1 Jul 2021

ExxonMobil lobbyist reveals company’s involvement with ‘forever chemicals’

Chief Correspondent

A senior ExxonMobil lobbyist, captured on camera by Greenpeace UK’s Unearthed, has claimed that the company “manufactures” and “uses” controversial so-called “forever chemicals” and is working to delay a ban on their use.


ExxonMobil’s chief executive Darren Woods has apologised for comments made by lobbyist Keith McCoy to undercover reporters, which were first aired on Channel 4 News last night.

In a statement, Mr Woods said: “We condemn the statements and are deeply apologetic for them, including comments regarding interactions with elected officials.”

He added: “We were shocked by these interviews and stand by our commitments to working on finding solutions to climate change.”

He insisted Mr McCoy “was not involved in developing the company’s policy positions on the issues.”

However, Mr McCoy is one of the most senior ExxonMobil lobbyists on Capitol Hill and he has represented the company in liaison with the US Congress for the last eight years.

Today we report his further claims that:

  • ExxonMobil “manufactures PFAS”, so-called “forever chemicals”, which independent research has linked to cancer, hormone disruption and weakened immunity.
    The company categorically denies that they manufacture “forever chemicals”.
  • He secretly and successfully used a third-party organisation to persuade politicians not to debate the rules around the manufacturing of PFAS.
  • He lobbied Congress to “slow down” and amend sanctions against Russia, by getting a committee chair to use a “political manoeuvre”
  • ExxonMobil views natural gas as a “clean” energy source and says plastics manufacture is a priority for growth.

‘Forever Chemicals’

Greenpeace Unearthed, the journalism unit of the environmental campaign group Greenpeace UK, posed as head-hunters looking to hire a Washington D.C. lobbyist for a major client. They approached Mr McCoy, who agreed to speak over Zoom.

During the virtual meeting held on 7 May, the reporter asked Mr McCoy questions about his involvement in ExxonMobil’s current and historical lobbying on environmental issues.

In the covertly recorded conversation, Mr McCoy claimed the oil and gas giant is involved in manufacturing PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) – so-called “forever chemicals”.

He said: “We manufacture PFAS, the chemical. We use it in our firefighting equipment. So we have pushed our associations to be out front on that… .

“We think that if word got out that ExxonMobil manufactured those chemicals, that ExxonMobil uses those, those chemicals – it’s a talking point, you know? It becomes the ExxonMobil chemical and that is just going to hurt the effort.”

He added: “You know all these people have been working on this issue and then you have a member of Congress that has a bill who has been pushing and pushing for this bill. Then all of a sudden you know, they start talking about how this is an ExxonMobil chemical and ExxonMobil is poisoning our waterways, the debate is pretty much over.”

Mr McCoy suggested ExxonMobil lobbyists acted to hinder regulation of “forever chemicals” and that they used the American Petroleum Institute (API) trade association to front their lobbying efforts.

He said: “So you start to have this legislation. We see this legislation. We’re like holy crap… this is a chemical that we manufacture. This is a chemical that we use.

“So we go in under the umbrella of API. We have this conversation and we say ‘look erm, just so’s you know, not only does the Department of Defence use this, but we use this as well and this is how we use it and there is no alternative.

“Now we are looking at alternatives, we are experimenting with alternatives. We, ExxonMobil, we’re looking to phase out the manufacturing of this chemical. But until there’s an alternative for it we can’t do any of that.”

He added: “So API goes up to the Hill as API with coalitions… It’s just associations, no companies. So you start to build out a coalition of associations. Now companies feed into that privately when we have meetings, but the public face of it are the associations. They go to the Hill. They have these conversations.

“They talk about the use of these chemicals. They talk about the manufacturing of these chemicals. They talk about the alternatives for these chemicals. And that damps down the rhetoric. It damps down the excitement. And we start having a conversation with the API and the coalition to say: ‘Look, let’s propose a study. Let’s see if we can get a study.”

He said: “Lo and behold we got a study, we got it passed. And that completely lowered the temperature and there has been very little talk about PFAS. There have been some bills introduced but there hasn’t been a lot of talk about it because you can point to, well, there’s a study going on. Let’s wait for the results of that study before we start moving forward on this.”

Asked if people know that ExxonMobil manufactures PFAS chemicals, he said: “No. No. Nobody.”

He added: “The debate isn’t who makes it. I think the debate is, it’s here. It’s an effective chemical. We need this chemical, or we have needed this chemical… how can we safely use it or eliminate it.

“There isn’t the debate right now about who manufactures it, thankfully.”

Asked how much money the company makes from the chemical, he said: “I mean it’s not a big business, for a company (of) ExxonMobil’s size it’s probably a few hundred million which isn’t big, but it’s enough that it gets our attention.”

On the debate around forever chemicals, Mr McCoy said: “You know, the debate right now is forever chemicals. So, once it’s in the waterway, er, you know, there’s no cleaning it up. So, I mean there has to be that component as well as, as how, how can you get it out of the waterways.”

ExxonMobil categorically deny they manufacture ‘forever chemicals’. In a statement they told Channel 4 News: “ExxonMobil doesn’t manufacture PFAS.  We do use PFAS in some of our products, and we purchase firefighting foams which contain PFAS for fire safety and suppression at certain facilities.

“PFAS are a diverse family of chemicals found in a variety of important commercial and industrial products in most industries, including medical, technology, communications and textiles.“

Sanctions and Russia

In the recording, Mr McCoy also suggested ExxonMobil acted to frustrate and change the overwhelming will of Congress to impose sanctions on Moscow following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, by getting a committee chair to use a “political manoeuvre”.

He said: “No member of Congress wanted to oppose that, so we had to step in, in front of that and explain to them how that was hurting US businesses.”

He added: “We had a friend who happened to be chair of a very powerful committee who was able to step in front of this – what we called – a runaway train and was able to use a political manoeuvre to slow it down. The bill passed but it didn’t hurt some of our operations which was key.”

In a statement ExxonMobil told Channel 4 News: “On sanctions, the company’s longstanding position is not to lobby for or against sanctions, but to inform policymakers on the potential unintended consequences certain aspects of sanctions policy can have on U.S. businesses, as was the case in the situation referenced. The U.S. and EU have adopted sanctions on Russia, and we fully comply with all sanctions.

‘Plastics are the future’

At a time when global concern over plastic pollution is high, Mr McCoy suggested that ExxonMobil sees plastics in its future.

He said: “Oh absolutely. Absolutely. Plastics, plastics, every aspect of plastics is huge business. It’s going to grow. Absolutely. Plastics are the future.”

“It’s just like on climate change, right? So, when climate change came – well it’s here but, well, when it started – you started to have conversations.

“To say: well, you can’t completely change the electric grid from coal and gas into wind and here’s why.

He added: “It’s the same conversation. You can’t completely ban plastics, because here’s why. Or you can’t recycle, legislate 100% recycling, because here’s why. It’s just not technically feasible.

“Once there starts to be Government intervention you lose control. You lose control over your business. You lose control over the narrative. You just lose control.”

In a statement ExxonMobil told us: “There is no doubt that plastics provide significant sustainability benefits versus other materials. Without plastics, we would not have many of the life-saving materials that have helped our world fight COVID-19 and store food safely.

“This is in addition to the important role plastics play in helping society mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

“Of course, we take the issue of plastic waste management very seriously. ExxonMobil is addressing plastic waste by increasing recyclability, supporting improvements in waste recovery – for example, through our founding membership in the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.”

They added: “ExxonMobil has completed an initial phase trial of a proprietary advanced recycling process for converting plastic waste into raw materials for production of high-value polymers. The trial, at the company’s existing facilities in Baytown, Texas, marks another step in ExxonMobil’s efforts to help reduce plastic waste in the environment and maximize resource recovery.

Natural Gas

Purporting to speak on behalf of ExxonMobil, Mr McCoy suggestd natural gas is a clean energy source, adding: “On a clean electricity standard, we think natural gas will play a key role in anything. And not just as a bridge fuel. We think it is a low emission energy source and should be part of a clean electricity standard.”

In a statement, ExxonMobil said: “Natural gas is a versatile, abundant fuel. When used for power generation, it plays an important role in reducing global emissions, emitting up to 60 percent less greenhouse gases and significantly fewer air pollutants than coal. The power sector’s switch from coal to natural gas is a main reason why U.S. emissions have declined more than any other country since 2000.”