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ExxonMobil president Steve Simon during his recent presentation at the Kellogg School.

Riding on reputation

ExxonMobil puts energy into finding new fuels

By Deborah Leigh Wood

11/1/2004 - When you hear “ExxonMobil,” the words still conjure the Exxon Valdez. The tanker ran aground a little more than 15 years ago in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into the state’s coastal waters.

In his “Energy Outlook 2030” presentation Nov. 4 at the Donald P. Jacobs Center, ExxonMobil President Steve Simon acknowledged that the catastrophe isn’t the only reason his company has been “painted as anti-environmental.”

“We’ve done a poor job in the past of conveying what we stand for, and we’ve let others define us,” Simon told an attentive audience of Kellogg School students. But no more. Today, ExxonMobil is speaking loud and clear about its efforts to find and develop environmentally friendly energy sources.

To counter emissions growth — which Simon said is twice as bad in developing countries than in other nations — ExxonMobil has signed on as the biggest contributor to the Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) at Stanford University. The 10-year, $225 million project brings together the world's leading scientists from universities, research institutions and private industry to foster the development of a global energy system with low greenhouse emissions. Other sponsors are Toyota, GE and Schlumberger, a global technology services company. ExxonMobil has pledged an investment of up to $100 million for GCEP.

Simon said his firm is also conducting its own research on harnessing plentiful “frontier resources”— extra heavy oil, oil sands and oil shale — and on producing hydrogen from gasoline on board a fuel-cell automobile, which is safer than transporting the hydrogen.

ExxonMobil’s emphasis, Simon noted, is on making “a significant impact” in finding new energy resources. That sits well with Sam Mehta, a co-chair of the Kellogg School’s Energy Management Club, which helped bring Simon to Evanston.

“The insight that renewable fuels will account for only 12 percent of the overall energy supply sources by 2030 is pretty astounding and very worrying,” Mehta said.

The other student-led clubs at Kellogg that sponsored Simon’s visit were Energy Management, Operations Management, General Management and Business Leadership.