Tag Archives: Suncor

Will Big Business Save Earth?

Jared Diamond thinks it is a possibility

The embrace of environmental concerns by chief executives has accelerated recently for several reasons. Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters — reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government.

It makes good business sense as seen by Chevron

Chevron Logo Not even in any national park have I seen such rigorous environmental protection as I encountered in five visits to new Chevron-managed oil fields in Papua New Guinea. (Chevron has since sold its stake in these properties to a New Guinea-based oil company.) When I asked how a publicly traded company could justify to its shareholders its expenditures on the environment, Chevron employees and executives gave me at least five reasons.

First, oil spills can be horribly expensive: it is far cheaper to prevent them than to clean them up. Second, clean practices reduce the risk that New Guinean landowners become angry, sue for damages and close the fields. (The company has been sued for problems in Ecuador that Chevron inherited when it merged with Texaco in 2001.) Next, environmental standards are becoming stricter around the world, so building clean facilities now minimizes having to do expensive retrofitting later.

Also, clean operations in one country give a company an advantage in bidding on leases in other countries. Finally, environmental practices of which employees are proud improve morale, help with recruitment and increase the length of time employees are likely to remain at the company.

Of course where is the thinking in the Alberta Oil Sands?  According to the Toronto Star.

Tailing from the Alberta Oilsands

An independent study suggests pollution from Alberta’s oilsands is nearly five times greater and twice as widespread as industry figures say.

The study says toxic emissions from the controversial industry are equal to a major oil spill occurring every year. Government and industry officials say contamination in area soils and rivers is natural, but the report links it firmly to oilsands mining.

Here is how they did it.

In the summer of 2008, Schindler’s team set up monitoring stations on the Athabasca and several of its tributaries. Some stations were upstream of both the oilsands and facilities, others were in the middle of the deposits but upstream of industry and still others were downstream of both.

It found petrochemical concentrations did not increase until the streams flowed past oilsands facilities, especially when they flowed past new construction.

"We always found that the major contribution to the river was from industry," Schindler said.

Researchers also took snow samples from similar locations earlier that spring.

They found deposits of bitumen particulates within a 50-kilometre radius around Suncor and Syncrude’s upgraders – twice the previous distance estimate. The deposits were "substantial" and enough to form an oily slick on the snow when it was melted.

Now you could argue that Chevron is just a better global citizen than Suncor and Syncrude or more realistically one could say is that the Alberta government has done a bad job of regulating and punishing companies who do pollute.

From the New York Times

With Canada facing mounting international pressure to confront its sluggish emission-reduction record heading into the Copenhagen climate meetings next week, environmental groups this week released yet another unflattering appraisal — this one showing that seven of Alberta’s nine oil sands projects will fail to meet new cleanup rules for the vast tailing ponds near bitumen refineries.

Absent compliance, the Pembina Institute and the Water Matters Society of Alberta estimate that by 2020, Alberta’s tailing ponds could contain about 300 million gallons of toxic liquid and cover almost 100 square miles — an area the size of Brooklyn. Those figures represent a 30 percent increase over current volumes.

After assessing available corporate and government data, the group concluded that most oil sands projects are years away from complying with a February 2009 directive requiring producers to capture 50 percent of fine particles by mid-2013.

The question is what is being done about  it because as it is now, the clean up of the oil sands is going to dwarf cleanup needed to take care of the Sydney Tar Ponds (or even worse, Hamilton Harbour).   Until this year, there wasn’t a lot of attention paid to the oilsands tailing (until 500 ducks landed on them and died) and while Alberta took some good first steps, only time will tell if they are bold enough to force a Chevron type of reaction in corporate responsibility.  While Shell has developed a plan and targets, others have not and blame the lack of technology to cut targets.  Well at least some companies are making a genuine effort.