There are several major deposits of fossil fuels connected, in some way, to the Trump campaign and administration. There is one in particular that weaves together climate impacts, #ExxonKnew, oil oligarchs, and the presidential election. The massive oil deposit in question has a complex story, complete with devious plots and James Bond-like villains. We thought it would be helpful to sequence this string of events as a timeline and provide citation for each event.
The story starts way back in the 1980s, up in the frozen, ice covered Arctic and loops back to present day with a much warmer Arctic with much less ice. This series of events provides essential background, and even underpinning, to the nomination and confirmation of Exxon’s own Rex Tillerson to US Secretary of State. If you’re one of those people addicted to depressing Trump news, you’ve likely already heard parts of this story. If, by chance, this is your first time hearing all of this… hold onto your hat!
1980s: Russian Arctic is covered in ice making oil extraction impossible (link)
1982: Exxon scientists confirm global warming consensus with their in-house climate models. This research eventually leads to Exxon exploration and production equipment being built to allow for rising temperatures and sea levels. Later, Exxon embarks on a decades-long campaign of sowing doubt about climate science #ExxonKnew (link)
Early 2000s: Average global temperatures are rising, and Arctic ice has shrunk enough for serious oil and gas exploration (link)
April 2012: The world’s largest oil company, Exxon, and the world’s top oil producing nation, Russia, finalize a deal to drill in the Russian Arctic. Exxon and the Russian state oil company, Rosneft, sign $500 billion oil “exploration partnership” focused on Russian Arctic deposits (link)
Today, Exxon has more drilling rights measured in acres in Russia than any other country. Exxon has the right to drill 63.7 million acres in Russia; 14 million acres in the US; and 6.9 million acres in Canada. If drilling rights is any indicator of asset value, Russian accessibility is wildly important to Exxon. (link)
June 2013: CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, receives highest Russian state honor possible for a foreigner, the Order of Friendship medal, from Russian President V. Putin himself (link)
Did you know that Putin is the richest man in the world…by far!? The US intelligence community recently found that Vladimir Putin’s total asset wealth equalled $85 billion. The second richest person on the plant is Bill Gates, with a measly $75 billion (link)
September 2014: Exxon strikes oil in Russian Arctic. The major oil find is in the world’s northernmost well (link)
September 2014: Exxon withdraws from Russian Arctic due to escalating US and EU sanctions. The sanctions are intended to punish Moscow for the Russian occupation of the Crimea region of Ukraine (link)
Note: oil is really important to Russia. Oil & gas revenue was 70% of the petrostate’s export income and almost 50% of the entire Russian budget over the past decade (link). Access to Arctic deposits are key to Russian oil. It is estimated that the percentage of Russian oil that lie in the Arctic or subarctic are 60%, while Arctic gas reserves are estimated to be 90% (link)
December 2015: Moscow experiences a series of record-breaking high temperatures for the month of December. Climate scientists release report showing Russia has been warming at a rate 2.5 times faster than the average country (link)
2015/16: Trump campaign has ongoing communication with Russian intelligence officials (link)
July 2016: Trump announces “he would consider recognizing Crimea as Russian territory and lifting the sanctions against Russia” (link)
December 2016: Russians sell 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft to a secret buyer. The deal is worth over $11 billion and is dubbed the biggest privatization deal of 2016 (link).
December 2016: Obama administration applies new level of sanctions on Russia for interference with the presidential election (link)
January 2017: Now President Trump’s pick to head the NSA, General Flynn, communicates to Russian ambassador that the Trump administration will ease/lift sanctions (link)
January 2017: Buzzfeed publishes a dossier with unverified claims about Trump’s ties to Russia. It contains allegations that Igor Sechin, CEO of Rosneft, offered Trump ally Carter Page and his associates a 19% stake in the company in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions on Russia (link) (link)
February 2017: Rex Tillerson is confirmed as US Secretary of State.
February 2017: Trump signs repeal of transparency rule for oil companies that would have required energy companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments.
Now oil companies, like ExxonMobil, won’t have to disclose payments they make to foreign governments.
February 2017: National Security Adviser, General Flynn, resigns after it was revealed that he lied to the Vice President and other top White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador (link)
March 2017: The Arctic is covered with the lowest level of ice in recorded history (link)
As fossil fuel companies warm our planet, it becomes easier to explore and extract oil in the Arctic, even if humanity is underwater. This story is obviously still unfolding. As former Exxon CEO and Russian deal maker Rex Tillerson drives our foreign policy, we all must keep an eye on one of the world’s largest carbon deposits, the Russian Arctic. There are hundreds of billions of dollars at stake. You can be sure there are powerful forces at play to get those drilling rigs back online. Forces powerful enough to elect the likes of Donald Trump as President of the United States.
Oh, and there’s one other thing you should know: the average breakeven price of known but undeveloped Arctic oil reserves are $78.6 (link). That means companies like ExxonMobil and Rosneft need to sell Arctic oil over 78 bucks per barrel to make a profit, otherwise, it’s not worth their time to dig oil out from under the frozen waters. Oil prices are currently in the mid $50s. Not only would burning that oil destroy the planet, it wouldn’t even make a profit at current market conditions. For these two companies to restart this project, there needs to be some theory of long-term demand for expensive oil.
It’s up to us to make sure such a crazy theory doesn’t gain traction. See you in the DC streets for the People’s Climate March.