In a speech Wednesday, Tillerson acknowledged that burning of fossil fuels is warming the planet, but said society will be able to adapt. The risks of oil and gas drilling are well understood and can be mitigated, he said. And dependence on other nations for oil is not a concern as long as access to supply is certain, he said.
Tillerson blamed a public that is “illiterate” in science and math, a “lazy” press, and advocacy groups that “manufacture fear” for energy misconceptions in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.
He highlighted that huge discoveries of oil and gas in North America have reversed a 20-year decline in U.S. oil production in recent years. He also trumpeted the global oil industry’s ability to deliver fuels during a two-year period of dramatic uncertainty in the Middle East, the world’s most important oil and gas-producing region.
“No one, anywhere, any place in the world has not been able to get crude oil to fuel their economies,” he said.
In his speech and during a question-and-answer session after, he addressed three major energy issues: Climate change, oil and gas drilling pollution, and energy dependence.
Tillerson, in a break with predecessor Lee Raymond, has acknowledged that global temperatures are rising. “Clearly there is going to be an impact,” he said Wednesday.
But he questioned the ability of climate models to predict the magnitude of the impact. He said that people would be able to adapt to rising sea levels and changing climates that may force agricultural production to shift.
“We have spent our entire existence adapting. We’ll adapt,” he said. “It’s an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution.”
Andrew Weaver, chairman of climate modeling and analysis at the University of Victoria in Canada, disagreed with Tillerson’s characterization of climate modeling. He said modeling can give a very good sense of the type of climate changes that are likely. And he said adapting to those changes will be much more difficult and disruptive than Tillerson seems to be acknowledging.
Legislation or regulation that would help slow the emissions of global warming gases would likely lead to lower demand for oil and gasoline, and could reduce Exxon’s profit.
Tillerson expressed frustration at the level of public concern over new drilling techniques that tap natural gas and oil in shale formations under several states. He said environmental advocacy groups that “manufacture fear” have alarmed a public that doesn’t understand drilling practices _ or math, science or engineering in general. He blamed “lazy” journalists for producing stories that scare the public but don’t investigate the claims of advocacy groups.
Drilling for oil and gas will always involve risks of spills and accidents, he said. But those risks are manageable and worth taking because they are small given the amount of energy they produce.