The New York attorney general has launched an investigation into whether Exxon Mobil Corp <XOM.N> misled the public and shareholders about the risks of climate change.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed the company on Wednesday evening, demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents, a source familiar with the investigation said on Thursday.
Exxon on Thursday said it was weighing a response to the subpoena. The company has included information about the business risk of climate change for many years in its quarterly filings, corporate citizenship report and in other reports to shareholders, company spokesman Richard Keil said.
The New York Times first reported the news on Thursday.
The Exxon investigation might expand to other oil companies, according to the people with knowledge of the case, though no additional subpoenas have been issued, the newspaper said.
Sources told the New York Times that the attorney general’s investigation began a year ago and encompasses company filings dating back to the 1970s.
Last month, a broad array of environmental groups demanded the U.S. Department of Justice investigate Exxon after reports by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times said the company's own scientists raised worries about global warming decades ago only to see their findings doubted by executives.
However, Ken Cohen, vice president of public and government affairs at Exxon, has accused environmental groups of deliberately cherry-picking facts. He said on Thursday that for nearly 40 years the company has worked with governments and universities to develop climate science in a transparent way.
Since 2009, the company has supported what it calls a revenue-neutral carbon tax as the preferred policy for reducing emissions.
Coal miner Peabody Energy Corp <BTU.N> had been under investigation by the attorney general for two years over whether it properly disclosed financial risks related to climate change, but has not resulted in any charges or other legal action against the company, the NYT report added.
Only within the last five years has the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission required companies to disclose climate risks to investors and Exxon has made the appropriate filings.
"It is unfortunate that interest groups can fuel political expediency to cause investigations to occur where there should be none," said Jacob Frenkel, a former SEC lawyer and partner at Shulman Rogers in Washington.
Climate risks for oil companies are normally thought to include, among other things, a crackdown by governments on carbon emissions that might hurt oil sales.