Oilsands increasingly likely to lose their social license to operate during 2011
It is undisputed that in getting oil from its origin to the automobile gas tank, the oil sands produces more CO2 per barrel than any other source. As oil sands extraction increasingly moves underground, requiring natural gas to be burned to produce steam to melt the bitumen, the amount of CO2 produced per barrel will only increase. It is because of this that the oil sands are at risk of losing their social license to operate.
Events throughout 2010 have been building in support of this possibility, despite advertising by the industry to try and prevent this, with the adverts in part being designed to give a “personal” appeal to the oil sands. However, various groups have attacked what they call this “greenwashing”.
Looking back, here is a summary of the events that have occurred portraying the oil sands in a negative manner:
- January – Movie of oil sands released which gives a very negative view of them from the air.
- February – Royal Bank of Scotland and oil companies come under increasing shareholder pressure to stop their support and activities in the oil sands. Some US retailers boycott the oil sands.
- March – At Oscar awards time, adverts renamed Avatar as “Avatar sands”.
- April – Increasing support for resolution by shareholders of BP to avoid oil sands.
- May – Strong shareholder support for Exxon resolution opposing future oil sands investments.
- June – An individual who is closely linked to President Obama, the highly influential John Podesta says at a meeting arranged by Canada entitled “Greening the Oil Sands”, that “I’m still skeptical about the quote-unquote green vision for the tar sands. Oil extraction from oil sands is polluting, destructive, expensive, and energy intensive. These things are facts.” (See previous post.)
- July – The “Rethink Alberta” advertising campaign is launched suggesting that Americans should not visit the province. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strongly opposes approving the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline with one key point they make being that greenhouse gas emissions will be 82% higher from the oil sands than other sources.
- August – Additional boycotts by US retailers, including Walgreens. As pointed out in a great article by Chris MacDonald, this action was symbolic only. In August, there was also the Schindler study suggesting that oil sands are polluting the Canadian river system.
- September – There was a widely reported protest against “dirty oil” at the World Energy Congress in Montreal. Also in September, there was the visit by James Cameron (of Avatar fame) to the oil sands, which was also widely covered in the international media.
- October – There were more dead ducks from tailings ponds which again received widespread coverage, occurring days after the winding up of court cases against oil companies for the previous episodes.
- November – Reported leaks from tailings ponds which again portrayed the oil sands in a poor light.
- December – Further oil sands boycott by three companies, Avon from the US, Lush from the UK, and Concord, a Canadian trucking company. Late in December, independent reports by leading scientists strongly criticized lack of supervision of oil sands developments. Perhaps the most important news came just before Christmas when the USEPA confirmed it will continue with its efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
What is my year-end prediction? More of the same. And if nothing changes, this will be accompanied by an increasingly negative view of Alberta and the oil sands. Ultimately, this will have a material impact on future oil sands developments.