It’s been an angry day today. Traffic was bad on the way to work, Michelle Bachmann is now claiming that she was “just joking” about the hurricane and earthquake being a sign from God, and it’s one of those days where every time I make a cup of coffee, it gets cold before I can drink it.
Which is probably why the recent ads that ExxonMobile is running in support of their natural gas exploration and development is really starting to drive me nuts. I won’t get into the question of natural gas itself here (we’ll save that for a later, and more technical discussion), but I will get on my soap box about corporate responsibility.
You see, the ads tout natural gas as “An Amazing Resource for Americans. A responsible way to produce it.”
Responsibility? Really? Are they joking?
This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen an oil company try to capitalize on the energy crisis. If you recall, BP – prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster – was trying to sell themselves with the new slogan of “Beyond Petroleum.” Shell – the company responsible for some of the biggest environmental disasters in Nigeria and West Africa – have launched a “Let’s Go” campaign with the same end. And now, Exxon is promising that they can explore responsibly.
Corporate responsibility, however, doesn’t seem to mean actually having to take responsibility when something goes wrong, though. It means making a good show up front, when it’s a good idea for your bottom line to do so, and then apologizing profusely to the public when you fail to live up to your promises. Meanwhile, no responsibility is ever taken. Lest we forget, Exxon still has not paid out a single penny in the lawsuits that were filed in the wake of the ExxonValdez spill more than twenty years ago. No, they’ve tied them up in court, to the point that more than 6,000 of the original plaintiffs have now passed away. That’s how hard they’re trying to fight having to take responsibility for their actions. It’s not as though paying would be a financial hardship for Exxon, who for decades held the position of being the most expensive stock on wall street and one of the most profitable companies on Earth. Which is what really grinds my greens. This isn’t about the money, for them – that would be a drop in the bucket – especially now that the fines and charges have been downgraded several times in appeals. Exxon is, in fact, doing everything possible just to avoid having to take responsibility for the disaster they enabled.
Which is a problem because there is absolutely nothing we can do in the field of oil and gas exploration, development, and production to ensure that nothing will go wrong. We can minimize disasters, but human beings are what they are. Field work is inherently unpredictable. People get tired. Tools get stuck. The weather turns. There is an unexpected rock layer. At some point, things go wrong. Yet we’ve seen time and time again, that when they do, all we get are executives in suits wringing their hands and saying, as my dear-old-Dad would phrase it “Oh sh*t, oh dear.” They apologize. But, they do nothing to fix. I’m pretty sure that we all learning in Kindergarten that sometimes, it’s not enough to say you’re sorry: you have to do what you can to make the situation better. That is responsibility. What we have now are empty platitudes.
So please, dear oil companies: take your marketing elsewhere. It’s a shame that so many people might be duped by this scheme, because those of us who are paying attention know that responsibility is nothing more than a meaningless buzzword. Want to take responsibility for America’s energy future? How about investing in something actually renewable, that does not damage our groundwater and ruin acres and acres of precious land, to boot. How about forking over some of that extra dough to cleanup efforts even after the cameras and the press are gone? Hrm? How about letting honest science decide what is real and what isn’t, rather than paying false institutes to create “reports,” or attempting to shut up people with hard evidence of what you’ve done?
That would be responsibility.
And while you’re at it, there are some fishermen in Alaska and a couple towns is Nigeria that want their land, their water, and their money back.