December 13, 2016 5:34 pm
Updated: December 13, 2016 8:38 pm

Meet Trump’s secretary of state Rex Tillerson: A Keystone XL supporter with close ties to Russia

WATCH ABOVE: The US President-Elect Donald Trump has picked Rex Tillerson, the head of Exxon Mobil, to be Secretary of State. He's never held public office, but he has met plenty of world leaders. As Eric Sorensen reports, not everyone thinks that qualifies him for the job.


Donald Trump’s nomination for secretary of state — ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson — is a highly contentious pick as the lifetime oil executive is a strong supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline with deep ties to Russia and president Vladimir Putin.

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Trump announced Tuesday morning his plans to nominate Tillerson, 64, who has spent his entire career at Exxon and whom he praised last weekend as a “world class player and dealmaker.”

WATCH: Rex Tillerson is ‘a world class player’: Trump on potential Secretary of State pick

“Rex Tillerson’s career is the embodiment of the American dream,” the president-elect said in a statement. “Through hard work, dedication and smart deal making, Rex rose through the ranks to become CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest and most respected companies.”

However, from Keystone XL to his ties with Putin Trump’s nominee has already received significant criticism..

Here is a look at three controversies surrounding Tillerson.

Keystone XL

TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline facilities in Hardisty, Alta., Friday, Nov. 6, 2015.


Trump has chosen an ally on the Keystone issue and his confirmation could have big implications for Canada.

The incoming president has promised to reverse Obama’s decision to ban the Alberta-to-Texas oil pipeline. Tillerson has long been a cheerleader for the project.

“We need to approve critical infrastructure projects, such as the Keystone XL pipeline,” the Texan said at an energy conference last year. “The United States and Canada both need this – and other – vital infrastructure projects.”

READ MORE: Donald Trump says Keystone pipeline decision will come ‘fairly quickly’

Robert Skinner, an executive fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, said Tiller’s nomination means Canada’s energy sector now has a conduit to the White House, a dramatic change from the previous administration.

“In general it would mean we have a [secretary of state] that is knowledgeable about oil and gas, and is pro-oil and pro-energy in general,” Skinner said. “[Tillerson] would certainly support a decision to repeal Keystone XL.”

WATCH: Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says the government wants to see Keystone XL built

President Barack Obama announced last year he would formally reject a licence for the controversial pipeline. The project became a point for debate about climate change and the environment in both the states and Canada.

Skinner said the reaction in Alberta’s energy sector to Trump’s announcement has been “quite positive.”

The Liberal government has also supported Keystone and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said he wants to see the pipeline built.

“We supported the application in the first place,” Carr told Global’s The West Block on Sunday. “It’s up to the company to determine whether it wants to proceed.”

READ MORE: Trudeau won’t pick fight with Donald Trump

Meanwhile, TransCanada is saying very little on issue.

“We remain firmly committed to Keystone XL,” a spokesperson said in an email to Global News Tuesday. “We will be in a better position to provide comment on our next steps and the path forward after the transition process [in the U.S.] has been settled.”

The Calgary-based company is seeking more than $15 billion in compensation under the North American Free Trade Agreement following Obama’s rejection of the pipeline.

Russia issue

In this June 15, 2012, file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson shake hands at a signing ceremony of an agreement between state-controlled Russian oil company Rosneft and ExxonMobil at the Black Sea port of Tuapse, southern Russia.

Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA-Novosti, Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool, File

Several high-ranking Republicans — Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida — were quick to denounce Tillerson over his ties with Russia and leader Vladimir Putin.

Much of the criticism surrounds Tillerson’s career at Exxon Mobil and his work with the Russian state-owned oil company, OAO Rosneft. He is friends with the head of Rosneft, Igor Sechin, who previously worked as chief of staff for Putin when he was deputy mayor in St. Petersburg in the mid-1990s, according to Reuters.

In 2013, he was even given the Order of Friendship award, one of the highest honours that Russia bestows on foreigners.

READ MORE:Donald Trump to face Congress review of Russian hacking allegations

His Russian connections pose a major conflict of interest as the nominee has also previously opposed sanctions by the U.S. and Europe against Russia after it invaded Crimea.

Tillerson’s nomination also comes amid a flurry of reports about Russian interference in the U.S. election, including a CIA report that alleges Russia tried to intervene in the U.S. election because it wanted Trump to win.

Trump said in an interview Sunday that he did not believe American intelligence assessments and dismissed them as  “just another excuse.”

Climate change

An ExxonMobil contractor cleans up oil along the banks of the Yellowstone River in Billings, Mont., Sunday, July 3, 2011.

(AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

Exxon has faced ongoing criticism over a series of reports that allege the company has known for decades that fossil fuels have intensified climate change.

In 2015, two state attorney generals — New York’s Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts’ Maura Healey — launched fraud investigations into whether Exxon lied to investors by downplaying the threat of climate change.

Environmental groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club also roundly criticized Trump’s nomination.

“Appointing Rex Tillerson to be our chief diplomat is an affront to global progress and will place the U.S. economy, our security, and our standing in the world in the same failing predicament Exxon is in right now,” Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard said in a statement.

Tillerson currently owns $233,078,184 in ExxonMobil stock according to a filing from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

*With files from the Associated Press

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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