I WAS surprised when I first saw that ExxonMobil’s Rod Henson had provided an interview to Stabroek News. Henson has been a quiet presence in Guyana, and usually the role of spokesperson falls elsewhere. I am not surprised, however, to see individuals popping up to criticise the statements made by the country manager. To speak to civil society on the oil industry is to open oneself up for such vitriol.
Here I refer to the letters that have appeared in various papers in recent days. While I join the authors in their call for more information and dialogue from ExxonMobil, I am also disappointed in the harshly critical, and in some cases unfair, responses to Henson. One letter, for example, draws a comparison between Henson and the CEO of BP, Anthony Hayward, during the time of the oil spill. Henson may be a company man, but it is unfair to compare him to Anthony Hayward, an egotistical corporate shill whose immense lack of respect for people and the environment was driven by both moral corruption and personal greed.
Another bemoans the lack of data provided by Henson in the interview. While I fully support the call for more information, we also know that this is one of the first such interviews Henson has provided, and it is likely that the Stabroek News did not carry all of the information he shared. Yes, we must press Exxon for more. But in its absence, we should not simply assume that the figures perpetuated by the industry’s most vocal critics are correct. This author cites statements from Jan Mangal, but anyone who pauses to contemplate his figures will see that they are also badly in need of support. And by this, I do not mean “presentations decorated with bar charts, pie charts, and tables.”
I believe one critic gets right to the heart of the issue. He says that he has no idea what Henson is referring to when he talks about Guyana’s “risk profile”. Undoubtedly, there are operational risks associated with deep-sea operations. We should also realise that to international companies, dialogue of this sort also represents a “risk”. Rash public attacks and combativeness do not signal stability!
I implore all international investors to realise that these intense critics do not speak for all Guyanese. The nature and intensity of their responses make it clear that they do not wish to engage in dialogue or to learn — their minds are made up. On the other hand, I implore my fellow Guyanese to maintain their skepticism and alertness, as no statements from foreign companies should be taken at face value. We must recognise the need for information and conversation if we are to take rational steps to alter, fix or grow our oil opportunities. Exxon and other companies finally seem ready to talk – what value is there in chasing them back into their shells?