"Manufactured Fear": Exxon Mobile's CEO, on what's holding back fracking
Rex Tillerson is Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobile. He spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations, on the topic "The New North American Energy Paradigm: Reshaping the Future. This is an extract of his remarks. The full speech is available online, in transcript or video.
[Our emphasis is added.]
[T]o say the U.S. is energy poor is simply not accurate. And to say we don't have the capacity to pursue and achieve energy security is also not accurate. Again, it's just a matter of policy choices.
Now, with these new technologies that evolve always come a lot of questions. Ours is an industry that is built on technology, it's built on science, it's built on engineering, and because we have a society that by and large is illiterate in these areas, science, math and engineering, what we do is a mystery to them and they find it scary. And because of that, it creates easy opportunities for opponents of development, activist organizations, to manufacture fear.
And so as these technologies emerge, we know the immediate response from certain parts of interested parties out there is going to be to manufacture fear because that's how you slow this down. And nowhere is it more effective than in the United States. And so that's -- the pace at which these things occur oftentimes is our ability to deal with the manufactured fear, our ability as an industry, working with well-intended regulators and policymakers to address the fears.
It requires a lot of education, requires taking an illiterate public -- illiterate in the sciences, engineering and mathematics -- and trying to help them understand why we can manage these risks. And that's a very intensive, almost one-on-one process -- town by town, city council by city council, state by state. So it takes a while. And we're not particularly aided in our efforts by the broad-based media, because it's a lot sexier to write the fear stories than it is to write the here's-how-you-manage-it story.
Now, that's just a fact, it's not a complaint But it's part of why do things take so long. Well, that's one of the reasons it takes us a long time to get the policy solutions, because it all becomes then a political process instead of a scientific process.
There are important questions about the things that people worry about, and we have an obligation to address them, and we devote a tremendous amount of effort in addressing those. But I think if you look at the technologies that are front and center today around the shale resources -- hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling, the integration of those technologies, how we drill these wells, how we protect fresh water zone, how we protect emissions -- we have all of that engineered. And as long as we as an industry follow good engineering practices and standards, these risks are entirely manageable. And the consequences of a misstep by any member of our industry -- and I'm speaking again about the shale revolution -- the consequences of a misstep in a well, while large to the immediate people that live around that well, in the great scheme of things are pretty small, and even to the immediate people around the well, they could be mitigated.
These are not life-threatening, they're not long-lasting, and they're not new. They are the same risks that our industry has been managing for more than 100 years in the conventional development of oil and natural gas. There's nothing new in what we're doing, and we've been hydraulically refracturing (sic) wells in large numbers since the 1960s; first developed in 1940. So this is an old technology just being applied, integrated with some new technologies. So the risks are very manageable.