ConocoPhilips – Environmental Impacts of Oil Sands (2008)
ConocoPhillips has considerable interests in oil sands operations in the Canadian boreal forest that mine and upgrade bitumen. ConocoPhillips holds a 9% interest in Syncrude, a joint venture expected to produce 350,000 barrels/day by 2010, and is the operating partner of the Surmont oil sands joint venture project, with a 50% equity stake (potential production: 200,000 barrels per day).
The boreal provides critical climate regulation and carbon storage for the earth as a whole. This ecosystem is the breeding ground for 30% of North American songbirds and 40% of our waterfowl.
Industrial logging and oil sands have reduced it 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 Canadian boreal as one of the world’s top 100 “hot spots” of environmental change.
Processing oil sands is highly resource intensive and environmentally damaging, requiring the draining of wetlands, diversion of rivers and the removal of all trees and vegetation. Tailing ponds from mining operations 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 Less than 10% of the water withdrawn from the Athabasca River is returned, threatening the long term survival of numerous fish, songbird and waterfowl species. Current withdrawals from the Athabasca River for oil sands development 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 also expected to increase exponentially.
On average, one 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 the amount during production as conventional oil. These emissions may more than quadruple by 2015.
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 2009.
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.