ConocoPhillips – Environmental Impacts of Oil Sands (2009)
ConocoPhillips has extensive interests in oil sands operations in the Canadian boreal forest. ConocoPhillips holds a 9% interest in Syncrude; is the operating partner of the Surmont oil sands; and is a partner in the FCCL Oil Sands Partnership. Total production capacity for these projects is estimated at 950 MBD within the next few years.
The boreal provides critical climate regulation for the earth as a whole, storing more than 186 billion tons of carbon — equivalent to 913 years’ worth of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. More than 30% of North America’s bird population rely on the boreal for breeding.
Industrial logging and oil sands have reduced the boreal to less than 40% of its original size; the remaining forest is fragmented, with harmful impacts on many species. According to the Canadian Parks and Wildness Association, it will take over 300 years before reclaimed areas become functioning forest again. The UN Environmental Program has identified the boreal as one of the world’s top 100 “hot spots” of environmental change.
Processing oil sands is highly resource intensive and requires the draining of wetlands, diversion of rivers and the removal of trees and vegetation. Tailing ponds cover almost 20 square miles. Their pollutants are acutely toxic to aquatic life and threaten to leak into the groundwater system and surrounding soil and surface water.
Extracting one barrel of bitumen requires 2-5 barrels of fresh water. Less than 10% of the water withdrawn from the Athabasca River is returned, threatening the survival of numerous fish and bird species. Current withdrawals from the river for oil sands are twice the amount used annually by the population of Calgary. The Pembina Institute predicts that withdrawals may increase by 50% within 6 years. Future demand for groundwater is expected to increase exponentially.
An average barrel’s extraction requires enough natural gas to heat a Canadian home for 1.5-5.5 days, and the removal of four tons of earth. While processed sand must be replaced and the site reclaimed, in 40+ years of oil sands operations, not a single acre has received a reclamation certificate from the Canadian government.
Oil sands have made Alberta the largest emitter of industrial pollutants in Canada. They are the fastest growing source of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, generating 3x more during production than conventional oil. These emissions will be responsible for 50% of the growth in Canada’s emissions between 2000 and 2012.
Shareholders request that an independent committee of the Board prepare a report (at reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information) on the environmental damage that would result from the company’s expanding oil sands operations in the Canadian boreal forest. The report should consider the implications of a policy of discontinuing these expansions and should be available to investors by May 2010.
The requested report should discuss the intense environmental and social impacts of oils sands operations that occur despite best efforts at mitigation, including: greenhouse gas emissions, water resources, biodiversity, and social impacts upon Albertans, including indigenous populations.