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17.6.04

Shell Wakes Up

Oil Chief: My Fears For Planet

In an interview in today's Guardian Life section, Ron Oxburgh, chairman of Shell, says we urgently need to capture emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, which scientists think contribute to global warming, and store them underground - a technique called carbon sequestration.

... His words follow those of the government's chief science adviser, David King, who said in January that climate change posed a bigger threat to the world than terrorism.

"You can't slip a piece of paper between David King and me on this position," said Lord Oxburgh, a respected geologist who replaced the disgraced Philip Watts as chairman of the British arm of the oil giant in March.

... [Greenpeace spokesman Robin] Oakley said a gulf was opening between more progressive oil companies such as Shell, which invests in alternative energy sources including wind and solar power, and ExxonMobil, the biggest and most influential producer, particularly in the US.

-- via The Hamster


Between Oxburgh's statement and Oakley's broader perspective, I'm considering revising my list of "most evil oil companies" -- the ones I avoid buying from unless my car is about to die. Currently the list includes ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and Shell. I do wish this news had gotten out a few weeks ago, though. That way I could have hit the Shell station right next to the on-ramp of the Garden State Parkway, rather than driving halfway across town to go to Hess (which, along with BP-Amoco and Citgo, is on my "least evil oil companies" list -- the ones I'll go out of my way to patronize).

It remains to be seen how much action will accompany this rhetorical recognition of the problems of climate change. It's also important to remember that climate change is not the only significant environmental impact of the oil industry. Certainly oil companies are in a good position to invest in alternative fuels, but the main impetus for a reduction in oil use has to come from the makers of vehicles and from consumers (the government, of course, can play a role in boosting the right choices by those actors).

Environmental degradation around drilling sites has been extensive, particularly in the third world (Shell's operations in Nigeria are notorious). Oil companies build roads and pipelines through wilderness areas. Carelessness and the use of old, porly functioning equipment lead to large oil spills into surrounding land and waterways. If it's not cost-effective to pump natural gas, they burn it off in thousand-degree flares that run 24-7. The social impacts can be immense as well. Oil concessions are handed out without regard to the interests or consent of the local people, and the military often acts as hired goons for the oil company. The environmental destruction and pollution affects people indirectly by disrupting the ecosystem services they depend on, and directly by harming their health.

BP recently earned praise for designing a well in west Africa that preserved the biodiversity of the surrounding area. I'd like to see more oil companies addressing that sort of impact, in addition to climate change.

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