Oil is at the centre of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for the senior cabinet position of Secretary of State, and Climate Progress Editor Joe Romm argues that the focus is not on oil in general, but on a very specific source of supply.
At stake in the convergence of interests is the oil under 26 million hectares of Russia’s subsea sovereign economic zone in the Arctic. As Exxon’s CEO, Tillerson reached a US$500-billion agreement with Russia to develop six offshore fields in the Arctic, winning a friendship award from President Vladimir Putin for sealing the deal.
The fields’ development has been stalled, however, by sanctions against Russia first imposed after its seizure of Crimea. The Wall Street Journal warned in 2014 that throwing them into limbo “put Exxon at risk.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow described the oil project more recently as so big for Putin’s Russia that it was “expected to change the historical trajectory.”
The Obama administration recently deepened those sanctions in response to the Kremlin’s meddling in Trump’s favour in the U.S. election. Now, Romm writes, “so much is explained by Trump’s Secretary of State choice.” Tillerson, he argues, will spearhead the removal of sanctions and the green light for Exxon’s Russian projects.
And while Trump alone likely could not derail the rest of the world’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, Romm warns that “he probably could do that with help from Russia and the trillion-dollar oil industry.”
“Imagine how much havoc Putin, Trump, and a new, oily Secretary of State could wreak on future negotiations by coercing other countries not to keep making new pledges to ratchet down their emissions, which is the cornerstone of Paris’s strategy to avoid catastrophic climate change.”
Against that outlook, Romm charges that “the aligning interests between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s choice for U.S. president (Donald Trump), and Big Oil represents the gravest threat to humanity (and democracy) since the rise of the Axis powers in the 1930s.”
Tillerson’s future as Secretary of State is in doubt, however. He leads many lists of Trump nominees likely to face strong headwinds during confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate.