We Now Know the Facts

Seems Like a Faceoff of ExxonMobil Vs. The World

Commentary by Marcelo Gleiser, Blog: 13.7 Cosmos & Culture (NPR), November 30, 2016

In the current issue of the New York Review of Books, David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman, the president and the director of the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF), respectively, explain why the organization decided to divest its holdings on fossil fuel companies.

Although the divesting decision is broad-ranging, they single out ExxonMobil for its “morally reprehensible conduct.”

“For over a quarter-century the company tried to deceive policymakers and the public about the realities of climate change, protecting its profits at the cost of immense damage to life on this planet,” they write, condemning ExxonMobil for not only covering up its cutting-edge research findings on how fossil-fuel burning affects the global climate, but also for willfully promoting an agenda of deception, aiming at confusing and influencing public opinion by turning a scientific issue into a political one.

Could this be true? Could a trusted American company, with revenues larger than the gross domestic products of countries like Austria and Thailand, plot to deceive the public?

That’s what the RFF determined, after funding a team of independent investigative reporters from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism to research what ExxonMobil and other U.S. oil companies actually know about climate change.

In a nutshell, the team of journalists found that ExxonMobil has known for decades that the burning of fossil fuels is the dominant cause of global warming.

As early as 1965, Lyndon Johnson told Congress: “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through … a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.” Not surprisingly, by the late 1970s and early 1980s, ExxonMobil scientists understood quite well the mechanisms of climate change and its broad implications for the oil business.

A 1979 Exxon memo reported:

“Models predict that the present trend of fossil fuel use will lead to dramatic climatic changes within the next 75 years …. Should it be deemed necessary to maintain atmospheric CO2 levels to prevent significant climatic changes, dramatic changes in patterns of energy use would be required.”

This memo was circulated within the company, and sent to a number of the company’s leading scientists, who are supposed to report to the company’s leadership.

The investigative report from the RFF is quite clear in its findings. Yet, few people know about this. Shouldn’t the public be outraged at this? Shouldn’t people boycott ExxonMobil, stop buying its products? Shouldn’t all large investors (and smaller ones) divest their holdings from this company?

Divesting a company is a direct form of action based largely on a moral argument, aiming at both proving a point and at exerting pressure. It becomes the currency of those who want to make a difference without waiting for governmental regulations — which depend on slow-moving, fluctuating partisan political decisions — to take place.

The leaders of ExxonMobil and other oil companies want to maximize profit. This is not surprising, given that this is what any company wants to do. The more profitable a company, the more valuable it is and the more assets it has. This is the so-called bottom line, which, put simply, is the balance sheet of the company: The more it makes, the more its shareholders make.

There’s nothing wrong with a company wanting to maximize its profits. What is objectionable is how far it’s willing to go in order to do so. Where do you draw the line between healthy ambition and immoral greed?

Cigarette companies have done similar things, as reported in Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. Tobacco companies knew as early as 1953 that cigarette smoking can kill. Through a large-scale effort of deception, including undermining the credibility of serious scientific studies on the deleterious effects of smoking, the tobacco companies managed to stall public awareness for decades. Oil companies are using similar tactics, focusing on their short and midterm gains, caring nothing for what comes a few decades down the line — even if our global future, including the health and social stability of this and the next generation, is largely dependent on it.

We live in an era of rising corporate ethics, where many companies understand the importance of aligning with sound science to guarantee their long-term profitability. To declare war on scientific findings and public awareness is to declare war on our joint shared future. Divesting a company, be it at the individual or at the foundation portfolio level, packs a meaningful punch: It tells the company that it is acting against its main interest, in a process that can only be described as self-destructive — it is compromising the very resources that keep it alive. If people stop buying from a company at a large enough scale, the company folds.

The campaign against public awareness of climate change is a desperate decoy; like the scared octopus that jets out a cloud of black ink to hide itself from predators, the oil companies are trying to hide their findings to protect their morally questionable intentions. The tragedy here is that what the oil companies consider to be a “predator” is the climate science they once led.

The octopus doesn’t have any other choice. But the oil companies do. They could invest a fraction of their huge profits to reinvent themselves, becoming true leaders in the search for alternative renewable fuels, while retraining their work force into the emerging new technologies. This way, instead of holding back the planet and millions of workers in a decadent economics model, they would become the companies of the future, working to ensure, and not to destroy, our collective well-being.


>>> Marcelo Gleiser is a professor of natural philosophy, physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College. He is the director of the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement at Dartmouth, co-founder of 13.7 and an active promoter of science to the general public. His latest book is The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected: A Natural Philosopher’s Quest for Trout and the Meaning of Everything.

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Dilles Bottom in Ohio River Valley

Dilles Bottom Site in Ohio River Valley Cleared for Cracker

Decision on R.E. Burger Property Expected by March

From an Article by Casey Junkins, Wheeling Intelligencer, December 4, 2016

PHOTO: Approximately eight months ago, FirstEnergy’s R.E. Burger Plant stood prominently along the Ohio River. Today, the site has been cleared for development of the PTT Global Chemical America ethane cracker.

Dilles Bottom, OH – Site preparation for PTT Global Chemical’s planned multi-billion-dollar ethane cracker project in Belmont County is nearly complete, as all signs of the former R.E. Burger power plant along the Ohio River are now nothing more than a memory.

After more than a year of evaluating the viability of the project — which would create thousands of construction jobs in the construction phase and hundreds of permanent jobs once it’s up and running — officials expect the Thailand-based chemical giant to make a final investment decision by the end of March.

“So far, all the signs we see are positive,” Belmont County Commissioner Mark Thomas said. “We anticipate them making their final decision by the end of March.”

In September 2015, Ohio Gov. John Kasich joined PTT President and CEO Supattanapong Punmeechaow at the Statehouse in Columbus to confirm plans to spend at least $100 million for engineering and design plans for the plant, which some estimate would cost about $5.7 billion to complete. In July, FirstEnergy Corp. officials blew up the 854-foot-tall smoke stack at the former Burger plant to make room for the giant ethane cracker, which will also include a significant number of acres to the south and west.

“It’s a very good sign that FirstEnergy worked so quickly to remediate the site,” Belmont County Commissioner Ginny Favede said. “They have worked with Jobs Ohio on this.”

Jobs Ohio is the private economic development corporation Kasich and Republican legislators created in 2011. Matt Englehart, spokesman for Jobs Ohio, said Friday that officials are close to being able to make some announcements, but couldn’t provide more details. PTT spokesman Dan Williamson also said he had no new information.

“Things are moving very smoothly. The company’s due diligence continues,” Thomas said. “The remediation of the FirstEnergy site is, in effect, complete.”

Thomas said the company continues working its way through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency permitting process for both water discharge and air emission certificates.

If PTT makes an affirmative final investment decision, the construction project will require thousands of construction workers.

“The majority of the contracting work will be done by those from the local area,” Favede said.

“All the local labor that can be provided will be working,” Thomas added. “The project is so big that, at times, there will not be sufficient labor here.”

Although several new hotels and apartment complexes have opened across the Upper Ohio Valley during the last few years, Thomas and Favede said most of these will fill up rather quickly.

“You are going to have a lot of out of town people here. Those who have private apartments and hotels, they are going to be full for four years,” Thomas said.

Royal Dutch Shell is already building its giant ethane cracker north of Pittsburgh, but the majority of industry leaders believe there is so much ethane in the Marcellus and Utica shale region that it can both support multiple new cracker plants and provide feedstock to other established plants around the globe. Ethane now flows across Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook refinery via the Sunoco Logistics Mariner East 1 project. The material then goes to Europe for processing in trans-Atlantic sea vessels.

Sunoco is now working on the Mariner East 2 pipeline, which the company plans to have carry additional ethane, propane, butane and other natural gas liquids through Pennsylvania by next year. The company estimates the total cost of its Mariner East project at $3 billion. Pipeline giant Kinder Morgan is also working on the $500 million Utopia Pipeline, which would send the ethane from MarkWest’s Cadiz plant to a connection with existing infrastructure in Michigan. The ethane would then go onward to Corunna, Ontario, Canada for processing by Nova Chemicals Corp.

These pipeline projects are in addition to the active ATEX Express pipeline that sends Marcellus and Utica ethane to the Gulf Coast, as well as Sunoco’s Mariner West project that already ships the material to the Nova Chemicals facility in Canada.

“This entire region is going to be a major player in the energy sector for a long time to come,” Thomas added.“And Belmont County is right in the heart of it all.”

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US ethane cracker updates in petrochemical Q3 earnings calls

From an Article by Kristen Hays, Platts News, November 3, 2016

The first in a wave of US Gulf Coast ethane cracker projects is slated to start up in the first quarter of 2017 when Occidental Petroleum Corp. and MexiChem’s new joint-venture 550,000 mt/year project near Corpus Christi, Texas, wraps up commissioning by mid-January. Mexichem Chief Executive Antonio Carrillo said the plant will ramp up throughout 2017, reaching 100% capacity in late 2017.

Here is a roundup of other major cracker project updates provided during third-quarter earnings calls:

Chevron Phillips Chemical’s ethane cracker, a 50/50 JV of Phillips 66 and Chevron Corp., likely will cost another $250 million to $500 million because a months-long delay has pushed its target startup to the second half of 2017. Phillips 66 Chief Executive Greg Garland told analysts last week that the delay will probably raise the cost of the project in Baytown, Texas, by 5%-10% “just due to delays we are seeing in construction,” though two associated polyethylene plants 86 miles away in Sweeny, Texas, are expected to be mechanically complete in the second quarter and start up by mid-2017 as planned. About $5 billion of the combined $6 billion project is related to the cracker. Phillips 66 President Tim Taylor said the main push behind the delay is construction amid a tight craft labor squeeze.

ExxonMobil Corp and Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) are continuing their evaluation of Texas and Louisiana coastal sites for a new 1.8 million mt/year ethylene plant, in addition to a new 1.5 million mt/year cracker at ExxonMobil’s Baytown, Texas, refining and chemical complex slated to start up 2017. ExxonMobil expects global chemical demand to grow 1% above gross domestic product through 2040, which will need about 5 million tons per year of new capacity. “To put that into hardware, that would be three to four world-scale crackers per year,” said Jeff Woodbury, vice president of investor relations and secretary. “That sets up the value proposition.”

Enterprise Products Partners has “gained some traction” on adding ethylene export capability with potential customers seeking access to more markets, namely Asia, Chief Executive Jim Teague told analysts last week. He also hinted that Enterprise is likely to build adjacent to the company’s new ethane terminal on the Houston Ship Channel that started up in September. “You can imagine, if we do it at Morgan’s Point, we are sticking it right next to our ethane export” facility, he said. “So it kind of ties together.”

Teague also said the wave of new US ethane crackers slated to begin starting up along next year will need supply from the Rocky Mountain and Northeast regions as well as the Gulf Coast, and those volumes will be competitive despite added transportation costs. “It’s still about the gas-to-crude spread. You can have ethane prices go up so that it supports transport out of the Northeast or the Rockies, and then ethylene plants can still be advantaged here relative to the rest of the world.”

Dow Chemical’s new 1.5 million mt/year cracker in Freeport, Texas, is 85% mechanically complete and remains on track to begin start up in mid-2017, Chief Operating Officer Jim Fitterling told analysts last week. A cracker and three polyethylene units have started up at the company’s joint-venture Sadara project in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, with 2017 being the “big start-up year” for another 22 units and reliability tests in 2018, Chief Executive Andrew Liveris said.

He also said the company sees weakness in the global industrial economy, but strength in consumer, safety, hygiene and environmental products. Fitterling said the recent minor energy sector rebound with oil prices surpassing $50/b only to fall back to the high $40s/b range has been too small to make a significant impact on industrial chemicals.

Williams Companies expects to decide by the end of the first quarter 2017 whether to sell its 88.5% share of its 1.95 billion pounds per year olefins complex in Geismar, Louisiana, or forge a long-term, fee-based deal to operate it while a partner buys all the output and assumes all the commodity risk. In September Williams announced plans to exit the merchant petrochemical business with a sale or tolling agreement, though Chief Executive Alan Armstrong said that month a sale was likely most favorable. During a quarterly earnings call this week, he said Williams is open to either option as long as a sale is swift or a tolling deal is struck with a reliable partner with strong credit.

Lyondell Basell Industries’ Corpus Christi, Texas ethylene complex is being commissioned after a turnaround and a 363,000 mt/year ethylene expansion that will boost capacity to 1.15 mt/year. Chief Executive Bob Patel told analysts this week he expects the plant to operate at its expanded capacity during November.

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The Coming ‘Humanitarian Crisis of Epic Proportions’ due to Climate Change

December 5, 2016

Military and national security experts are sounding the alarm about tens of millions of climate refugees From an Article by Deirdre Fulton, Common Dreams, December 1, 2016 Climate change—and resultant natural disasters, droughts, and sea level rise—”could lead to a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions,” senior military figures told the Guardian. Specifically, the experts echoed [...]

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Cost$ for Solar Electricity Keep Falling

December 4, 2016

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Climate Change Leadership Coming from Cities, States, and Other Countries

December 3, 2016

Cities and States Lead on Climate Change Op-Ed Article by Jeff Biggers, New York Times, November 30, 2016 PHOTO: A wind turbine in Adair, Iowa. Credit Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press IOWA CITY — THE wind turbines that rise out of the cornfields here reminded me on a recent drive of one postelection truth, even in the [...]

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News: Unprecedented ‘Super Fires’ Devastate Smoky Mountains with 11 Dead

December 2, 2016

Some 14,000 mountain residents evacuated and hundreds of buildings destroyed From an Article by Lorraine Chow, EcoWatch.com, December 1, 2016 Wildfires have devastated eastern Tennessee. The blaze has claimed seven lives, forced about 14,000 people to evacuate and destroyed hundreds of buildings in Sevier County. The wildfires started Sunday from the Great Smoky Mountains and [...]

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Forest Fires Burn 119,000 Acres in 8 Southeastern States

November 30, 2016

Gatlinburg and Pidgeon Forge  in Tennessee are now being evacuated (Some 43 Photos are Accessible on Blount County, TN) From an Article by Steve Ahillen, Knoxville Times-Sentinel, November 20, 2016 Knoxville, Tenn. — Forest fires that have burned more than 119,000 acres in eight states and have people from Asheville to Atlanta smelling smoke continue to [...]

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UK Photographer Has the Largest Collection of Climate Change Images

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“Climate Change is quite simply the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced” From an Article by Lorraine Chow, EcoWatch.com, November 22, 2016 For the past 13 years, award-winning environmental photographer Ashley Cooper has traveled across seven continents, amassing the world’s largest collection of climate change images. His work can be viewed on Global Warming [...]

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Billionaire Activist Tom Steyer Vows To Battle Trump, Says Money Not An Issue

November 28, 2016

Tom Steyer is putting together a strategy that will “engage voters and citizens to fight back.” From an Article by Richard Valdmanis, Huffington Post, November 16, 2016 Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, who has spent more than $140 million on fighting climate change, said on Tuesday he will spend whatever it takes to fight President-elect Donald Trump’s pro-drilling [...]

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