The threat lingers

Jan. 2, 2017
Timing sharpened illumination last month when the conservative Energy and Environmental Legal Institute published a scantly reported study about the Rockefeller family's campaign against the industry that made it rich.

Timing sharpened illumination last month when the conservative Energy and Environmental Legal Institute published a scantly reported study about the Rockefeller family's campaign against the industry that made it rich. The study, "The Rockefeller Way: The Family's Covert 'Climate Change' Plan," describes how descendants of John D. Rockefeller fund "social causes to amass influence in policy areas of their choosing." Since the 1980s, a priority cause has been global warming, now branded climate change.

"Their crusade to collapse the fossil fuel industry in favor of renewable energy is well-documented, from their involvement in major global climate treaties and organizations-the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1992 to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol-to spending hundreds of millions to advance the renewable energy industry," the study says. "Through their Sustainable Development Program, the Rockefellers continue to promote their self-serving 'clean energy' policies throughout both the federal government and general public."

Stark phrases

Oil and gas professionals characteristically recoil from stark phrases like "crusade to collapse the fossil fuel industry." But the study is convincing. It describes meetings hosted by the Rockefeller Family Fund in 2012 and 2016 aimed at disparaging the oil and gas industry by stigmatizing a single company, ExxonMobil Corp., and using state attorneys-general as witch hunters. The study further reports how Rockefeller money supported a Columbia Journalism School investigation leading to a Los Angeles Times report critical of ExxonMobil. The report documented expressions of concern about climate change from within the company as early as the late 1970s but noted ExxonMobil kept its focus on oil and gas and supported research highlighting uncertainties of climate science. New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman has tried to fashion a fraud case out of this retrospection.

Fabricating scandal out of old conversations abuses science. Since ExxonMobil-then only Exxon-began studying climate change and the Rockefellers adopted the cause, much has been learned. Prominent among the lessons is how much remains to be learned, especially about climate sensitivity: the extent of warming likely to occur as carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere. Temperature measurements contradict the forecasts of dangerous warming made by computer models tuned to high sensitivity. Evolving science thus provides growing reason to emphasize uncertainty and to doubt the wisdom of spurning fossil energy. The uncertainty didn't arise because ExxonMobil supported research questioning '80s-era alarmism. It's evident in the temperature record.

The Rockefellers and their beneficiaries thus advocate radical policies anticipating theoretical outcomes rendered increasingly improbable by observation. They should be easy to ignore. Yet they influence policy.

On Dec. 20, 2016, about when E&E Legal published its Rockefeller study, US President Barack Obama removed 115 million federal acres in the Arctic Ocean from future leasing and 3.8 million acres in the Northern and Middle Atlantic. He acted under an obscure provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Not 2 weeks earlier, he had withdrawn 25.8 million acres from federal leasing off western Alaska with more legal legerdemain: creation of the North Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area.

Frontal attacks

These frontal attacks against oil and work conform with the campaign against fossil energy funded by the Rockefeller groups. And they follow the dreadful and consistent pattern of Obama's presidency: stifling oil and gas production and use with too much regulation and too little leasing. At this writing, Obama had a month left in office and an evident yearning to please groups committed to blocking oil and gas work wherever and however possible. The industry can only wonder what's next.

Obama's acreage withdrawals off Alaska and the East Coast just happened to occur as the E&E Legal report appeared. But the coincidence provides an important reminder: Resistance to hydrocarbon energy won't disappear because Donald J. Trump won the presidency. Well-funded and well-organized, it will continue trying to manipulate policy from the fringe. It will continue, indeed, trying to collapse the fossil energy industry. The oil and gas business must never think otherwise.