Exxon Isn’t the Oil User. You Are.
Finally ending a four-year saga, the verdict came in December against the New York Attorney General: ExxonMobil did not deceive or mislead investors over climate change impacts. No kidding. Advocates of the case against the oil giant built may have held it up as the bellwether for others, but we know that the NYAG’s case was an abuse of the legal system and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
New York’s failed shakedown of ExxonMobil brings to mind other similar cases that have fallen just as flat. For example, a case in San Francisco against “Big Oil” was dismissed in June 2018, with the federal judge specifically citing the city’s hypocrisy. As it turns out, the City by the Bay is itself, exactly what you thought: a huge oil and gas user. In any event, oil- and gas-based Massachusetts is moving forward with its own climate case against ExxonMobil, now trying to take it to the state court.
This is all so very rich: those seemingly out to takedown the oil and gas industry are those that use the most oil and gas: “The Shameless Hypocrisy Of Cities Suing For Climate Change ‘Damages.” Gas is the primary source of electricity in the very same states wanting to sue those who provide it (see Figure). The obvious hypocrisy is an albatross for our environmental movement.
Far too often, analysis of the dangers posed by society’s use of oil and gas and the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs), particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), solely focuses on the potential for climate change impacts. It’s absolutely essential, however, in the context of assessing the societal risk of CO2 emissions, to also look at why CO2 is even being emitted in the first place. CO2 is not released in a socioeconomic vacuum. CO2 is emitted because it is the inevitable by-product of combusting oil and gas, commodities that supply 60% of the energy input required to enable the world’s $85 trillion economy.
While the use of oil and gas results in CO2 emissions, it also yields significant benefits for the health and welfare of all the U.S. and global populations. We simply must strike a balance in the equation: both an assessment of the dangers posed to the atmosphere by CO2 emissions and the powerful benefits created by the energy usage that results in these emissions. The reality is that the poorest nations with the least healthy people having the shortest lives are sadly those that don’t have adequate access to oil and gas, surely not the other way around.
The hollowness of these climate cases is really as obvious as it seems. ExxonMobil and the other producers aren’t the oil and users: we are. Oil, for instance, is literally the basis of globalization, the sine qua non of our increasingly connected world. Oil and its petrochemicals are ingrained in basically everything that we do, the foundation of over 6,000 products that we use everyday. Most ironically, oil is an essential component of the manufacturing processes to create, transport, and install renewable energy systems.
Gas will supply 40% of U.S. electricity this year, up from 20% a decade ago. And not just the backup for intermittent wind and solar power, gas is expected to easily add the most new generation in the years ahead. “10 'Reality Check' Problems That Must Be Addressed By Opponents Of Coal, Oil And Natural Gas.” As a cleaner fuel with less CO2 and criteria emissions, our shift to gas is specifically cited by the International Energy Agency as the reason why the U.S. is lowering emissions faster than any other nation ever - "in the history of energy."
Our love affair with their indispensable products will continue to give oil and gas companies the ultimate “social license to operate:”
- Every day, Americans use 410 million gallons of oil-based gasoline
- Every day, Americans use 170 million gallons of oil-based diesel fuel
- Every day, Americans use 75 million gallons of oil-based jet fuel
- Every day, Americans use 90 billion cubic feet of natural gas
Looking forward, the U.S. Department of Energy couldn’t be clearer: oil and gas will still supply the bulk of all U.S. energy supply through 2050 – as far out as it currently models. Further, just looking through the 2020s, the International Energy Agency has the U.S. accounting for 85% of new oil and 35% of new gas globally. Already the largest oil and gas producer, we are set to become the largest exporter of these essential fuels within a few years. Those seeking expansionism and oil and gas hegemony know this of course, and they are doing all that they can to derail the age of U.S. Energy Dominance: “Intelligence: Putin is Funding the Anti-Fracking Campaign.”
Indeed, those seeking to damage the U.S. oil and gas industry with frivolous lawsuits aren’t just hurting Americans they’re doing the bidding of our adversaries.
Jude Clemente is Editor at RealClearEnergy.