Petrol and Diesel 20 years on
Twenty years ago the first issue of Ethical Consumer magazine featured
a buyer's guide to petrol. For our twentieth anniversary we revisit that very
first report to ask what were the issues of the day, what's changed and
where are we going? Dan Welch, Leonie Nimmo and Tim Hunt report.
The month of publication of EC1, March 1989, was the month of the notorious
Exxon Valdez oil spill, when 10m gallons of oil devastated the pristine Arctic
environment of Prince William Sound. By May that year Ethical Consumer was urging
readers to boycott UK brand Esso in support of the campaign launched in the
US by six environmental and consumer groups. The campaign demands ran from paying
for the aftermath to refraining from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife
Reserve, a controversy that continues to this day. But also, jarring to todays
environmental sentiment, was the demand to roll back the recent gasoline
price rises. While concern was expressed in EC1 regarding a pricing conspiracy
between the major oil companies the Seven Sisters
climate change was neither a category on the table nor a term in
Where the greenhouse effect did get a mention was in the context
of the key issue of the day unleaded petrol. The deadline for new cars
made in the UK to be able to run on lead-free petrol was a year away. Modification
to allow your car to run unleaded would cost between £5 and £15,
we informed readers. For the 56% of UK cars already able to run on unleaded
the issue was where to get the stuff. Ironically Exxon brand Mobil was by far
the leader here with almost a fifth of its UK service stations providing unleaded,
while BP, the biggest chain by far, had unleaded at only one in 50 of its forecourts.
Despite some public statements to the contrary, readers were informed, lead
was not the cause of the greenhouse effect.
Ethical Consumer was launched at a point where global warming was
just becoming a commonly recognised term in public discourse. On 23rd June 1988
climate scientist James Hansens testimony to the US Congress alerted the
public that global warming was under way. In September of that year Margaret
Thatcher gave a speech to the Royal Society. It is possible, she
warned, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system
of the planet itself. Curiously, in retrospect, Thatchers speech
was a turning point in the popular consciousness of climate change. Following
her intervention there was a sharp rise in broadsheet coverage of the issue,
from a handful of articles annually, to hundreds in 1989.(1)
Commenting last year on the twentieth anniversary of his testimony to Congress,
James Hansen noted:
There are striking similarities between then and now, but one big difference.
Again a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming
by the relevant scientific communities and what is known by policy-makers and
the public...The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule
for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb...Elements of a perfect
storm, a global cataclysm, are assembled... Special interests have blocked
transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable
energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming... In
my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and
Choosing a better oil company?
This report does not set out to be an exhaustive analysis of the oil industry.
Rather, its focus is those companies that are both producers of oil and retailers
of petrol and diesel in the UK. About a fifth of the petrol stations in the
UK are independents retailing fuel produced by the oil majors. We found that
the supermarkets do not disclose their petrol suppliers as a matter of policy,
so its impossible to know which company produced the petrol you are buying.
So if theres an informed choice to be made, its between the big
integrated oil companies. One consideration might be whether youre
buying from a wholly owned company forecourt or an independent dealer operating
a franchise. All of Texaco and Jet petrol stations are run by independents,
while the other brands are a mix of company-owned and independents.
When we last looked at petrol stations in 2007 (EC105) two policy criteria
stood out as possible differentiators between the oil giants investment
in renewables and transparency over oil revenues.
Clean Energy Dirty Energy
In our 2007 Petrol report there were three clear leaders in terms of investment
in renewable energy, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of total investment
BP, Chevron and Shell (in that order). We noted then that the figures
showed that moving to renewable energy was neither a serious nor an urgent priority
for Big Oil. The trend since then has been disappointing. Shell has pulled out
of any significant investments in wind or solar energy, having invested $1.7
in renewables between 2004-2008. Instead it intends to concentrate on the controversial
areas of biofuels and carbon capture and storage.(22) Both of which suggest
an interest in extending business as usual rather than the transformation of
the energy system we so urgently need.
Only Chevron and BP have anything other than marginal investment in renewables.
Exxon still resolutely refuses to have anything to do with clean energy, despite
the almost subliminal appearance of wind turbines on recent European commercials.(28)
Last year Exxon was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority from further
airings of a UK TV ad that misleadingly implied natural gas was one of the cleanest
sources of energy and that liquefied natural gas was environmentally friendly.(29)
Up-to-date figures for Chevron were unavailable at the time of writing. 2007
figures showed 2.8% of its total investment going into renewables. US subsidiary
Chevron Energy Solutions provides energy efficiency services and renewables
including to US military bases.(26)
Its a damning indictment of the sector that BP tops the league while allocating
93% ($20bn) of its total investment to fossil fuels. In contrast, solar power
was allocated just 1.4% and wind 2.8% (the remainder to biofuels).(27)
At the same time, not every barrel of oil has the same carbon footprint. When
a barrel of oil is produced, the amount of carbon emitted during its production
varies significantly depending on how and where its produced. This is
its carbon intensity. Producing oil from Canadian tar sands is up
to ten times as carbon intensive as Saudi oil. Whatever their renewable investments,
recent research(7) shows that the carbon intensity of both BPs and Chevrons
oil output is increasing. BPs recent decision to move into tar sand development
will have had a significant impact.
But as the table below shows both are dwarfed by the huge increase in carbon
intensity of Shells production due to its increasing reliance on tar sands
and continued massive gas flaring.
Increase in carbon intensity from 2008 production to future production based
on current resources (only the four biggest companies were assessed)(7)
The campaign for revenue transparency in the oil industry aims to combat the
resource curse the tendency for poorly managed fossil fuel
revenues to undermine human welfare and promote corruption and conflict. We
take a look at some of the worst examples below.
The table below is taken from Transparency Internationals 2008 Report
on Revenue Transparency of Oil and Gas companies, based on a detailed questionnaire
whose indicators reflect best practice and desirable standards of revenue transparency.
|OVERALL COMPANY RESULTS
||International oil companies operating outside home country
||BP, Chevron, ConocoPhilips, Total
Note: Murphy Oil was not included in the study
The data was broken down into the three key areas payments to host governments,
operational information and anti-corruption programmes allowing further
differentiation. Shell was rated in the best category for anti-corruption programmes,
as well as for payments, along with BP and Total. ExxonMobil appeared in the
lowest category for anti-corruption programmes and for operations. Shell and
Total also appeared in the lowest category for operations.
When performance was assessed against averages for transparency for individual
countries ExxonMobil again scored poorly: in the 12 countries it operated it
scored very below average in two (the only one of the companies
assessed here to appear in this category), and below average in
seven. Of the overall middle grouping, BP and ConocoPhilips fared better on
a country-by-country basis than Chevron and Total.
How we rated the companies in 1989
Ethical Consumers first issue (EC1) informed readers that squares meant
that Independent commentators have raised questions about the involvement
or malpractice of this company triangles indicated a lesser
degree. It was not until EC77 in 2002 that, after an eight month root-and-branch
review of the table categories the top, middle and bottom ratings familiar to
readers were introduced. And in EC90, 2004, the ethiscore column was launched
displaying figures calculated from the weighting of stories on our database.
In EC1 the categories were divided between those referring to explicit company
policies relating to South Africa, Oppressive Regimes, Nuclear Power,
Armaments and Animals and those other contentious issues
where EC researchers made a judgement. Originally all sources of criticism relating
to the marks on the table were listed at the back of the magazine. As sources
and stories proliferated this detail was moved to a dedicated Research Supplement.
An early adopter of internet technology, EC was providing online access to our
research database in 1994 customers were warned a modem (at least
2,400 bps) and a telephone line were required. And in 2005 www.ethiscore.org
was launched, which enabled users to customise the ethiscore scoring system
to best fit with their own ethical priorities.
Over the years theres been a huge consolidation, both between the international
oil companies and the UK retail brands, as a comparison between the tables shows.
The Petrol Table from EC1 illustrates the pressing issues of the day. Corporate
involvement in apartheid South Africa was a key issue. The Anti-Apartheid Movement,
which began life as the Boycott Movement, had been calling for a consumer boycott
of South African goods since 1959 and economic sanctions against the apartheid
regime had been an election issue in the UK since the 60s. The Thatcher
government opposed sanctions. And with Nelson Mandela still behind bars, in
the year Ethical Consumer was launched the 23 year old David Cameron took a
jolly to South Africa organised and paid for by an anti-sanctions lobby
group.(3) In 1993 with the first democratic election months away, Nelson Mandela
called an end to the boycott and EC26 was happy to scrap the South Africa category.
Of course, today oil companies are still up to their ears with involvement
in oppressive regimes, which we now count under the general Human Rights category.
Shell tops the bill for the sheer number of countries on our oppressive regimes
list that its involved with twenty. However, Chevron and Total
deserve special condemnation for their involvement with Burmas military
regime. Total is one of the biggest foreign investors in Burma and is involved
in a joint venture with the military regime developing an offshore gas field
in the Andaman sea. Chevron is the only US company which still has significant
assets in Burma and has funded a trade association which lobbied the US Congress
against imposing sanctions on Burma.(4) Both are subject to boycott calls for
their activities. Only Murphy Oil, due to the much smaller size of its operations
compared to the other companies on the table, lacks significant involvement
with oppressive regimes. Its human rights mark comes from involvement in the
Canadian tar sands and the abuse of land rights of the indigenous peoples this
involves and operations in Indonesia.
The Irresponsible Marketing categories referred to the issues specific to the
oil industry at the time. Column 1 related to the export of petrochemical pesticides
to the third world which had been banned or restricted in the
West for their high toxicity. Column 2 related to the marketing of fuel
to the third world with far higher lead content than that marketed
in the West.
By the turn of the century stories relating to oil companies involvement in
pesticides had largely fallen away not that the issue of pesticides had.
In some cases this was due to restructuring: Total, for example, spun off its
entire chemical manufacturing division (now Arkema Inc) in 2003. In 1995 a new
kind of irresponsible marketing appeared on our database, in which the oil companies
came to specialise greenwash. In 2000 the term was invoked
for BPs much derided rebranding as Beyond Petroleum
Greenpeace reported that BP had spent more on a new logo than on solar energy
research.(5) In 2003 ExxonMobil was awarded a Greenwash Award for
its funding of climate change denial. By 2006 Corporate Watch was accusing BP
of greenwashing over its carbon offsetting scheme, Targetneutral,
which offered to help drivers to help the environment.(6) And last
year BP was the winner of Greenpeaces Emerald Paintbrush award
for the worst greenwash. The award was in recognition of the companys
efforts over the year to greenwash its brand through focusing on its marginal
renewable energy investments despite the increasing carbon intensity
of its fossil fuel production.(7)
Stop the Tar Sands! campaign
In June 2009 Ethical Consumer launched its Stop the Tar Sands campaign, calling
for a boycott of high street brands profiting from tar sands exploitation. The
Canadian tar sands development is causing massive environmental destruction,
impacting on the health and livelihoods of local aboriginal people, and threatens
to tip the world into climate chaos.
For information on the boycott and letter writing campaign visit www.ethicalconsumer.org
or call us on 0161 2262929 for a campaign information pack.
Tarred and feathered
When we last covered petrol in EC105, BP was the only major oil company not
involved in the dirty business of the tar sands, having previously stated that
it would not pursue development. But in December 2007 a new chief executive
reversed its decision, citing the need to find new supplies to meet demand.
At the time Greenpeace called the exploitation of the Alberta tar sands the
greatest climate crime in history.(8) Today, whoever you buy your petrol
or diesel from, theyre likely to be complicit in that crime. Tar sands
exploitation demands massive investment to deliver the necessary infrastructure
needed to extract and refine the bitumen from which the oil is made, and to
transport the raw materials and finished products. Pipelines, roads and refineries
form an integral part of the tar sands development. A substantial amount of
refining takes place in the United States, involving transport over huge distances.
This massive infrastructure investment has resulted in a number of unholy alliances
in the form of joint ventures and partnerships in projects. We take a look at
what the companies covered in this report have been up to in Alberta.
Whos who in the greatest climate crime in history
The biggest tar sand facility is operated by Syncrude Canada Ltd, which holds
leases on 102,000 hectares and produces around 450,000 barrels of oil a day.
Six companies or partnerships own stakes in Syncrude; of the companies covered
in this report: ExxonMobil owns about 17% through its majority shares in Imperial
Oil; ConocoPhillips owns 9%; and Murphy Oil owns 5%. Imperial Oil boasts that
it pioneered development of the oil sands of Alberta, both through its
leadership role in the creation of Syncrude and development of large-scale in-situ
bitumen recovery at Cold Lake.(9)
Syncrude came under fire when around 1,600 ducks died in 2008 after landing
on one of the companys toxic tailing ponds, the lake-sized pools where
the waste product from oil sands extraction is pumped.(10) A year later, as
court proceedings progressed, the company admitted the true figure, after initially
claiming 500 had died.(11) The incident caused huge embarrassment, coming at
the same time Alberta was embarking on a $25m PR campaign to greenwash the tar
sands image. As we went to press Syncrude was considering a constitutional challenge
to fight the environmental charges.
A late arrival at the tar sands, after its policy U-turn in 2007, BP quickly
moved into a joint venture with Husky Energy. The two companies now own 50/50
stakes in the Sunrise oil project and the Toledo oil refinery. Husky Energy
is owned by Hutchison Whampoa, which also owns the British high street store
Superdrug. Consequently, Superdrug tops the Ethical Consumers Stop the
Tar Sands boycott list.
BP also signed a deal with Enbridge Inc. in 2008 to pipe bitumen from Alberta
to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The two companies are set to spend $2
billion on expanding existing pipelines and building new connections, which
are predicted to deliver up to 250,000 barrels a day to the USAs southernmost
state by 2012.
In January 2009 Greenpeace Canada reported that a blown valve at an Enbridge
site in Alberta resulted in 4000 barrels of oil being spilt. The spill went
undetected for a number of hours because, according to Enbridge, it was too
small a spill to have been picked up by the companys detection systems.
The incident was reported anonymously to Greenpeaces Alberta hotline.12
Shell has operations in all three major tar sands areas in Alberta and revealed
to investors last year that 30% of its total resources are tar sands.7 It first
started exploration in Athabasca in the 1940s, but determined investment began
in 1999 with the development of the Athabascan Oil Sands Project (AOSP), which
includes a 60% stake in a refinery. The company had sunk over $3.6 billion into
AOSP by the time it started production in 2003. A second refinery in the same
area could cost as much as $22 billion13 to put that in context thats
the same amount as the entire annual global aid budget for health in the developing
Chevron, parent company to Texaco, owns a 20% stake in the AOSP. It also operates
and owns a 60% stake in the Ells River Project, currently in the exploration
Total has stakes in three Athabascan tar sands leases, and exploration leases
in three additional sites. The company also plans to build a refinery and says
it will invest $10 to $15 billion in Alberta over the next 10 years.
Human Rights and Big Oil Snapshots of the Resource Curse
Wherever theres oil, it seems, theres conflict. Its been
called the Resource Curse. Instead of higher standards of human
welfare, all too often oil wealth brings with it corruption and human rights
abuses. But where theres conflict theres resistance, whether its
in the Niger Delta, Irelands County Mayo or the jungles of Peru. And a
growing international movement links local struggles to the global issues of
abuse of corporate power. See Links at the end of this article for
some of the groups working in this area.
We provide a snapshot of some of the most striking examples of corporate complicity
of Big Oil in human rights abuses.
Chad and Cameroon
According to a 2006 Amnesty International report, the ExxonMobil-led consortium
developing the World Bank backed Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline is complicit in
human rights violations and in creating a climate of intimidation, along with
the governments of Chad and Cameroon.
Human rights groups warned that the project would end up strengthening the repressive
Chadian regime. The inauguration of the pipeline prompted a national day of
mourning by civil groups in Chad. Since then, villagers have been denied access
to clean water, farmers have been denied access to their lands, and fish stocks
off Cameroons coast have been destroyed.
More recently, in 2005, according to the International Confederation of Free
Trade Unions, two former oil company employees were killed, three seriously
injured, and 30 arrested by Chadian national police at a sit-in at an ExxonMobil
facility, following a dispute over unpaid overtime wages.(22)
The World Banks controversial $1.2 billion funding for the pipeline obligated
the government to devote the bulk of its oil revenues to road, health and education
projects. However in September last year, citing the governments non-compliance
with the loan terms, the Bank scheme ended.(23)
Chads leader Idriss Deby has admitted he had used a fifth of the $25 million
bonus given to him by companies including ExxonMobil and Chevron
to buy weapons.(24)
Chevron has a contract with Burmas military junta to provide security
for its operations along the Yadana pipeline. Human rights abuses have been
reported since the construction phase of the Yadana project started. These include
the use of forced labour, murder, rape, and the forced relocation of villages.
According to The True Cost of Chevron report (2009) pipeline security
forces routinely conscripted villagers for severe forced labour projects,
including building infrastructure for the project ...as well as committing torture,
rape, and murder.20 The Yadana project is the the regimes largest
single source of revenue, said to make up to $450m a year for the military junta
Total is another partner in the project and is facing court cases in France
and Belgium regarding horrific human rights abuses along the route of the pipeline.
Shell has finally made an out-of-court settlement of $15.5million to the families
of human rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others, executed in 1995
for their part in leading opposition against the companys activities in
the Niger Delta. The move was widely seen as an attempt to keep revelations
of Shells complicity with human rights abuses out of the public sphere.
However, 15 years after Ken Saro-Wiwas death things have still not improved.
Shell is still illegally flaring 256m cubic feet of natural gas a day,(15) according
to Friends of the Earth the biggest contribution to climate change in sub-Saharan
Africa. Shell has repeatedly broken its promises made since 1996 to stop flaring,
refusing to implement the 2011 deadline imposed by the Nigerian government.
Oil spills are still commonplace. According to independent oil and environmental
experts they amount to one Exxon Valdez disaster a year over the last 50 years.(16)
Amnesty International recently reported how in 2008 a significant
oil spill in Ogoniland was allowed to flow for weeks, affecting about 69,000
people. A local human rights worker reported that eight months after the spill
Shell had offered by way of relief a total of 50 bags of beans,
rice, sugar, dry milk, tea, tomatoes and groundnut oil for the whole population.
The food was rejected by local residents, they considered it insulting,
provocative and beggarly. As of May 2009 no clean up operation had begun.(17)
An epic legal battle for $27 billion environmental reparations against Chevron
for pollution dubbed by experts the Amazon Chernobyl may finally
be settled this year.(18)
According to campaign group Chevrontoxico, in three decades of oil drilling
in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Chevron have dumped more than 18 billion gallons of
toxic waste water into the rainforest, leaving local people suffering a wave
of cancers, miscarriages and birth defects.(19)
Chevron fought for nine years to transfer the trial, originally filed in 1993
in the US federal court, to Ecuador. Once the trial in Ecuador started in 2003
and the evidence pointed to Chevrons culpability, the company launched
a lobbying campaign to discredit Ecuadors courts. Its also tried
and failed three times to use trade policy to pressure Ecuadors
government over the lawsuit, calling on the US government to cancel trade benefits
that would cost 350,000 Ecuadorian jobs. A final decision in the case, brought
on behalf of 30,000 Amazonians, is expected later this year.(18)
New Frontiers of the Carbon Web
In 1978, before the Iranian revolution, the big Western oil companies controlled
70% of global reserves. Today that figure is less than 10%.39 In a world of
depleting oil reserves the industry is looking to new frontiers. Mika Minio-Paluello
of campaign group PLATFORM takes a look at the new provinces of the Carbon Web.
T he past 20 years have seen heavy depletion of oil producing areas close to
home, such as the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Coupled with the pressure for
constant growth, this has created a renewed drive by the oil giants to open
up frontier provinces. BP, Shell and the other oil majors are now pushing hard
to open up new and old regions including the Arctic, deep offshore Brazil and
Central Asia. Until recently some of these areas have been off limits for political
reasons (such as Iraqi oil) while others have been beyond existing technological
capabilities or economic rationale (such as the tar sands in Canada).
Breaking through these social, political, economic and technological boundaries
is difficult, even for multinational corporations bringing in billions of dollars
of profit. BP and Shell dont work alone but in close collaboration with
a web of companies and institutions including banks, universities, states, law
firms and contractors. Actors within this Carbon Web provide finance,
lobbying, legal protection, political pressure, and technical expertise.
Diplomats in the Caspian
State institutions including the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Department
for Business Innovation & Skills (formerly DTI) and the European Commission
work closely with the oil companies to apply pressure to access fossil fuel
reserves in new or unstable countries, through diplomatic meetings,
aid agreements and treaties.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union the possibility of the oil giants directly
exploiting the vast reserves beneath the Caspian Sea opened up both in
terms of direct ownership and new pipeline routes. During the 1990s the EU and
US saw the Caspian as a way to reduce their dependence on Middle East oil. BPs
1994 contract for the 6 billion barrel ACG field in Azerbaijan was only the
beginning. However, the obvious pipelines for Caspian oil would run through
Iran, Russia or China less than politically appealing to the Western
The option preferred by the US a 1600km pipeline through Azerbaijan,
Georgia and Turkey was widely regarded as uneconomic. BP argued they
would only build it if it was paid for with free public money. Years
of pressure involving high level diplomatic meetings, Donald Rumsfeld dropping
in, and intimate relations between the British Embassy in Azerbaijan and BP
(at one point based in the same office) led to the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline
becoming a reality. It now pumps close to one million barrels a day equivalent
to 160 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The recent Russian-Georgian conflict
underscores the geo-political stakes at play.
The role of government ministries in breaking BP and Shell even further into
the Caspian continues. The EU and the UK Foreign Office are currently pushing
hard for the proposed Nabucco pipeline, to run from Turkey to Austria and Central
Europe. Ministries are pressing Caspian countries like Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan
to commit their gas reserves to the pipeline. Turkmenistan, until recently a
frontier closed off to Western investment, continues to be run by a very oppressive
dictatorship. The need for European energy security is being used
to justify corporate involvement with, and support for, the Turkmenistan regime.
Banks in the Arctic
Opening up new areas means longer pipelines, deeper wells and dealing with
difficult weather conditions which require more cash. Budgets for major
projects like Shells Sakhalin II require oil companies to turn to banks,
who compete to provide credit. The Royal Bank of Scotland stands out as positioning
itself as the bank to lend to risky oil projects. Since RBS was bailed out in
2008 its been using public money to fund companies such as Scottish Cairn
Energy to exploit ecologically sensitive regions like Arctic Greenland.
According to the companys Exploration Director Greenland is, a
true frontier country where oil and gas exploration is at an embryonic stage.
Cairn has licences covering an area half the size of England. Earlier this year,
RBS and Merrill Lynch placed shares worth £116 million for Cairn Energy,
making clear that the money raised would go towards accelerated drilling
in Greenland. In March, six months after the initial bailout, RBS was reportedly
involved in financing loans to coal, oil and gas companies worth nearly £10bn
over a quarter the amount the bank had received from taxpayers at that
While pressuring oil companies themselves can be difficult, their reliance
on actors within the Carbon Web provides social movements with a means of leverage.
For example, this summer PLATFORM, together with the World Development Movement
and People & Planet, launched a legal challenge against the Treasury for
failing to include environmental or human rights considerations in the investment
framework of banks like RBS that are now playing with public money.
The Treasury is determined to run the recapitalised banks on an arms length
basis and says that any kind of political interference would jeopardise maximising
the return of public investment. PLATFORM and our campaign partners believe
the public good is better served by refusing to bankroll climate trashing projects
with public money and instead financing the transition to a low carbon economy.
Pension funds in the Canadian tar sands
While banks provide the loans for projects, it is institutional shareholders
like insurance companies and pension funds that provide the long-term capital.
As the ultimate owners of BP and Shell, institutional investors demand continual
growth. This requires constant replenishment of oil reserves by opening up new
oil fields in previously untouched areas.
Shells dwindling oil reserves and its decreasing access to oil in countries
such as Russia, Venezuela and Iran led the company to commit itself heavily
to Canadian tar sands. The company sees its future as intertwined with the fate
of the Albertan oil province, with around 30% of its entire reserves in tar
The tar sands are portrayed as massive open-cast mines that are leading to
the deforestation of vast tracts of Albertas forests, the destruction
of the homeland and livelihoods of Canadas First Nations, and a key driver
in climate change pushing us towards a tipping point. The tar sands are
all these things but they also take place right at the centre of our
own society, woven into the financial fabric of our daily lives. The tar sands
are not only being extracted in Alberta, Canada, but also in the Square Mile
of the City of London. As Shell shares represents about 9% of the London Stock
Exchange, and around a sixth of all the money invested by UK pension funds,
the future of the UKs financial sector and the retirement security of
millions is also intertwined with the Albertan tar sands.
The major shareholders that provide the bulk of capital to the oil giants are
pushing BP and Shell deeper into tar sands in pursuit of new reserves, but have
the ability to turn this around. These institutional investors like Prudential,
Aviva and West Yorkshire County Council Pension Fund provide pensions, insurance
policies, mortgages and council services theyre susceptible to
demands to end their role in driving tar sand development.
Lobbyists in Iraq
Some zones have been politically out of bounds for western oil companies. The
massive reserves of the Middle East have been largely beyond the reach of BP
and Shell since the nationalisations of the 60s and 70s. Iraq has the third
largest conventional oil reserves in the world. The 2003 invasion created the
opportunity to access those reserves again.To further strengthen their hand,
the oil companies brought in lobby group International Tax & Investment
Center (ITIC), to make their demands to the Iraqi government. In private documents,
the ITIC argued that Iraq could provide a potential beachhead, on
the way to achieving significant corporate control over oil reserves in the
ITIC, the UK and US governments and the oil majors pushed heavily for the introduction
of Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) in Iraq long-term contracts that
would take control over production away from the Iraqi government while guaranteeing
long-term high levels of profit. PSAs are widely considered inappropriate for
countries like Iraq with large, cheap reserves. PSAs looked inevitable, however,
until a major public campaign in Iraq and the UK uncovered ITICs lobbying
role and made PSAs politically unlikely.
However, the dramatic fall in oil prices in late 2008 undermined Iraqs
negotiating position, as the government was forced to slash its budget. BP and
Shell were fast to take advantage of the shifting situation, demanding much
more profitable terms. A licensing round in early July 2009 saw BP snap up co-production
at Rumaila one of Iraqs super giant fields. The other oil companies
continue to hold out for more control. While PSAs are not yet back on the table
formally, lobbyists are working hard and the Iraqi government has indicated
that it might concede to the pressure.
Without the Carbon Web of organisations and institutions to support them, BP
and Shell would be unable to break into new frontier provinces including the
Arctic, the tar sands and Iraq. These other actors provide a social licence
to operate, create a safe political environment, offer financial
services and technical expertise all of which help boost oil company
profits at the expense of the climate, social justice and untouched environments.
The oil giants think in terms of decades. Once a new pipeline has been built
or oil field has been brought into production, it will run for 20-40 years.
Avoiding runaway climate change requires a strong defence of the remaining frontiers.
Social movements need to stop BP, Shell and Exxon opening up the Arctic, tar
sands and other frontier provinces by pulling away elements of the Carbon Web,
leaving the the oil corporations powerless and a real change in our energy future
BP plc is one of the companies operating in the Sakhalin II project,
which threatens the survival of the last remaining Western Grey Whales. A recent
report from the World Conservation Panel estimates only 130 remain and that
the total number of whales occupying the near-shore area had declined by nearly
40% compared to 2007. The gravity of the situation was such that the report
authors called for a moratorium on all industrial activities which might be
expected to disturb the whales in their main feeding areas during the summer
and autumn feeding season.(33)
In 2007 the US Department of Justice fined BP £182m for breaking environmental
and safety rules and committing fraud. The fines included £50m relating
to a Texas refinery explosion in 2005 that killed 15 people and injured 180
The company has subsidiaries in four countries considered to be tax havens:
Ireland, Luxembourg, Philippines and Singapore.(35)
ConocoPhillips spent around $6m lobbying the US Congress in the year
to July 2009, the third highest of companies reviewed in this report.(31) On
17 June 2009 The American Clean Energy and Security Act, addressing climate
change emissions, was passed. The Act occasioned intense lobbying from the US
oil industry. The companys human rights mark comes from: involvement in
eight countries considered oppressive regimes; involvement in the Alberta tar
sands (a human rights issue due to abuse of the land rights of the indigenous
population and concerns over the health impacts); and plans to explore for oil
in three highly controversial concessions in remote areas of the
Amazon in Ecuador and Peru. The concessions were described as being carved
out of the traditional territories of four indigenous nations.(30)
Chevron Corporation spent $9.8m on lobbying the US Congress in 2008,
and over $6.8m in the year to July 2009, second highest of the companies in
this report.(31) The company is subject to a boycott call from online campaign
group Avaaz.org for its involvement in Burma. The company received a middle
rating for environmental reporting.
ExxonMobil Long the focus of boycott campaigns from Exxon Valdez onwards.
Ethical Consumers Boycott Bush campaign, focused on the US administrations
refusal to engage in climate talks and listed Exxon as one of the top 20 donors
to the Republican Party. The ExxposExxon.com campaigns website calls for
a boycott due to funding front groups that confuse the science on global
warming and delay action; refusing to invest in clean, renewable energy that
doesnt pollute our air and water and will bring down consumer costs of
energy; denying the urgency of global warming and lobbying against action; still
a member of Arctic Power, the single-issue lobby group trying to, open the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge.
Despite claiming to have stopped funding climate change denial groups in 2008
it gave $125,000 to two groups which published misleading and inaccurate information
about about climate change.(32) According to the environmental lawyer Robert
Kennedy, America is a decade late in addressing the serious threat from
global warming largely due to ExxonMobils campaign of deliberate deception.
ExxonMobils conduct amounts to a war on civilization.
It spent the most of any company in the US oil and gas sector on political lobbying
in the first quarter of 2009, paying $9.3m. In 2008 the company spent $29 million,
its highest figure ever, on lobbying.(31) The companys profit for 2007
came to $4.6 million an hour.
Murphy Oil With a turnover of $1.9bn Murphy Oil is an order of magnitude
smaller than the other companies rated we might compare BPs £252bn
sales in 2008 or Exxon record breaking profit of $40.6 billion in 2007. Its
human rights mark comes from operations in Indonesia, considered an oppressive
regime, and its involvement in the Alberta tar sands.
Royal Dutch Shell Essential Action, founded in 1982 by Ralph Nader,
called for a boycott of Shell over its activities in the Niger Delta. Shell
is also involved in the Sakhalin II project and has faced damaging claims over
its influence on a supposedly independent environmental audit to determine whether
the Sakhalin II project would receive vital bank funding. Doug Norlen, policy
director of US-based Pacific Environment, said: Shell stage-managed
the whole process. They set the agenda, scheduled meetings and even participated
in the editing of sections. I believe this to be a stark and vivid example of
Total SA faces a boycott call from online campaign group Avaaz.org for
its involvement in Burma. Total is a participant in the Yadana Gas Pipeline
Project, which represents the single largest foreign investment in Burma. Companies
involved have contracted the Burmese army to provide security-forced labour,
forced relocation of villages, extra judicial killings, rape and extortion by
the pipeline security forces increased dramatically since the project was initiated.(38)
for Burmese junta pledge to boycott Total and Chevron
Shell gas flaring in Nigeria
Send Chevron a message for
justice in Ecuador
to Exxpose Exxon
Oil Change International campaigns to expose the true costs of oil and
facilitate the coming transition towards clean energy. www.priceofoil.org
Oilwatch is a resistance network that opposes the activities of oil companies
in tropical countries www.oilwatch.org
(Nigeria) 00 234 84 236365
Shell to Sea a campaign against the building of a high pressure
pipeline in Rossport, County Mayo, Ireland www.corribsos.com Spokesperson
Maura Harrington 087 9591474
The True Cost of Chevron An Alternative Annual Report http://truecostofchevron.com/
How Exxon funds the climate change skeptics www.exxonsecrets.org
Sakhalin Environment Watch www.sakhalin.environment.ru/en/
PLATFORM works for social and ecological justice www.platformlondon.org
Art Not Oil For creativity, climate justice and an end to oil industry
sponsorship of the arts www.artnotoil.org.uk
For links to tar sands campaigns see www.ethicalconsumer.org/Oilsandsboycott.aspx
Peak oil and alternatives to oil dependency
Association for the Study
of Peak Oil
for the Economics of Sustainbility
Post Carbon Institute - Assists societies in their efforts to relocalize
communities and adapt to an energy constrained world. www.postcarbon.org 001
707 823 8700
Transition Towns Network
(UK) 05601 531882
The Oil Drum
Discussions about Energy and our Future, see also http://europe.theoildrum.com/
Oil Depletion Analysis Centre
UK educational charity working to promote understanding of the worlds
1 Carvalho, A. and Burgess, J. Cultural Circuits of Climate Change in
U.K. Broadsheet Newspapers, 19852003 Risk Analysis, Vol. 25, No.
2 Guardian, 23/06/08 Twenty years later: tipping points near on global
3 Independent 26/04/09 Camerons freebie to apartheid South Africa
4 www.burmacampaign.org.uk viewed 13/07/09
5 Greenpeace UK, Autumn 2000, Connect
6 Corporate Watch magazine, 2006 (10th Anniversary Issue)
7 Oil Change International et al. Irresponsible Energy May 2009
8 Guardian 07/12/07 Greenpeace calls BPs oil sands plan an environmental
14 Funding for Global Health Quadruples, to $22 Billion http://blogs.wsj.com
17 Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in Niger Delta Amnesty International
18 Amazon Defense Coalition Press release 1/07/2009 http://chevrontoxico.com
20 The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report http://truecostofchevron.com
21 The Ecologist April 2005
25 Ends Report 410, March 2009
26 www.chevronenergy.com viewed 12/07/09
27 Greenpeace Business March 09
29 www.asa.org.uk 3/09/08
30 Rainforest Action Network 25/04/06
31 www.opensecrets.org 04/07/09
32 Guardian 01/07/09
33 International Fund for Animal Welfare 11/06/09
34 Hazards 101 Jan 2008
35 www.bp.com viewed 11/07/09
36 www.essentialaction.org viewed 13/07/09
37 Observer 31/08/08
38 Involvement of UBS in the global mining and oil and gas sectors
Berne Declaration June 2006
39 Oil Producers limit the options of multinationals The Times,