Energy giants urged to abandon oilsands

| Business | ,

Just days after Canada’s oilsands moved into the federal election spotlight, one of Britain’s largest investment firms

is
launching a campaign to persuade petroleum giants BP and Shell to scale
back their plans to exploit the controversial energy source.

Widely
seen as a future driver of the Canadian economy in a world confronting
oil scarcity and premium prices, North America’s oilsands and oil
shales have also been targeted by environmentalists as "dirty oil" that
produces far more carbon pollution than conventional sources, and
requires massive inputs of energy and water to extract.

Co-operative Asset Management, a leader in the U.K.’s fast-growing
ethical funds sector, revealed plans Sunday to campaign against
oilsands and other "unconventionals," citing financial and ecological
drawbacks, as well as looming anti-climate change regulations that
would drive up costs even further.

"The worry is that, within
five years, it will be unstoppable," Paul Monaghan, head of
sustainability and social goals at Co-operative, told Sunday’s Observer
newspaper ahead of this week’s seminar aimed at discouraging major
investors from backing oilsands projects.

"I think it is stoppable now."

The
campaign is meant to pressure companies "that are expanding oilsand
exploration" to reconsider the strategy, CAM spokesman Andy Hammerton
said Sunday.

He added that the industry is being targeted because
of "our environmental concerns, and our concerns as an investor"
representing millions of Britons.

Last week, NDP Leader Jack
Layton used an election flyover of an oilsands project in Alberta to
highlight environmental impacts and to promote his party’s policy for a
moratorium on new developments.

The proposal was lambasted
Saturday by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, who accused the NDP of
trying to "shut down a big chunk of Canada’s oil industry, the
oilsands."

The Liberals’ natural resource critic, Omar Alghabra,
told the Herald that the oilsands should be seen as an "asset, not an
enemy," but the party’s centrepiece Green Shift proposal has been
denounced by Harper as an attack on Western Canada’s energy industry.

Tory
Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn dismissed the campaign, saying
energy would continue to be treated as an essential part of Alberta’s
economy.

"What the industry needs is certainty, and that’s what
we’re providing," said Lunn. "Not like the Liberals, who can’t even
explain their plans, the industry knows where we stand."

The
debate comes as a new Herald poll shows Alberta residents are wary
about the potential environmental costs of exploiting the resource,
even as companies active in Canada, including Shell, and scientists
around the world race to find better ways of preventing emissions.

A
poll of 962 Albertans conducted by Leger Marketing found that while six
of 10 respondents reject the "dirty oil" label, and 88 per cent see
oilsands as important to the province’s economy, more than half are
worried about the industry’s impact on the environment and slightly
more than 70 per cent fear potential human health impacts.

The survey was conducted online between Aug. 25 and 29 and has a
margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points, 19 times out of
20.

In Calgary, Premier Ed Stelmach said Saturday that Canada’s
forestry and key parts of agriculture industries are struggling right
now, and the oil and gas industry is one of the few doing well.

He
noted Alberta has invested heavily in carbon capture technology and is
the first province to charge levies to large industrial emitters, and
put the money back into energy research.

As for the oilsands becoming a political issue, Stelmach said it’s
important for all sides to work together, due to the importance of the
resource for the entire Canadian economy.

"Strictly from the
premiers’ point of view, that’s all the premiers, we all understand the
significance and the economic contribution to the country, to Canada,
not only to Alberta," he said.

"You have a $20 billion investment
in the oilsands this year. . . . Those jobs convert to wealth that goes
to support programs like health and education."

Last month, in a
high-profile judgment issued by Britain’s advertising regulator,
Alberta’s oilsands industry suffered another public-relations setback
in a year that already saw the deaths of hundreds of ducks in an
oilsands waste pond.

The U.K. Advertising Standards Authority
ruled, in response to a WWF complaint, that a Shell advertisement
touting its Canadian oilsands project as "sustainable" was misleading
and could not be published again.

 

© The Calgary Herald 2008