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Not On Our Watch

July 19th, 2010 in Blog by View Comments

As oil becomes scarcer, and the world’s addiction to it surges, oil companies are going to more and more extreme lengths to keep up supply. The desperate measures employed by these companies have not been short of incident, and seem to be causing increasingly devastating environmental disasters.

The oil ‘issue’ is the source for many of the problems which Call4 campaigns on – and the tar sands project in Alberta, Canada, or ‘the dirtiest and most damaging way to get oil out of the ground ever devised’, is the most recent in a barrage of environmentally disastrous oil-gathering missions.

This may seem like a distant problem, but it is one which involves (unwittingly or otherwise) UK consumers and   shareholders, and perhaps it’s time they took responsibility. Let’s look at how we, in the UK, are connected to it.

  1. We are consuming tar sands crude oil. Thanks to Greenpeace’s ‘Tar Sands in your Tank’ report published earlier this year, there is no doubt that Canadian tar sands crude oil is imported into Europe and is reaching pumps in Britain.This means that many people are unknowingly supporting this manner of production by consuming fuel in the UK. You could argue this is concealed from us by the companies involved, but ignorance should no longer be an excuse.
  2. Our money is funding tar sands projects. There is relatively little awareness among British investors that they may be directly or indirectly financing the Alberta scheme, although there is an increasing amount of shareholder activism around this issue, in large part thanks to campaigners Fair Pensions.At their most recent AGMs, FairPensions enacted shareholder resolutions asking both Shell and BP to publish details of the risks associated with the project. According to some reports these were ‘shrugged off’ by BP, however BP is beginning to see significant resistance from its shareholders to further investment in deep-sea drilling and perhaps they will begin to take more notice of these messages.
  3. Tar sands production is likely to expand. As deepwater drilling has become a riskier investment option, a result of the BP oil rig explosion, tar sands producers appear to be promoting their industry as a safe option. And while they are an environmental disaster, these projects are currently proving very successful financially.
  4. For these reasons, Shell and other oil companies are rushing to set up similar operations in Russia, Congo and Madagascar, as revealed in this Yale Environment report. The dangers associated with oil sand extraction will multiply as it occurs in countries with far weaker environmental, employment, civil and human rights regulation.

A recently-produced documentary by Peter Mettler, Petropolis, shows starkly the scale of the Alberta sands undertaking, and the virtual ‘moonscape’ which has replaced northern Canadian forests. Watching it, you can scarcely believe the scheme is real, and the film makes you wonder how it was ever allowed to come about. The damage it is causing is immense, yet it has been allowed to go ahead with little real objection from anyone other than environmental activist groups.

The campaign to stop the tar sands is of acute urgency, yet, is managing to stay off the agenda for many companies and governments. Ignorance of the disaster within the UK should not continue, given the fact that Britons are so closely involved with this project as consumers, financiers and beneficiaries.

The UK public needs to make it known that we are not willing to let this continue, and certainly not expand, not on our watch. We can ask our politicians to work for us on this, we can tell our financial institutions what we want, and – as in Fair Pensions’ recent campaign – we can tell these companies how we want them to behave. And simply because we in the UK have the power to influence this, we have a duty to.

For more information on why the tar sands project is particularly damaging to the environment have a look at the campaign here and check out The Guardian’s revealing ‘how to’ guide to getting oil from Canada’s tar sands.

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