Throughout the 1980s, the company struggled to solve the carbon problem of one of the biggest gas fields in the world out of concern for climate impacts.
by Neela Banerjee & Lisa Song
Oct 8, 2015
After Exxon got the rights to develop the Natuna gas field, company researchers determined that the project site was contaminated with much more carbon dioxide than normal. This picture is from one of the company’s documents exploring how to address the carbon dioxide issue.
In 1980, as Exxon Corp. set out to develop one of the world’s largest deposits of natural gas, it found itself facing an unfamiliar risk: the project would emit immense amounts of carbon dioxide, adding to the looming threat of climate change.
The problem cropped up shortly after Exxon signed a contract with the Indonesian state oil company to exploit the Natuna gas field in the South China Sea—big enough to supply the blossoming markets of Japan, Taiwan and Korea with liquefied natural gas into the 21st century.
Assessing the environmental impacts, Exxon Research and Engineering quickly identified Natuna’s greenhouse gas problem. The reservoir was contaminated with much more carbon dioxide than normal. It would have to be disposed of somehow—and simply venting it into the air could have serious consequences, Exxon’s experts warned.
Exxon’s dawning realization that carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect posed a danger to the world collided with the company’s fossil fuel ambitions.
“They were being farsighted,” recalled John L. Woodward, who wrote an internal report in 1981 on Natuna’s climate implications.
- Bill McKibben Wants Everyone to Know Why He’s So Mad at Exxon October 20, 2015
- Exxon Research — James F. Black, 1977 October 20, 2015
- Bill McKibben : Exxon Knew Everything There Was to Know About Climate Change by the Mid-1980s—and Denied It October 20, 2015