1971 Imperial Oil Research Requirements

This 1971 document from Imperial Oil Ltd., the Canadian subsidiary of Exxon, is a compilation of “Imperial Oil Limited Research Requirements” as part of Imperial’s “annual planning cycle” for the programs of the Imperial Research Department. This document is part of the ClimateFiles Imperial Oil document set, gleaned by DeSmog researchers from the Glenbow Imperial Oil Archive Collection.

The projects as laid out in this document offer interesting insight into Imperial’s research priorities in the early 1970’s, especially since the projects identified “are strongly influenced by today’s business environment” and are focused on “new technology that is expected to be needed in view of current business and technical trends.” 

Throughout the document, Imperial’s concern with their public image, particularly regarding their environmental impact, is evident. In the opening pages, the report states that “the oil industry in particular has suffered loss of public sympathy that we have enjoyed over the last two decades… Nowadays, the public sees the development of Arctic oil, its transportation, the sale of natural gas to the U.S. as problem laden issues. This means new areas of concern for all corporate activities and continuing attention must be given to protecting and enhancing the reputation of both Imperial and the industry.” 

This shift in public image is connected to the potential for legislation that would curb Imperial’s business practices: “Public concern regarding environmental problems is being translated into legislation rapidly… The present trend in legislation will require substantial expenditures to reduce emissions, waste discharge, and the impact on the environment of the products we sell… Present and future operations in the Arctic will substantially be governed by ecological considerations.” 

The document then itemizes different research initiatives into sub-headings such as “Gasoline Volatility Specifications” and “Diesel Fuel Additives,” giving breakdowns of project descriptions and explaining why the project is beneficial to Imperial. In its description of a new project on “Air Pollution From Automobiles,” the report warns that “more stringent control of vehicle emissions could force the imposition of severe and costly restrictions on future gasoline composition and additives,” suggesting that “we should initiate efforts, and preferentially cooperate with the automobile industry to develop engine accessories or modifications which would clearly provide lower cost alternatives to drastic changes in gasoline composition.” 

The challenge posed by environmental concerns and public opinion is reiterated in a section on “Oil Spills in the Arctic,” where the report notes that part of the financial incentive for the project is that “without the proper oil spill clean-up procedures there is always a possibility that public opinion, influenced by Environmentalists, will force a slowdown if not a complete stop of oil exploration in the Arctic. More explicitly, the document finds that “it would be most important, particularly from a Public Relations standpoint, if Imperial would instigate this type of research.” Similar sentiments are expressed regarding a project on “Oil Spill Clean-Up in Heavy Seas,” where again it is found that “from a Public Relations stand point it would be significant if Imperial Oil would instigate this kind of testing.” Even more bluntly, in a summary of a project on “Anti-Pollution Measures in Ice-Infested Waters,” the report simply states that the significance of the project to Imperial would be to “safeguard its public image.” 

The importance of public opinion, particularly that of the environmental community, is clear in this document from Imperial’s own descriptions of their motivation for undertaking different projects. Their expectation that public disapproval may lead to economically damaging legislation is also evident, making this document an important touchstone in the broader narrative of the oil industry’s involvement in blocking and otherwise influencing such legislation. 

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