Investors call on Canadian oil sands producers to improve environmental and social performance
BOSTON -- As presidential candidates spar over the issue of North American energy independence, a group of 49 investors with $2 trillion in assets under management are calling on Canadian oil sands developers to dramatically reduce the environmental and social impact of their operations by lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, managing water use, promoting land reclamation and consulting fully with First Nations and other communities affected by oil sands projects. The investors argued that these performance improvements “should be prioritized ahead of unmitigated growth ambitions for oil sands development.”
The investors’ statement of expectations was delivered to Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), an industry-led group formed in March with the specific goal of improving the industry’s environmental performance.
“We are supportive of COSIA’s goal to ‘accelerate the pace and scope of environmental innovation’ to put the oil sands on a more sustainable path, as well as its focus on transparency and accountability,” the investors wrote in the statement. “We believe that COSIA’s effectiveness will be greatly enhanced by setting specific goals for improving environmental and social performance along with detailed plans for achieving them.”
Canadian oil sands production is already at 1.6 million barrels per day, the vast majority of which goes to the U.S. Last year, the U.S. imported as much oil from the Canadian oil sands as it did from Saudi Arabia, the second largest source of U.S. oil imports. Oil sands production is projected to grow to 4.2 million barrels per day by 2025.
Oil sands development is significantly more resource-intensive than traditional oil development, creating environmental and social concerns that investors argue may threaten the sector’s long-term viability and growth.
In their statement, investors specifically called on COSIA to:
- Set goals and timelines for reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of oil sands production to at least that of conventional oil production, while also providing greater disclosure on research and development efforts and supporting provincial and federal regulations that would lead to significant reductions in GHG emissions.
- Manage water risk by setting goals and timelines for minimizing net surface and groundwater withdrawals, and keeping withdrawals within science-based ecosystem limits.
- Reduce the rate of land disturbance and increase reclamation, provide disclosure of liabilities, establish wetlands and biodiversity offsets and accept limits to the amount of land available to oil sands development at any given time.
- In cooperation with government authorities, fully incorporate the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent in their responsibilities to First Nations, Metis, Inuit and other communities affected by oil sands operations.
“Oil sands companies cannot ignore these performance improvements in the name of unmitigated growth. The risks to their industry and investors are simply too great,” said Matthias Beer, senior analyst of governance & sustainable investment at F&C Asset Management, a U.K-based investment firm. “This statement of expectations asks oil sands companies to hold themselves to reasonable standards, which we believe is a necessary step in protecting the long-term financial viability of this resource.”
“This is a clear sign that investors are dissatisfied with the status quo in Canada’s oil sands, but the expectations it lays out are achievable,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a sustainability advocacy group that organized the initiative. “Oil sands companies must listen to their investors and substantially improve their environmental and social performance. Investors are telling these companies to prioritize these critical issues before they embark on aggressive growth plans.'
In 2010, Ceres commissioned the report, Canada's Oil Sands: Shrinking Window of Opportunity, which provides further detail on the financial and environmental risks of oil sands development including land, water and greenhouse gas management.
Ceres is an advocate for sustainability leadership. Ceres mobilizes a powerful coalition of investors, companies and public interest groups to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainable business practices and solutions to build a healthy global economy. Ceres also directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), a network of 100 institutional investors with collective assets totaling more than $10 trillion.
For more information, visit http://www.ceres.org