Exxon Is Finally Being Forced to Turn Over Docs Showing What It Knew About Climate Change

Illustration for article titled Exxon Is Finally Being Forced to Turn Over Docs Showing What It Knew About Climate Change
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Exxon has run out of places to hide whether or not it misled the public on climate change. On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to take up a case filed by the oil giant attempting to stop a probe by Massachusetts’ attorney general. That means the company will have to turn over decades of documents that could provide damning evidence of how Exxon lied to the public and shareholders about climate change even as it learned more about the risks it posed to the planet and the company’s bottom line.


The case has been ongoing since 2016. According to the state attorney general office, the “investigation seeks information regarding whether Exxon may have misled consumers and/or investors with respect to the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, and climate change-driven risks to Exxon’s business.” As part of the investigation, the state requested troves of documents tied to Exxon’s climate research and how it was planning for climate change internally.

Not surprisingly, Exxon hasn’t been too keen to release any of that information and has waged a nearly three year legal tug-of-war with Massachusetts. The company filed suit in state court in an effort to keep the documents under wraps. It lost at every turn in state courts so it took its case to the Supreme Court, arguing that it was a “nonresident corporation” and therefore didn’t have to turn over documents. But on Monday, the conservative-leaning court refused to take up the case. That effectively leaves Exxon with no recourse but to fork over the receipts.

Those receipts are likely to be very damning, and could pave the way for more lawsuits as well as provide stronger footing for the slew of suits already filed by cities and counties against oil giants including Exxon. We already know Exxon knew quite a bit about climate change even as it continued to fund climate denial and downplay risks publicly, thanks to a bombshell investigation by InsideClimate News in 2015 that won a Pulitzer Prize. That series, in part, led to the state attorneys general lawsuits, which have continued to pile up (the latest was filed late last year by New York’s attorney general).

Meanwhile, InsideClimate News has continued to flourish. On Sunday, the nonprofit journalism outfit received a $1 million grant from the Golden Globes to continue its awesome work expanding local and high school climate journalism. All of this goes to show that while Big Oil still has immense power and resources, having the full truth come out about what companies like Exxon and other oil majors matters to the public.

Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.


Dense non aqueous phase liquid

It wasn’t like this mid 1980s department of energy curation wasn’t in the public domain, PDF’d, and just waiting to be googled.


And frankly, an excellent contribution by Exxon was included along with others. What Exxon brought to the table was good old fashioned transport phenomena (mass, heat and momentum transfer), chemical thermodynamics, reaction kinetics and other things necessary to model stuff like, oh, maybe a petroleum refinery. Much of climate modeling at the time was equilibrium based. Exxon brought in transience (time dependency and restriction to transfer of heat and mass from one phase to another) to the modeling effort. This of course required bigger partial differential equations.