Wirth’s comments are the first from a major oil executive since the civil case was filed in superior court in San Francisco last week. They mirror a public statement from Shell Plc that also claimed the courtroom is not the right venue to address climate change. His view that some of the filers backed energy production suggest that this could make up part of the industry’s defense strategy either in the courtroom or in future public discourse.
California’s lawsuit claims that for the past six decades, Exxon Mobil Corp., Shell, BP Plc, ConocoPhillips and Chevron have misled the public by downplaying fossil fuel dangers despite knowing that their products were producing the planet-warming gases contributing to climate change. It calls for an abatement fund to finance climate mitigation efforts and an injunction to protect California’s natural resources.
“We do have smart lawyers,” Wirth said in the interview. “We will deal with the lawsuits. But more importantly, we’re working on ways to meet today’s energy demand with energy that has less carbon intensity and still is affordable and reliable for the economy.”
Chevron, which is based in San Ramon, is the only one of the named defendants headquartered in California. While most of its US production operations are now based in Texas, the oil major has large refineries in the state supplying the region with gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
California Governor Gavin Newsom last year called on Big Oil to reduce its “excessive” profits as gasoline prices soared. Typically, companies attempt to reduce prices by raising supply, which would lead to more carbon emissions.
Speaking on Sunday, Newsom accused oil giants of “lying.”
“The climate crisis is, after all, a fossil fuel crisis,” Newsom said on Sunday at the opening ceremony of New York City’s Climate Week. “They continue to play us for fools. I’ve had enough and I’m sick and tired of this.”
While the California suit is by far the biggest of its kind, several cities, states, and counties have filed similar claims that oil companies deceived consumers about the environmental dangers of fossil fuels.
A recent study showed that research from Exxon accurately forecast global warming even as it publicly sowed doubt about the climate crisis. Scientists criticized the company for publicizing the uncertainties associated with climate science for decades to protect its fossil fuel business, a finding that Exxon has consistently rejected.
Chevron has faced similar criticisms of downplaying the risks of climate change, which the company has denied.
Oil prices, which have jumped about 20% in the past two months, will keep climbing on tighter global supplies, Wirth said in the interview. Oil probably is headed for the $100 mark soon, he said.
“We’re certainly moving in that direction,” the leader of the second-largest US oil company said. “Supply is tightening, inventories are drawing, these things happen gradually and you can see it building. The trends would suggest that we’re certainly on our way, we’re getting close.”