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Atlantic Closes for Oil Giants

On February 4 2004, ExxonMobil issued a statement that revealed that the rift between oil giants in Europe and the US is healing ? a trend that first became evident at a Society debate meeting in March 2003...

In March 2003 the Geological Society hosted a dramatic debate (picture) as part of its major conference, Coping with Climate Change. The evening forum session, chaired by Society President Sir Mark Moody-Stuart (centre), pitted Greg Coleman (British Petroleum, right) against Frank Sprow (ExxonMobil, left) in an attempt to expose what had been seen as a growing rift between the attitudes of oil companies on either side of the Atlantic to global warming and fossil fuels.

The situation, as perceived before the debate and summarised by meeting co-convener Bryan Lovell in his curtain raiser piece 'Oceans Apart' written for this website and Geoscientist, was that European companies broadly took the view that global warming was real, and that anthropogenic effects might be part of the story. These companies broadly signed up to the main tenets of the Kyoto Agreement. US companies on the other hand, tended to take the view that evidence for global warming was at best dubious – and that if it were real, was probably almost entirely natural and unlikely to be affected by anthropogenic effects. They were said not to accept the Kyoto Accord at all.

The audience in Burlington House was therefore somewhat surprised to find that ExxonMobil, always hitherto portrayed as the Hard Man of the North American hydrocarbon industry, had apparently softened its view. Frank Sprow, the company's vice president for Safety, Health and the Environment, conceded that he accepted most of what was in the Kyoto Protocol.

In a statement, Sprow told journalists: "Developing reliable, affordable supplies to meet this energy demand will be an enormous challenge. Meeting future demand and developing more efficient uses of energy while taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will make this challenge even greater". The statement was published with a major report entitled A report on energy trends, greenhouse gas emissions and alternative energy. The report states that the potential impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on society and ecosystems may prove to be significant.

"To address these risks, we have for many years taken actions to improve efficiency and reduce emissions in our operations and in customer use of our products. We are also working with the scientific and business communities to undertake research to create economically competitive and affordable future options to reduce long-term global emissions" Sprow said.

The Coping with Climate Change meeting, its extended abstracts, curtain-raiser pieces published here and in the Society’s monthly colour magazine Geoscientist, and meeting reports by Site Editor Ted Nield, as well as the full transcript of the debate, are now being gathered together here as a permanent resource, marking this significant policy shift by a major corporation.

This is in advance of the debate’s eventual inclusion within a prestigious Geological Society Special Publication, containing peer-reviewed papers arising from the meeting, which is expected to be published later this year.