S8: Light, Sweet Crude
For decades now, the fossil fuel industry has told the same story: Oil equals development and prosperity. Access. Equality. Stability. A better quality of life. As the world’s fossil fuel companies race to tap the last of the planet’s oil reserves we have a chance to examine that promise up close, in real time.
Several miles off the coast of Guyana sits one of the world’s largest oil reserves. In 2015, ExxonMobil, which had held offshore drilling leases in the country for decades, announced it had found oil and would begin production as soon as possible. Government officials quickly got in line, and in 2019 the first barrels shipped from ExxonMobil Guyana. Today, Exxon projects that oil from Guyana could account for 25% of its total production in the next few years. But environmentalists and government corruption watchdogs have begun to push back on the project. Why start an oil industry in the midst of climate crisis? And especially in a country at great risk of climate impacts? Via a contract that will sooner put Guyana in debt than make it a rich oil state, no less?
In just a few years, Exxon has co-opted both government and civil society, buying up social license in every corner of the country. Oil executives and Guyanese officials are still telling the story that oil equals development and prosperity, and on paper Guyana is the fastest-growing economy in the world, but average citizens aren’t benefiting from the boom. Today, there’s only one journalist left covering the project with any sort of skepticism, and one lawyer left willing to take it on in court. In this special crossover season of Drilled and Damages, we look at what oil colonialism looks like in the 21st century, and why everyone should care.
S8 Ep1: The Boom
Five years ago, Kiana Wilburg was a new reporter when ExxonMobil executives and Guyanese government officials announced they had found oil 40 miles offshore. Wilburg and her newsroom had to quickly learn about the industry and this company that was suddenly so influential in their country and were left with just one question: exactly what kind of a deal had the country signed onto? Transcript