By Amy Westervelt
The evidence that shows how much oil companies knew about climate change—and their product’s role in it—as far back as the 1970s emerged fast and furious in 2015 when separate groups of journalists uncovered a treasure trove of industry documents. The reporting drew a clear picture of an industry that researched an issue that could threaten its existence and then worked for decades to ensure the public did not grasp its importance and to keep serious climate policy from being enacted.
That picture is even clearer today and as the effects of climate change and its ever-more-likely impacts become even more devastating, that story has been detailed in a new podcast: Drilled.
The foundation of the story was reported in 2015 by InsideClimate News, the Los Angeles Times and Columbia Journalism School, work that helped spark fraud probes against ExxonMobil in Massachusetts and New York. Last year, New York filed a securities fraud case against the company, and Massachusetts just got a green light from the Supreme Court to keep digging after it declined to hear Exxon’s appeal to block the probe.
To tell the fuller story, I combed through the available documents last year looking for people who could tell me more, and digging into various other resources that could help explain what was going on with the country, companies, and the media at the same time that Exxon was shifting its strategy on climate. Season 1 of Drilled begins to tell that story, building on previous reporting with history, new documents, and additional context from scientists who were there. The way Exxon went from trying to be the “Bell Labs of energy” to paying fake scientists to promote theories it knew didn’t hold water; how various PR efforts targeted certain demographics and members of the media to perpetuate the idea of climate change as a “liberal hoax;” and how those efforts were so successful they continued to perpetuate themselves long after oil companies officially embraced the idea that something must be done about climate change.
That series has now been downloaded more than 170,000 times and we’re continuing to build on it and add new stories. This year, we’ll explore everything from how the Mobil acquisition impacted how Exxon dealt with the climate issue to how a group of crab fishermen came to sue Big Oil to the roots of the PR industry and how it’s intertwined with the fossil fuel industry. And, of course, we can’t wait to dig into any documents that come to light as part of the ongoing Massachusetts fraud probe.