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EUROPE: Greenpeace warns on Shell oil sands projects

by Carola HoyosFinancial Times
May 18th, 2009

Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s biggest oil company, will on Tuesday face renewed opposition to its investments in Canada’s carbon-intense oil sands.

A study by Greenpeace and several other environmental campaigners has concluded the company’s carbon intensity will rise 85 per cent as it develops its oil and gas fields in the coming years.

“When Shell’s total resources are taken into account, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per barrel of oil equivalent produced will outstrip those of its nearest competitors,” environmentalists found in its report, which will be released Tuesday in time for Shell’s annual meeting.

Campaigners will warn Shell’s investors that this disadvantages the company vis a vis its peers as US and European policymakers move towards a broad cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions. Shell’s growing carbon intensity stems from its resource base, which is heavily made up of Canadian oil and Nigerian gas whose production is relatively carbon intense, environmentalists said.

In its latest sustainability report Shell admitted its upstream energy intensity had risen by more than a quarter since 2001 as it had ventured into dirtier projects. But Shell said: “On a ‘wells-to-wheels’ basis, oil sands fuel is 15 per cent more CO2-intensive than conventional crude-based fuel, and we continue to seek opportunities for GHG emission reduction.”

Shell was an early entrant into Canada’s vast oil sands reserves, which in the past six years have attracted interest from all the big western oil companies.

Shell, Total of France, Chevron of the US and the rest of their peers have found it increasingly difficult to invest in conventional oil fields, such as those in the North Sea and the Middle East. Many of the older fields are drying up, and those fields with the most potential are being closely guarded by the national oil companies of the countries that control them.

This has left companies such as Shell having to venture into ever more remote and complicated oil fields.

Producing oil from Alberta’s sands is environmentally challenging and costly. The oil must be separated from the sand, either by being mined and mixed with hot water, or by being coaxed from the ground by steam injection.

These processes use a lot of energy and therefore produce higher emissions than conventional oil production. But because extracting this oil is also more expensive than producing conventional oil, Shell has delayed the second phase of its Canadian oil sands development, thereby also delaying the expected emissions release.

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