oil industry public relations

Years Before Exxon Valdez, Documents Show Exxon’s Imperial Oil Prioritized Public Image Over Spill Impacts

Read time: 8 mins
Imperial Oil Esso holding tanks

On February 4, 1970, the oil tanker SS Arrow was carrying a cargo of heavy bunker oil for Imperial Oil Limited when it encountered rough weather off the east coast of Canada. The ship’s captain had not sailed this route before and reportedly had no navigational charts. The ship itself had known problems with its navigation system. When the radar warned the crew of trouble ahead, the warning was ignored. The ship promptly ran aground on a well-known hazard, Cerberus Rock, ultimately spilling approximately 2.5 million gallons of oil, which coated 190 miles of shoreline.

Nearly two decades before the Exxon Valdez catastrophe in Alaska, the Arrow oil spill became a public relations black eye for Imperial Oil, a Canadian subsidiary of Exxon, and internal company documents published today by DeSmog and the Climate Investigations Center reveal that the company viewed the environmental disaster more in the context of improving its public image than improving safety measures that would reduce these types of environmental risks.

New Documents Reveal Exxon-owned Canadian Oil Giant's Shifting Climate Change PR

Read time: 9 mins
Imperial Oil gas station

It was 1971, less than a year after the world’s first Earth Day, and in Canada an oil giant was worried.

Public concern regarding environmental problems is being translated into legislation rapidly,” Imperial Oil warned in an annual research planning document dated January of that year. “The present trend in legislation will require substantial expenditures to reduce emissions and waste discharge for all facilities and reduce the impact on the environment of the products we sell.”

Green PR Firm EnviroIssues Secretly Working For Oil And Petrochemical Industry

Read time: 9 mins

This is a guest post by Eric de Place and Nick Abraham, originally published by The Sightline Institute as part of their series Look Who's Taking Oil and Coal Money

Consulting firm EnviroIssues is a longstanding fixture of the Northwest’s sustainability community. Known mostly for its work with local governments, the company is generally well respected and considered “a white hat” in a field liberally populated with unscrupulous characters. Of themselves, EnviroIssues says: “Our names says it all—we help make the natural and built communities where we live, work, and play better places by tackling some of the thorniest public policy and environmental issues of our day.”

Unfortunately, EnviroIssues’ green reputation is undeserved. The firm in fact works for several controversial oil and petrochemical companies, shepherding them through the environmental reviews that communities and decision makers depend on to assess projects’ local impacts. These include the highly controversial Tacoma methanol proposal and major oil-by-rail projects at Vancouver and Grays Harbor, Washington.

What’s more, Sightline’s research uncovered a troubling pattern of potential conflicts of interest. The firm’s unusual access to government agencies could allow it to grease the skids for some of the Northwest’s most controversial fossil fuel projects.

Oil-by-Rail Reality: Watch What Industry Does, Not What They Say

Read time: 5 mins

In the past month, there have been numerous public relations efforts suggesting that much is being done to improve oil by rail safety. Unfortunately, it seems these efforts will not involve much more than press releases and hollow promises.”

Those words were first published on DeSmogBlog in March of last year in an article titled Why Nothing Will Happen On Oil by Rail Safety.

In that article, one particular public relations effort was highlighted:

“One of the more popular talking points in the recent PR effort was that BNSF, the railroad that is the largest transporter of oil by rail, had volunteered to buy 5,000 new rail tank cars that exceed any existing safety standard.”

This statement was referring to articles such as the one in the Wall Street Journal last February stating, “BNSF Railway said it plans to buy as many as 5,000 new tank cars to transport crude oil, an unusual move that marks the latest effort by the rail industry to improve safety after a spate of accidents.” Similar articles appeared in Reuters (“Exclusive: BNSF to move into tank car ownership with safer oil fleet”) and CNBC.

It was a clear message. The rail industry was not waiting on new regulations to improve safety and would take steps immediately to make the movement of oil by rail safer. Tough to argue with that, right?

Except it was nothing more than a public relations campaign.

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