You quite literally can’t write this joke: Exxon, one of the companies most responsible for the climate crisis, tweeted Monday that it was keeping people in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Ida in its “thoughts and prayers.” Wow, where have we heard that phrase before?
Exxon has, in the grand scheme of oil companies, a somewhat disorganized presence on social media. (Yes, I like to keep tabs on this stuff. What of it?) The tweet—which has been ratioed straight to hell—isn’t from Exxon’s official brand site, but rather from ExxonMobil Beaumont, an outpost of the company based outside of Port Arthur, Texas. That account isn’t the only Exxon-linked account that had a response to Ida.
The account for ExxonMobil’s Baytown operations in Texas tweeted a nearly identical “thoughts and prayers” statement, opting for a white background as opposed to red and adding some additional words of encouragement to “look out for each other as you are able.” Powerful! The ExxonMobil Baton Rouge account, meanwhile, really went all out, tweeting regular updates on its hurricane-related flaring activity and a link for people to build a disaster kit for hurricane season.
Exxon’s been going through a bit of a PR crisis this summer, following a shareholder uprising and an embarrassing investigative exposé; it’s natural that the company would want to put on a sympathetic face to local communities hit by one of the most powerful storms to ever make landfall in the U.S. But there’s that one teeny, nagging fact: Exxon is one of the largest carbon emitters in history and has spent decades lying about the climate crisis while churning out profits.
Hurricane Ida has has the fingerprints of climate change all over it. The storm gained strength from the abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, jumping from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm in just about a day. Ida also came less than a month after the release of the bombshell Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which said that, thanks to decades of carbon emissions from human activity like drilling for and burning Exxon’s main product, serious storms are likely to become more common.
Exxon’s crucial role in suppressing climate science for literal decades lends this tweet a deliciously, horribly ironic twist; it’s reminiscent of the grand tradition of Republican politicians funded by the NRA tweeting their “thoughts and prayers” following mass shootings.
And if we’re really rolling out these receipts, these particular locations have a lot to answer for in terms of the impact they’ve had on the communities they’re in. The Beaumont location is in the majority-Black town of Port Arthur, which is surrounded by some of the country’s biggest refineries and a hotspot of environmental injustice. Cancer rates for Black residents in that county are nearly 40% higher than they are for the rest of Texas, while 80% of Black residents in one area of the city have heart and lung problems. (The Beaumont location also happens to be run by union-busters: Exxon locked out 650 workers in May in an attempt to force a vote from their United Steelworkers local.)
Meanwhile, a judge ordered the Baytown refinery in 2017 to pay nearly $20 million for repeated violations of the Clean Air Act over a period of eight years, which, according to legal documents, saved the refinery more than $14 million by spewing toxic chemicals into the air without a permit. (The fine has since been knocked down to $14 million.) And though the company is mulling a net zero emissions goal, earlier this summer, Exxon announced it would pour $240 million into upgrading its Baton Rouge refinery, the fifth-largest oil refinery in the U.S. The oil industry is also responsible for driving subsidence that sunk Louisiana’s marshland, leaving the region more vulnerable to storm surge like Ida’s.
It may be presumptuous, but I’d like to extend a little piece of advice to one of the world’s biggest oil companies: If you’re going to keep stalling on climate action, polluting communities, and selling fossil fuels, maybe just don’t tweet through it.
For those who would like to do more than offer thoughts and prayers for Hurricane Ida survivors, including multibillion-dollar oil companies, here is a list of places to donate.