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Discussion of challenges on key issues

Suzanne McCarron, ExxonMobil vice president of public and government affairs
Photo — Suzanne McCarron, ExxonMobil vice president of public and government affairs, has worldwide responsibility for the company’s public policy, government relations, communications, media relations and corporate citizenship activities. Suzanne authors the Perspectives blog on our Energy Factor website, which encourages discourse on constructive solutions to energy challenges.

ExxonMobil announced significant oil discoveries offshore Guyana. How does ExxonMobil approach social, environmental and safety considerations when starting offshore development and production activities?

We work in over 100 countries around the world that span a wide range of natural, economic and social conditions. In some places, our industry has had a long presence. In others, oil and natural gas is an emerging sector. Everywhere we work, we are committed to conducting business in a manner that is compatible with the environmental and economic needs of the communities in which we operate.

When we go into a new country for our major Upstream projects, we conduct research and engage with local stakeholders including government, communities and local experts to develop a thorough understanding of current conditions from a safety, social and environmental perspective. During this process, we undertake environmental, socioeconomic and health assessments to understand the potential impacts from our operations. We incorporate this understanding into our project design and management plans to effectively mitigate risks. Such assessments are often required by host-country governments, but we go through the process even when it is not mandatory. This allows us to identify opportunities and risks early on in the planning process and take appropriate steps.

We followed this approach in Guyana, where in 2015 ExxonMobil announced the first major oil and gas discovery in the country. Prior to drilling even the first exploration well, ExxonMobil engaged with government and community stakeholders, including local scientists and experts, to build an understanding of our potential project impacts and appropriate protective measures.

We also consulted with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency to develop a technical workshop series on oil and gas development, globally recognized best practices, international standards and environmental management technologies. Our partnership will help Guyana develop the capabilities it needs to manage oil and gas development, and we will continue working with local stakeholders through the duration of our project in the country.

What is ExxonMobil doing to promote respect for human rights within its operations and in the supply chain?

ExxonMobil actively promotes respect for human rights everywhere we work. We operate in some challenging environments where human rights issues — such as security, land and water access, forced labor and treatment of indigenous peoples — are a key concern to local communities. We believe the quality of the relationships we develop with local communities has a direct impact on the long-term success of our activities, and that our business presence can and does have a positive influence.

We work with suppliers and business partners who share our commitment to human rights. We also actively engage with host governments to support security and respect for human rights in and near our operations.

In 2016, we made progress in a number of human rights-related areas:

  • We published our ExxonMobil Supplier Expectations, a set of guidelines for our contractors and suppliers that covers human rights. These Expectations include references to key international human rights frameworks such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the International Labor Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Starting in 2017, the Supplier Expectations will become part of ExxonMobil’s annual letter to our suppliers.
  • We supported the creation of an in-country network to support the further implementation of the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights in Nigeria. This network will enhance local collaboration on security and human rights among governments, nongovernmental organizations, companies and other stakeholders.
  • We continued to train our workforce on human rights issues. For example, since late 2015, more than 1,200 of our key employees in 46 countries have completed our new computer-based human rights training.

There have been several safety incidents associated with contract labor in the oil and gas sector. What is ExxonMobil doing to ensure its contractors receive the same safety training as its employees?

Our efforts are driven by our world-class Operations Integrity Management System. This system sets the foundation for our company’s focus on safety throughout our worldwide operations. Employees and contractors alike are properly trained to perform their work in a safe manner. 

We develop work plans tailored to our projects to ensure our workers get both the basic and specialized safety training they need for their specific jobs. We provide standardized training at regional safety training centers and work directly with contractors to make sure everyone working at our sites understands ExxonMobil’s safety procedures and is competent to perform assigned tasks prior to starting work. For higher-risk activities, we have more stringent expectations, such as requiring certification prior to engaging in a particular activity.

In some locations, we have helped build training centers where none previously existed. For example, we sponsored Survival Systems Training Limited in Nova Scotia, Canada. This organization provides training to employees and contractors working offshore on topics such as helicopter safety and firefighting.

Safety briefings conducted at our operating sites give employees and contractors an opportunity to share safety observations and encourage safe behaviors.

In addition, our procurement staff uses safety criteria to screen potential contractors that will be working on construction projects or at our major operations. The guidelines include having a robust safety program and leadership commitment to strong safety performance. Our goal is to promote excellent safety performance across all aspects of our business.

Our strong safety culture has proven results. For example, our global contractor lost-time incident rate continues to be well below the industry average.

In light of the recent repeal of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s 2016 final rule regarding payment reporting for the extractive industry, how will ExxonMobil work to promote transparency and revenue accountability in countries where it does business?

ExxonMobil believes the most successful transparency initiatives are those that ensure each relevant public, private and societal entity is fully engaged and properly represented. In addition, initiatives must respect national sovereignty and local norms and apply to every company in all sectors: public, private, foreign and domestic. Therefore, we did not support the approach the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission took in its final rule in late 2016.

ExxonMobil supports transparency initiatives that increase government engagement with citizens and improve governance and revenue accountability. We voluntarily disclose revenues paid to governments for the development of natural resources, subject to legal and contractual restrictions. Our long-standing efforts to promote revenue transparency help to reduce corruption, improve government accountability and promote greater economic stability worldwide.

For many years, we have actively supported the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global program dedicated to strengthening governance by improving transparency and accountability in the extractives sector. We support the EITI application, validation and implementation processes in countries where we operate, and we are working with governments in a number of other countries that are considering joining EITI. We will continue to work constructively with governments considering new reporting rules to promote transparency and revenue accountability where we do business.

Last fall you stated that the Paris Agreement was an “important step forward.” What is ExxonMobil doing to address the risks of climate change?

The Paris Agreement signed by world leaders in 2016 showed the global community’s resolve to address climate change risks. We’re encouraged that the Paris Agreement creates an effective framework for all countries to address rising emissions. In fact, our company’s forecasts of greenhouse gas emissions are consistent with the aggregation of the Paris Agreement pledges.

The world already has powerful tools for meeting growing global energy demand while reducing emissions. One is natural gas. Today in the United States, nearly one-third of the electricity is produced using natural gas. Our role as the country’s largest producer of natural gas — which can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent versus power generation from coal — has helped bring carbon dioxide emissions in the United States to the lowest level since the early 1990s. Increasing use of natural gas means our overall energy mix is becoming less carbon intensive.

Greater energy efficiency is also essential to addressing the risks of climate change. It might seem surprising, but a big part of ExxonMobil’s business is developing products and technologies that help save energy. Examples include our advanced automotive materials that make cars lighter and more fuel-efficient, and improved plastic packaging that reduces the energy needed to ship goods around the world.

At the same time, the world will need breakthrough clean-energy technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS). ExxonMobil is investing heavily in CCS, including research in a novel technology that uses fuel cells that could make CCS more affordable and expand its use. We currently have an interest in a quarter of the world’s CCS capacity. We’re also investing in a broad portfolio of other technologies that could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This includes pioneering research in next-generation biofuels, including sources like algae, which could reduce emissions without competing with food and water resources. And by installing equipment at our refineries and chemical plants to generate steam from waste heat — called cogeneration — we enable 6 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to be avoided each year. All told, we’ve invested approximately $8 billion since 2000 to develop lower-emission energy solutions.

As our chairman and CEO Darren Woods has said, climate change is a serious topic, and it demands a serious approach. ExxonMobil is proud to be part of that discussion, and we will continue to be in the years ahead.

For more information, visit the Energy Factor website, which encourages discourse on constructive solutions to energy challenges.

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