Categories: Knights' Hood
Big Oil Goes Green
By Katia Dmitrieva, Corporate Knights, Online Content Coordinator
It’s a landmark initiative in the nation: twelve of the country’s oil companies have banded together to form an environmental partnership. Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) is comprised of such oil titans as Shell, Suncor and Imperial Oil Ltd. The document was signed by the CEOs of each company just last week.
The goal of banding together is to share company information, knowledge, and research about that crucial cross-section of the environment and oil extraction.
Andrew Weaver, a prominent climatologist in Canada, said it's a positive step but one that just isn't enough to combat well-deserved criticism of the oilsands.
This isn’t the first time oil companies have joined together. Others include organizations such as the Canadian Oil Sands Network for Research and Development (CONRAD), the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative (OSLI) and the Oil Sands Tailings Consortium (OSTC).
The Canadian Press reported:
"'The public's expectation of environmental performance in the oilsands continues to evolve,' said John Abbott, executive vice-president for heavy oil at Shell Canada. 'Coming together today to sign the charter is a significant and important step for all our companies and marks a pivotal point in our industry.' Members say it will break down barriers in funding, intellectual property enforcement and human resources that may otherwise slow progress on environmental performance.'"
Oilsands crude is often called “dirty” oil, because of its impact on land and water and the greenhouse gases released during production. Oilsands Truth, an organization that aims for the total shutdown of Canadian tar sands, says it’s the largest industrial project in history and the most destructive.
The “dirty” aspect is why the European Union has labeled tarsands oil as “highly polluting,” which led Canada to threaten a trade war with the EU. The label would discourage companies from using the oil, as the EU is encouraging a low-carbon footprint. The COSIA green initiative comes in the midst of this oil battle between the nations.
Shell/ Sunco Refinery in Sarnia, Ontario. Photo credit: Macdonald J E Stainsby.
Can Black Oil be Green?
Let’s take a step back, folks. Before you start lambasting this as a “greenwashing” effort by some carbon-happy giants, let’s look at some of the positive developments that this initiative ushers in.
First of all, it’s exciting that oil companies are realizing the importance of sharing information about the environment. It breaks down that secretive corporation image of oil tycoons hoarding research for monetary gain. Let’s take Shell as an example. Despite it being an oil company, its operations include a multitude of social and environmental programs. Shell donates $1 million dollars each year to environmental projects in Canada, issues an annual sustainability report, and actively works on minimizing environmental impacts such as limiting water use. Now imagine Shell CEO Peter Voser sharing this information with 11 other oil companies so they can each implement similar green policies.
It’s also important to look at the organization’s commitment: will this be all-talk and no action, or are these companies truly committed to funding innovation? The four Environmental Priority Areas that COSIA focuses on are tailings, water, land and greenhouse gases. Although the alliance doesn’t state that it will fund external research, it does plan on issuing public progress reports. But we can’t judge before we actually see if the grande green plan pans out, and you can be sure we'll keep you updated right here.
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