Rupert Murdoch and multinational Exxonmobil are close contenders for title of the world’s greatest climate criminal. Unlike Murdoch Esso has had a long association with Gippsland and been producing offshore oil and gas from the Gippsland basin since 1969. EssoBHP – now Exxonmobil – has played a leading role in our development which must be recognised, especially in the area of employment. Whilst agriculture in our region has continued to go through its ups and downs Esso has been there to provide work in otherwise difficult times. Of the many Gippslanders who have obtained employment on the rigs or onshore I know at least three.
But it is now clear that at the end of the 70s Exxon scientists knew, and warned the company, about the dangers of global warming and its direct association with burning fossil fuels. Senior management chose not only to ignore the threat but to actively oppose and attempt to discredit the science. Apparently they are continuing to do so. A vast amount of money has been directed to sceptics, denier groups and individuals to create doubt about the science and ‘muddy the waters’ of public opinion. As a consequence concerted action to minimise global warming, as called for by Margaret Thatcher and others as early as1989, has been delayed by more than 2 decades.
But the science is gradually identifying and quantifying the cost of inaction on climate change. Events heavily influenced, exacerbated and exaggerated by climate change including heatwaves, bushfires, floods and droughts have already come at great cost to both life and property. As a single example amongst many, 370 extra lives were lost in south-east Australia in the unprecedented heatwave that came before Black Saturday.
The removal of oil and gas from the Gippsland basin has also been associated with the possibility of coastal subsidence along the Ninety-Mile beach. In the 1990s geomorphologist Eric Bird warned that the removal of oil and gas from the Gippsland basin may lead to subsidence. One study by the CSIRO in 2007 estimated that subsidence of up to 3 metres could occur in places. Thus the Gippsland coast could be hit with a ‘double-whammy’ – subsidence caused by the removal of fossil fuels and sea level rise caused by the burning of them. In 2013 the company obtained permission to vent large amounts of CO2 directly into the atmosphere from their gas conditioning plant at Longford showing their continued and complete disregard for the science and a determination to continue ‘profitable’ operations.
Finally, and as an aside, we now have the news that Exxonmobil with a turnover of $9.6 billion in Australia in the last financial year paid no tax. This is further illustration, if any was needed, of the immoral operations of this organisation. On balance history will judge Exxon poorly. And all the money in the world cannot change the law of gravity or the basic physics of the greenhouse effect.