The Imperial Oil Files: New Collection Adds to Climate and Energy Research Archives On Science and Denial

Today, DeSmog and the Climate Investigations Center are co-launching a large collection of documents from Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, Imperial Oil, that DeSmog collected from a company archive in Calgary over the past several years.

These documents add new context to the groundbreaking investigative reporting by Inside Climate News, and the Columbia School of Journalism in partnership with the Los Angeles Times, that revealed the #ExxonKnew conspiracy. Those journalistic efforts exposed the facts that Exxon’s own climate science research had confirmed the role of fossil fuels in driving global warming, and that the company pivoted away from that advanced knowledge, choosing instead to spend tens of millions of dollars funding climate science denial campaigns.

While most of the media attention has focused on ExxonMobil, this new archive provides further proof that Imperial Oil was also well-versed in climate science and the consequences of fossil fuel pollution in altering global climate.

As Kevin Grandia and I reported on DeSmog in 2016, Imperial Oil knew by the late 1970s that burning fossil fuels was the primary cause of climate change. And the company was unequivocal about it, stating bluntly in the report we discovered in the archive:

It is assumed that the major contributors of CO2 are the burning of fossil fuels… There is no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage and decreases of forest cover are aggravating the potential problem of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Technology exists to remove CO2 from stack gases but removal of only 50% of the CO2 would double the cost of power generation.” [emphasis added]
[click here to download the full PDF version of “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1978-1979”]

Our reporting at the time demonstrated that the knowledge of the carbon dioxide pollution threat was indeed global across Exxon’s worldwide operations, earlier than previously known, and considered a major challenge for the company’s future operations. We also cited an earlier document, from 1970, confirming that Imperial Oil recognized CO2 as an “air pollutant” — a designation which the oil industry has long sought to evade.  

DeSmog researchers visited this corporate archive, which was housed at the Glenbow Museum, many times over several years. The full paper collection was recently moved to the University of Calgary. The searchable set of documents we’re releasing today is the most comprehensive collection of the documents available online.

Most of the newly released documents are from the 1980s and 1990s, although a few reach back as early as the 1960s. They show how the company’s actions in Canada diverged quite significantly from what Exxon was doing and saying in the U.S., especially around the environment and global warming — at least at first. Then came the global corporate campaign to spread doubt, denial, and delay.


Related: View the Global Climate Coalition files, a previous collaborative effort between DeSmog, Climate Investigations Center, and Climate Liability News exposing the industry-funded effort to confuse the public and derail climate solutions.


There are many issues and themes covered in this new collection that will be of interest, including Imperial’s relations with First Nations, its early analysis of potential carbon tax schemes and pollution abatement policies, the oil industry’s forays into Arctic drilling and transporting crude oil under harsh conditions, and much more.

We encourage all journalists, legal and academic researchers, and decisionmakers to peruse this collection of documents, as there are many unreported and lesser-known stories within. We will add any news stories that come out below, so please reach out if you write anything or see something related to this collection.  

MEDIA COVERAGE ABOUT IMPERIAL OIL FILES

View the entire DeSmog series at Imperial Oil Files: How a Canadian Oil Giant Followed Exxon into Climate Denial

Main image: © Sam Whitham/DeSmog 

The Imperial Oil Files: New Collection Adds to Climate and Energy Research Archives On Science and Denial
Brendan is Executive Director of DeSmog. He is also a freelance writer and researcher specializing in media, politics, climate change and energy. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, Grist, The Washington Times and other outlets.

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