There’s a startling scene early in Steve Coll’s Private Empire in which Lee Raymond, then the chief executive of ExxonMobil, speaks with offhanded candor about where his loyalties lie. Asked by an industry colleague if his company might consider building more refineries domestically, the better to protect the U.S. from potential gasoline shortages and security crises, Raymond shrugs off the question. "I’m not a U.S. company," Raymond says, "and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S."Raymond also claims not to believe in global warming.
As objectivist statements of rational self-interest go, that one’s a lulu—up there with Margaret Thatcher’s "There is no such thing as society." You’d expect a Big Oil chieftan to be ruthlessly profit-minded, but to the point of putting profits ahead of country? Nevertheless, Coll writes, Raymond "saw no contradiction" in this stance: "He did indeed regard himself as a very patriotic American and a political conservative, but he was also fully prepared to state publicly that he had fiduciary responsibilities." [my emphasis]
And as more countries assert sovereign control over their energy resources, as Argentina did just this year with its nationalization of 51% of the YPF oil company, a stateless corporation has to reach further and further to find resources over which it can exercise corporate sovereignty:
Much of the world’s oil and gas is now in the hands of state-owned companies in countries hostile to the U.S., such as Iran and Venezuela. As such, ExxonMobil has had to look increasingly far afield, to countries it euphemistically labels “transitional” and internally acknowledges as unstable and corruption-riddled—conflict-riven developing nations such as Nigeria, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea.
Doing deals in such places is fraught with risk and the potential for entanglement in rebellions, coups, and civil wars—to say nothing of the potential for running afoul of U.S. interests and ethical codes. At one point, Coll dryly describes ExxonMobil and the U.S. government as existing essentially “in alignment but each in its sovereign sphere,” yet the reality is no laughing matter. Much space is devoted to the company’s messy dealings in the resource-rich but independence-minded Indonesian region of Aceh, where the company is said to have propped up a homicidal national army that ran roughshod over the local Acehnese population in the late nineties. (A human-rights suit by a group of villagers against ExxonMobil is still pending.) [my emphasis]
Coll appeared on Democracy Now! talking about his book, Private Empire: Author Steve Coll on State-Like Powers, Influence of Oil Giant Exxon Mobil 05/04/2012:
Here is Part 2 of that interview, ExxonMobil's Dirty Secrets From Indonesia to Nigeria to D.C.: Steve Coll on "Private Empire" 05/07/2012:
This is a Bloomberg Businessweek video of an interview with Coll; it says it's the second part of the interview, but I haven't been able to find Part 1.
Tags: exxonmobile, steve coll