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Climate Change: Did ExxonMobil Intentionally Keep Two Sets of Financials In Order to Maximize Its Profits?

Oct 25, 2019

Revelations of Deception Within Oil & Gas Industry Regarding Climate Change

In New York, a securities fraud trial began this week where the Attorney General for the State of New York alleges that one of the major players in our nation’s oil and gas industry has cooked the books in order to fool shareholders and the general public. ExxonMobil is facing federal securities fraud charges over how it has handled and reported costs associated with climate change regulations. The Massachusetts Attorney General is expected to be filing a similar lawsuit before year-end.

However, the bigger issue in the long run for all of us isn’t alleged securities fraud by a major oil company -- it’s the factual basis underlying this case. Specifically, it is the discovery of deception and manipulation of the realities of climate change by ExxonMobil, and possibly others in the energy industry.

A new research studyhas just been released which points to an even farther-reaching manipulation of climate change realities by Exxon. Researchers point to internal corporate documentation going back as far as 1988 which reveal that company scientists were “….explicitly aware of the potential dangers of human-caused climate change caused by their products, but instead of taking action or warning the public, they spent millions of dollars on disinformation campaigns designed to obscure the scientific reality.” Read: Cook, J., Supran, G., Lewandowsky, S., Oreskes, N., & Maibach, E., (2019). America Misled: How the fossil fuel industry deliberately misled Americans about climate change. Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

We expect this climate change litigation to expand and grow with shocking revelations, perhaps mushrooming in a similar manner as earlier tobacco cases exposed trickery and chicanery by huge, multi-national tobacco corporations.

Here at WRDB, we are very well aware of how the bottom line motivates the energy industry, particularly oil & gas companies like ExxonMobil. Profits are huge, and keeping costs down at the expense of safety (for their workers, the community, or the environment as a whole) serves to maximize those profits.

This week’s trial is yet another example of how a major, multi-national corporation can intentionally and deliberately commit callous acts of wrongdoing as it puts profits over people.

From the American Association of Justice (AAJ) comes a summary of this week’s news coverage into securities fraud allegations made by the Attorney General for the State of New York that ExxonMobil kept a secret set of books in order to skew costs of climate change regulations to the company’s benefit.

This Week’s Trial Coverage: Summary of Wrongdoing in Opening Statements

With a hat tip to the AAJ coverage, we share the following along with online citations to the underlying news stories covering both sides’ opening statements. Specifically:

1. ExxonMobil is charged with intentionally lying to its shareholders and the general public about the costs of complying with climate change regulations. The NY Attorney General’s lawsuit hinges on the state’s allegations that ExxonMobil maintained a second set of financial books, where the costs of potential climate change regulation were “seriously underestimated.” There are also allegations of a secret email account maintained by ExxonMobil’s chief executive officer.

2. ExxonMobil, according to the New York Attorney General’s claims, lied to investors about the financial impact of future climate regulations on its bottom line, including “…using a ‘proxy cost’ of up to $80 per ton of carbon emissions, but internally used figures as low as $40 per ton or none at all.”

3. This allegedly resulted in shareholders overvaluing ExxonMobil’s stock “…by $476 million to $1.6 billion,” while ExxonMobil counters that the case filed by the New York Attorney General’s office “…is politically motivated” and that ExxonMobil “met its responsibility to shareholders.”

4. In opening statements, ExxonMobil attempted to explain these two different sets of books. According to the defense, the New York Attorney General has “twisted” reality and ExxonMobil will prove it has “two internal metrics” to account for the “financial impact of climate change on its business … which are used for different purposes and never intended to be public.” Further, the different numbers align with different “aspects of the impact of climate change, which will have different financial implications.”

5. Key testimony will come from former ExxonMobil Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson, who appears on both sides’ witness lists. It is alleged that CEO Tillerson “knew for years” of the two sets of “proxy figures – one private and one public.”

Our Perspective as Victim’s Advocates for Justice

For almost twenty years, WRDB has faced off against large corporations both at the settlement table and in the courtroom, and we understand the corporate mentality that is obsessed with revenue and disrespectful of almost everything else.

We have extensive experience in fighting large corporations in the courtroom, having achieved the rare distinction of having four nine-figure jury megaverdicts against major corporate defendants.

WRDB has represented victims in claims against some of the foremost oil and gas industry players and companies in this country, both in personal injury/death claims involving oil field accidents as well as contamination injuries and harm to the environment.

From our perspective, this New York securities fraud trial’s importance exceeds far more than allegations of securities fraud violations under the federal statutes. It is a revelation of how climate change realities have been ignored simply because of associated expense. This trial allows the general public a peek behind the curtain, and an understanding of how pervasive corporate greed and deception can be -- regardless of the size, age, or reputation of the company.