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Economic sanctions imposed on Russia because of its annexation of Crimea and its military interference in Ukraine have slowed this collaboration.

If Tillerson is confirmed, he would be in a position to benefit the corporation where he spent his career, by, for example, advocating for the easing of Russian sanctions. In general, Tillerson and ExxonMobil have argued against economic sanctions as an instrument of American foreign policy. Take, for example, Chad, one of the poorest countries in Africa.

Steve Coll on the "Private Empire" of ExxonMobil

During the mid-two-thousands, the entirety of U. Secretary of State. In Kurdistan, during the Obama Administration, Tillerson defied State Department policy and cut an independent oil deal with the Kurdish Regional Government, undermining the national Iraqi government in Baghdad.


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ExxonMobil did not ask permission. Because oil projects require huge amounts of capital and only pay off fully over decades, Tillerson has favored doing business in countries that offer political stability, even if this stability was achieved through authoritarian rule. The right kinds of dictators can be more predictable and profitable than democracies.

ExxonMobil has had more luck making money in Equatorial Guinea, a small, oil-rich West African dictatorship that has been ruled for decades by a single family, than in Alaska, where raucous electoral politics has made it hard for Exxon to nail down stable deal terms. Similarly, ExxonMobil promotes the rule of law around the world—especially that part of the rule of law that favors international investment and makes international contracts enforceable.

Average citizen "understands" recognizes uncertainties in climate science; Recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the "conventional wisdom"; media "understands" recognizes uncertainties in climate science; media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints challenging current "conventional wisdom"; those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear to be out of touch with reality.

In fact, that thumbs up seemed to have more to do with further delay of any regulation than a change of heart on climate change. As Coll puts it nicely, quoting a company lobbying meeting with the new Administration, Tillerson "was happy to have a position that nobody was going to embrace. The irony is that ExxonMobil found good use for climate change: It cut its greenhouse gas emissions as a result of its focus on profits, largely by avoiding the flaring of natural gas co-produced with oil.

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Such quotations as well as anecdotes humanize the massive cast of characters in this sprawling book. Raymond is revealed as kind to the air crew of his private corporate jet while routinely excoriating journalists, analysts and underlings for alleged stupidity. And Coll puts the reader inside very closed rooms, such as a barbecue thrown for Russian President Vladimir Putin by U. President George W. Bush in November of Coll handles science — whether climate change, endocrine disrupting chemicals or geologic estimates of natural gas reserves — with clarity and power.

That underlying tension may stem from the original sin of the court-ordered split of Standard Oil into pieces in , the biggest of them Standard Oil of New Jersey to become Exxon in , and later ExxonMobil. One would think that blow would have been softened by the fact that Rockefeller and his executives became significantly richer by holding on to stock in each of the successor companies.

And yet the book details ExxonMobil turning to the U. That is borne out by its acquisition of Mobil, but also its attempt to repeat the feat more recently with the purchase of shale gas player XTO. This trick has an even longer history.

Steve Coll's Choppy Portrait of ExxonMobil - Pacific Standard

The original Standard Oil of New Jersey, when hived off from the rest of Standard Oil, was refinery-rich and oil-poor. This points to what makes the book, at times, feel incomplete.


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Given the profound industry cost-cutting and layoffs of the s, could it not be that we are looking back on a set of circumstances similar to those that produced the BP blowout in the Gulf in ? This is the history that formed the Raymond we know, and informed his tenure as chief executive. And the hard-and-fast Exxon Way goes only so far, we learn. The relentless emphasis on safety, depicted as pervading everything at ExxonMobil, is later revealed to be carried out by a company vice president with a secret life as a thrill-seeker, jumping out of planes among other life-threatening pursuits.

So the volume of detail that Coll and his able assistants managed to dig up on this corporate behemoth is incredibly impressive. But if Coll is seeking to build an indictment against ExxonMobil, as seems to be his aim, he does not achieve it. Circumstantial evidence of human rights abuses in Indonesia, corruption in Chad or Equatorial Guinea, and lobbying in Washington corridors do not make a strong case of malfeasance.

Subterranean Blues

After all, as Coll rightly notes, private companies have been involved in wars since at least the East India Company. Rather, the book might have added a crucial point. It scrupulously documents what we already know: Oil companies operate in bad parts of the world, more often than not following local rules about greasing the wheels. But in the rest of the world, ExxonMobil is a corporation deputized by us to slake our seemingly unquenchable thirst for oil.

In the end, Raymond, Tillerson and everyone else at ExxonMobil are servants, well-paid servants, managing a global effort to meet a demand for oil that knows no bounds and only cares to be satisfied.

Private Empire : ExxonMobil and American Power (Reprint) [Paperback]

Exxon sells 14 billion gallons of gas to Americans per year, most of it from its 14, branded gas stations. Its major crime at home seems to be a "burn your house down" legal strategy, a habit of bringing tremendous financial resources to bear against anyone with the temerity to sue it, whether for the toxic properties of gasoline additives or plastic-softening phthalate chemicals. Petroleum is a dirty business, but ExxonMobil most often gets dirty on our behalf and at our behest. My fellow Americans and I treat cheap energy as a right and the solution to all problems. We are, as evidenced by U.