The Interview of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson

by S. Tom Bond on March 21, 2013

TV Interview by Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose does TV interviews for Public Television and Bloomberg TV. On March 7 of this year he did a show with Rex Tillerson, who is Chairman, President and CEO of Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil company. Tillerson is also a trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the American Petroleum Institute.

Charlie Rose asked low-ball questions, he didn’t stress his interviewee. That allowed this show to be exactly to Tillerson’s liking, with no hurdles to jump. Let the listener beware!

Perhaps Tillerson’s most obvious statement was “My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do.” Every other consideration can be ignored, in his mind. The rest is “risk management,” something he claims Exxon Mobil does well. His concept of risk seems to be engineering risk, no human errors expected. Even climate warming is to be risk managed. The company has been doing “studies” for a long time and has all the models in hand, he says.

Since the different models have a range of different results, there seems to be some question about whether any of them are correct, or in fact all of them. Future climate change is one of the most difficult problems science is working on, Tillerson claims. There are thirty some factors and human generated carbon dioxide may not be the cause, according to him. (97% of qualified scientists say it is the cause.)

He has seen no studies linking unusual weather to climate change. “If there is, it is an hypothesis,” He says they can be handled by the usual kinds of risk management, reeling off a list of generalized risk management techniques like he was reading a business school textbook.

When Rose asks “Does the United States have an energy plan? Tillerman reflexively answered, “NO.” “If there is one, it is to get other countries to produce it and sell it to us cheap.” Many people think the oil companies could get one, Tillerson claims, we can’t do that.

He said that in 2040, 80% of the energy the world uses will still be oil and gas and coal. He obtains this result by using the projected world expansion of energy use, and his data for current use and rate of expansion renewable energy, ignoring the fact that several countries are far ahead of the United States in the expansion of renewables, ignoring the fact that technology is rapidly improving in several areas, notably solar, and assuming no technological breakthroughs in fusion power (for example) or other sources in the 25 years ahead.

Tillerson’s views on natural gas are trite at best. Exxon Mobil started a new era with the development of liquefaction of gas in Qatar over a decade ago, according to him. The thing driving the demand for gas is the quality of the fuel, low carbon dioxide, clean, abundance, but no mention of the present low price as a demand factor.

Fracking gets no more than a grudging nod, two minutes or so, with only the major claims, most notably,  no proven aquifers destroyed. And, this in spite of Professor Anthony Ingraffea’s research using PA-DEP data to show that over 8% of the wells put in place in 2012 lacked casing integrity, and other truly vast experience by people in the field. For the rest, Tillerson claims generally no damage done. No mention of health effects, property depreciation due to drilling, environmental impacts and all the other externalized costs.

In response to the question “For now, then, is fracking the solution to our energy problems?” The answer is, “I would hate to hang the hat on that alone, but it’s transformational.” When Charlie Rose asked what could upset shale drilling the answer was quick, “regulation!” We have more than is needed now, he implies. In fact, his distaste for regulation shows up several times in the interview. You get the idea if the companies could make the laws everyone would be better off. If President Obama calls, he would tell him less regulation would help – help Exxon Mobil, the nation, the world.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the interview was what he said about technology. After dissing renewables, and assuring us that Exxon Mobil keeps up to date on all technology, he goes to some length talking about GM algae production of synthetic oil, then out comes this: “We have always said that it is important that we pursue all forms of energy because we are a technology based company and we believe in technology.” Implying to this listener that they are not really an oil company, but a capital holding company that would just as readily shift into any other way of using that capital that might be more profitable.

There are many other topics covered worth listening to. Carbon tax and a claim that oil will never reach 150 dollars a barrel. National priorities, whether Exxon Mobil is a national company or large enough to be a sort of nation itself, as some have claimed (Steve Coll’s book “Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power). This is stuff that makes you think.

The interview is a model of self-interest, with no social value input to the system expressed anywhere. If you Google “Charlie Rose, Rex Tillerman” the 53 minute video appears on many sites. The above reference was chosen for the presence of good comments. The Google search will also get several articles of comment on the interview. One of the best appears in Huffington Post. A series of letters to Tillerson can be accessed here.

NOTE:  Exxon Mobil purchased XTO Corporation in 2010 for over $39 billion so as to be in the oil and gas shale business.  This may be yielding mostly red ink before it shows green profits.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Trevor Cross May 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm

“The interview is a model of self-interest, with no social value input to the system expressed anywhere.”

Please define the terms “social value input” and “the system”.

Do these terms include the tens of thousands of hard working people employed by ExxonMobil around the world…and their families? Or the taxes they pay? Or the many subcontractors they employ?


S. Thomas Bond May 22, 2013 at 7:58 am

“Social value input” refers to the value for society, “the system.” My complaint is that the value is entirely for the few financing and running the game. No consideration of those who have to bear the externalized costs now, the future generations that will loose by loss of environmental services such as clean water and food or timber.

Jobs are great – not only do they provide maintenance for ones family, but they make friends, provide power to make choices and give one a sense of being someone, far more than just money. Whether any one has a job is a social function – it depends on how society is organized. Put it another way, these people could be doing other jobs and be satisfied. There is a tremendous amount of capital sloshing around the world – trillions. People don’t have to be working for ExxonMobil to have a wage or salary.

We need energy, obviously, but we need to consider other things as well – the capital is out there, the need is for longer range planning. Hopefully, the time horizon for America is beyond the length of time needed to return invested money, some six or eight years.


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: