Private Companies Take Action Against Global Warming

Published March 1, 2003

Private companies are taking the lead in researching climate change and funding projects that could mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases on the Earth’s climate. Several recent efforts are particularly noteworthy.

Electric Companies Planting Forests

Public-private initiatives underway in the lower Mississippi River valley are creating extraordinary opportunities for fish, wildlife, and outdoor enthusiasts alike. These initiatives are also helping to offset anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gases, which some people believe may be causing “global warming.”

Through voluntary efforts by America’s power companies, a number of partnerships were formed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Conservation Fund, and others to reforest the lower Mississippi River valley.

Approximately 50,000 acres are being planted with more than 15 million new hardwood trees in the lower river valley. Two hundred years ago, forests covered some 24 million acres. Today, the same area has fewer than 4.5 million acres of fragmented forest.

The reforested land will provide sanctuary, feeding, and resting habitat for wintering and migrating populations of snow geese and more than 18 species of ducks. The new hardwood forests also will create habitat for other types of wildlife and will accommodate such activities as wildlife observation, bird watching, and limited hunting and fishing.

One such reforestation project created America’s newest national wildlife reserve this past summer, the Red River National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Louisiana. Entergy–one of the largest producers of electric power in the United States–partnered with the Conservation Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Environmental Synergy to acquire 600 acres in a critical migratory bird corridor. More than 180,000 native hardwood trees are being planted to create a natural habitat for the birds.

During their lifetime, the Red River project’s 180,000 trees will sequester an estimated 20 million tons–40 billion pounds–of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. All told, the lower Mississippi River valley reforestation projects will absorb an estimated 275,000 tons of carbon dioxide. The projects are one example of actions the U.S. electric utility industry has taken voluntarily to respond to global climate change concerns.

ChevronTexaco Storing Carbon Underground

ChevronTexaco has reported success in its efforts to identify safe and effective methods for storing carbon dioxide in natural underground chambers.

Waleed Jazwari, project director of the IEA Weyburn CO2 Monitoring and Storage Project, reports carbon sequestration is both technologically feasible and environmentally safe. The project, funded by ChevronTexaco and other private and public groups, is testing the viability of storing carbon dioxide in underground chambers that originally held oil and natural gas.

Located at the border of North Dakota and southern Canada, the Weyburn project is demonstrating that sequestered CO2 is unable to escape the chambers. The chambers can hold enormous amounts of CO2 without negative side effects. Jazwari reports the Monitoring and Storage Project has had “very encouraging results midway through the project”; there has yet to be any unforeseen CO2 migration from the underground natural chambers.

Gary Pope, Texaco Centennial Chair in Petroleum Engineering, notes the volume of underground aquifers dwarfs the volume of underground oil and gas chambers. CO2-saturated water in underground aquifers would be unlikely ever to rise to the surface, says Pope, due to its density and the composition of natural storage chambers. “I think saline water sequestration is a very advanced and promising technology,” he adds.

The science of sequestration, however, may be advancing more rapidly than the politics. Sequestration project managers worry that scientific success may be put on hold while politicians wrangle over protests lodged by anti-technology activist groups. “We can’t wait 50 years for permits to inject CO2 into the ground,” says Craig Lewis, a senior staff scientist in the ChevronTexaco Process Technology Unit. “We don’t need another Yucca Mountain situation.”

Global Climate and Energy Project

In November 2002, ExxonMobil announced a $100 million grant to Stanford University in furtherance of its research into climate change science. The Stanford grant is in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars ExxonMobil already spends on greenhouse gas research projects.

The new grant will fund the Global Climate and Energy Project (G-CEP), to be led by Stanford University with participation from world-renowned academic research institutions and global companies, including ExxonMobil, General Electric, and Schlumberger.

“We are convinced the Global Climate and Energy Project will make significant academic and private-sector contributions to the development of practical technologies to address the potential long-term risk of climate change,” said ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Lee Raymond. “ExxonMobil is proud to work with a university of the reputation, experience, and ability of Stanford, and to be among the select group of sponsors coming together to make this project happen.”

Said Raymond, “We believe that G-CEP will play a cutting-edge role in pushing the frontiers of technology into new generations of energy systems. For ExxonMobil, G-CEP represents a powerful vehicle by which energy science will move forward to find economically attractive technologies that will be successful in the global market and vital to meeting energy needs in the industrialized and developing world.”

Said Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast, “This is an impressive show of commitment and sincerity by an energy company that has consistently argued that we need more objective research and less politics and propaganda in the global warming debate.

“Some energy companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns and apologizing for selling oil. Others fund irresponsible environmental groups that don’t hesitate to make the most reckless claims about climate change, air pollution, and other environmental issues.

“ExxonMobil has said all along that the science of global warming was uncertain, and that the smartest policy to pursue is to invest in research and let the private sector find alternative fuels when the market says they are needed. This grant shows how seriously the company takes its public statements. It’s a model for other companies seeking to be good corporate citizens.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

As noteworthy as the Stanford grant is, it is just one of many major research projects funded by ExxonMobil. For example, in the early days of the global warming debate, ExxonMobil (then Exxon Corporation) held a series of meetings with another of the nation’s leading research universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), regarding global warming science.

In 1991, after two years of discussions and sharing ideas, ExxonMobil invited MIT to submit a funding request to study the issue. The result is the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, which ExxonMobil continues to fund to this day. Other public and private groups also have stepped up to fund the project.

“Both MIT and Exxon strongly supported the objective of creating a program that would integrate the science of climate change, the analysis of its potential effects, and the study of possible policy responses,” reported Henry Jacoby, program coordinator and professor of management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

The Joint Program’s goal was to bring together a wide variety of scientific experts and integrate a broad spectrum of public and private entities to produce the most objective and comprehensive research on global warming science. “I like to say that economists, scientists, engineers, and political scientists working together is an unusual act,” said Jacoby. “There’s got to be a good reason for them to do it, and there is.”

“When we began this program, we were really plowing new ground,” observed Ronald Prinn, head of MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. “We are not trying to determine policy. We are trying to conduct very deep and careful scientific analysis … and let the results fall where they may.”

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.