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.”

    This is not only NOT in 1981, but it does not speak of climate change. It speaks of CO2, and CO2 does NOT equal global warming, no matter WHAT The Guardian or the author’s opinions are.

    The only mentions of 1981 or the early 1980s were these:

    ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, knew as early as 1981 of climate change…“.

    “…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. Natural gas often contains CO2 and the technology for removing CO2 is well known. In 1981 (and now) the usual practice was to vent the CO2 to the atmosphere…”

    “…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.”

    IN FACT, the term “climate change” was not even on the horizon in 2000, much less in 1989, the date referred to at this point in the email. So, not only did they misrepresent email as existing in 1981, but they also misrepresent “climate change”, which in 1981 and through the 1980s and 1990s was always referred to as “global warming“. Add to that the misrepresentation that CO2 equals global warming/climate change, and this article turns out to be nothing more than misrepresentation piled on misrepresentation. THEN add in Willis’ excellent find that Natuna was NOT shut down back in the 1980s or even the 1990s, and the whole article turns out to be total CRAP.

    There is no smoking gun here about EXXON and 1981. Knowing about global warming in 1981 in terms of what some governments might do about regulations does NOT mean in any way that EXXON was concerned about their culpability regarding any such thing as global warming – only that they needed to know their enemies, possible regulations, and how to deal with such things. There is nothing in that that even REMOTELY suggests that EXXON was feeling guilty or responsible for any global warming.

    This entire article is a figment of the author’s/Guardian’s imaginations. They are really straining. The entire purpose of the article was not to show a smoking gun (there isn’t one) – but to PRINT A HEADLINE that would catch people’s attention and keep global warming on people’s minds.

    • Nice comment, just about pre-empted what I was going to post. But I think I can add a little more. There is no way that Exxon would have been clued into climate change (aka AGW) in 1981. At that time the thing was not much more than a gleam in the eyes of people like Phil Jones and Tom Wrigley. Callender, of course, had been banging on about effects of CO2 for decades, and there were a few articles in Science predicting warming effects. But from my reading, the cooling claims had predominated before the 80’s. So, as you also say, the entire Guardian article really makes no sense time-wise.

  36. Isn’t there another problem with the 1981 date? Was AGW even a suspicion then, or were we still on the dawning of a new ice age?
    Well, whatever, it is the usual cant from the Guardian who never allow truth to interfere with their purpose.

  37. “Rain here today in July, unheard of and most welcome. I’d say it must be global warming but everyone knows that global warming only causes bad things …

    w.”

    We’ve been getting snow here in the Eastern Sierra!

    And great discussion, thanks folks.

  38. In addition to strict development costs like scrubbing/reinjecting the CO2 from a field like Natuna you also have to consider marketability. Given it’s location the best marketing approach for Natuna gas would probably be to liquify and ship it, which is also expensive. All in all my sense is that although Natuna is a huge resource it is unlikely to be commercially viable in the foreseeable future.

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