ExxonMobil fights off call to invest in oil alternatives

Rockefeller-led shareholders urge world's biggest oil company to develop fossil fuel alternatives

Be efficient. Economise. Do your part. That was the advice yesterday from Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of the world's largest oil company, to consumers who are buckling under the strain of high fuel prices.

The boss of ExxonMobil said sky-high oil prices would only start to come down when demand eased but he warned that the world would be reliant on fossil fuels for generations to come, "whether people like it or not". And Exxon itself would remain a petrochemical company, he insisted, after beating back dissident investors' proposals which demanded that Exxon plough money into alternative energy, including wind and solar power.

Mr Tillerson's victory came despite an intense public campaign by the descendants of John D Rockefeller, the legendary oil magnate whose 19th-century monopoly, Standard Oil, ultimately spawned ExxonMobil. The Rockefeller family took their battle to the floor of ExxonMobil's annual shareholder meeting in Dallas yesterday, saying that the company faced becoming obsolete if it did not face up to the realities of climate change. Michael Crosby, a dissident shareholder supporting the Rockefellers, predicted that "ExxonMobilsaurus Rex will disappear" if it does not change course.

But in the end, the family's proposal that Exxon set explicit goals for carbon emissions from its operations and from the burning of its products – which, if tough enough, would force it to develop alternative energy technologies – won only 31 per cent of the shareholder vote. A proposal to force Mr Tillerson to split his two roles won 40 per cent, no more than in previous years.

Exxon's case is that throwing money at alternative energy is a foolish way to deal with the immediate threat of climate change. Instead, it is focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its own operations, and from developing new oil-based products that reduce the environmental impact of consumers' energy use. The company highlighted its Mobil 1 synthetic motor oil that improves vehicle fuel economy, lighter weight plastics, and next-generation tyre-liners. If all the vehicles in the US incorporated these products, Mr Tillerson said, it would be "like taking 8 million cars off US roads".

Exxon says that world energy needs are going to increase by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2030, and oil and gas were simply the only fuels able to satisfy a majority of that new demand.

Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, great-granddaughter of the Standard Oil founder, questioned Exxon's assumptions, calling them "flawed" and contradict-ory. There is a growing momentum behind the development of alternatives to fossil fuels, she said, but if consumers do not switch, then climate change will cripple economic development in emerging markets and dem-and for energy will not be nearly as strong.

Many shareholders leapt to the defence of the company, however. Steve Milloy, representing the conservative Free Enterprise Action Fund, said: "As for those shareholders who don't care for the oil and gas business, get out. There are a host of alternative energy companies whose subsidies you can invest in. So why don't you?"

The oil industry has come under fire for record profits while consumers suffer record high petrol prices and increasing utility bills. As oil prices soared, Exxon made a record profit of $40.6bn (£20.5bn) in 2007, the equivalent of £1m every 25 minutes. Mr Tillerson himself was paid $16.7m last year, up from $13.0m in 2006.

"Mr Tillerson would have to put $96,000 of gas in his car each week to understand the devastating effect that high prices are having on workers around the country," Julie Goodridge, of NorthStar Asset Management, told the meeting.

After the votes, Mr Tillerson said Exxon would continue to plough money into oil and gas exploration projects which, in the medium term, could boost production and ease oil prices. In the short term, he said, consumers should do their part to economise. "People say their little part isn't going to make a different, but multiply that by 50 million and it can begin to."

The 400-plus shareholders in Dallas were greeted by protesters chanting "Exxon – enough", and demanding that the company acts to cut pollution.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'