ExxonMobil Fights Back

The world's biggest oil firm is unleasing a PR offensive
to win the environmental war of words

by Terry Macalister

Monday June 18, 2001

ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil group, is planning a public relations offensive to win back consumers and investors, confidential documents suggest - amid fears the company is losing the war of words over climate change which has triggered a petrol boycott.

The public relations drive comes as the Stop Esso Campaign has widened its action against the oil major, drawing in Germany, Norway, and New Zealand as well as Britain, where it started.

A briefing paper drawn up for Exxon in Britain by Insight Research and passed on to the Guardian calls for an opinion survey to try to gauge the depth of anger against the company.

The oil group hopes to win back public support by asking survey respondents to be aware "the slight warming that has occurred in the last 50 years is likely the result of natural climate variations rather than energy use."

It also hopes to convince them "the (Kyoto) treaty would have little effect on global warming because it excludes many countries which are among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases."

Arguments against those of the environmentalists have been posted on Esso UK's and ExxonMobil's corporate website. Similar information in hard copy has been mailed to financiers in investment areas, such as Frankfurt.

Stop Esso campaign managers say the Insight survey suggests the company is panicking about the effect of the boycott which has seen support from celebrities such as Bianca Jagger and 350,000 hits on its website.

Cindy Baxter, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said: "The questions in the survey are loaded to give Exxon the replies they want. I think its a poll designed to be published and they will then claim the public is unaware of the campaign against it or that there is little support for Kyoto."

Last night the company admitted it was worried about the forecourt action but would not comment on whether it was having any marked effect on petrol sales. A spokesman for Esso UK said: "We are concerned about the boycott and are trying to make our position clearer. The main thing for us is to put over the facts."

He would not comment on whether the arguments over global warming and fossil fuels were being won or lost, but confirmed that public opinion surveys were being used. "We undertake market surveys from time to time and always include topical issues," he said.

Exxon, which trades in Britain as Esso, has been targeted by green activists because it is seen as the biggest corporate opponent of the Kyoto treaty on climate change.

Anger has intensified over the last few days a US president George Bush reiterated his determination not to support Kyoto.

Exxon is considered a big influence on Mr Bush because, environmentalists say, it bankrolled the Bush presidential race to the White House, though Exxon denies this.

Other oil majors, such as BP and Shell, have tried to avoid confrontation over their continued commitment to fossil fuels by also investing in renewable energy sources. The European companies support Kyoto and have made public commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Exxon's position on global warming will gain some support today when Professor Philip Stott of London University argues at a meeting organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs that Kyoto is scientifically unjustified and politically unfeasible.

Source: The Guardian

 

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