Oil giant Exxon Mobil has been ordered to hand over information in an alias email account allegedly used by Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, to discuss climate change.
Prosecutors in New York are investigating claims that Exxon may have misrepresented the risks posed to its business by global warming for years. If true, this may have persuaded people invest in the business on a false pretext.
Environmentalists have long warned that the need to stop producing the greenhouse gases causing climate change will mean oil and gas companies will be left with potentially billions of dollars of so-called ‘stranded assets’ that they are not allowed to sell.
Exxon Mobil is also facing legal action by a campaign group, the Conservation Law Foundation, which claims it tried to discredit climate science in order to keep selling fossil fuels.
The cases are reminiscent of lawsuits against Big Tobacco companies in which it was demonstrated they were aware that smoking caused cancer while publicly denying any link.
According to the New York Attorney General’s office, Exxon failed to hand over all of the documents relevant to its investigation as ordered by a court.
These are said to have included messages on an email account in the name of ‘Wayne Tracker’, allegedly used by Mr Tillerson, whose middle name is Wayne, to discuss global warming issues between at least 2008 and 2015.
In a letter to a New York County judge on 13 March, the Attorney General’s office claimed Exxon had “continuously delayed and obstructed the production of documents from its top executives, which are crucial to OAG’s [Office of the Attorney General’s] investigation into Exxon’s touted risk-management practices regarding climate change”.
“Most recently, after Exxon declared its document production ‘substantially complete’ on February 15, 2017 – despite producing fewer than 700 management-committee documents out of over 415,000 documents produced overall – OAG immediately demanded an explanation.”
Despite saying they would provide a “substantive response”, Exxon failed to “honour that promise” and simply made a vague offer to supply more documents, the letter added.
In a new court order, the judge told Exxon to hand over the Wayne Tracker emails and other documents by 31 March.
Following the ruling, the Attorney General’s office said: “Sixteen months after our initial subpoena, Exxon was ordered by the court to finally produce all documents from its management committee, and to provide clear answers to the Attorney General’s office about any documents – including those from alias accounts – that were lost.”
Exxon lawyers have said the Attorney General’s “ever-shifting investigative theories” meant they had initially focused on providing 109,000 documents related to four staff involved in studying climate change before trying to provide other information, Inside Climate News reported.
They said they had searched some 2.6 million pages of company records in the process.
“Despite the Attorney General's assertion that ExxonMobil has not complied in good faith, at no point did ExxonMobil refuse to add a single custodian requested by the Attorney General,” a lawyer for Exxon said.