Digging in the divestment of oil sands

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<pre><pre>Digging in the divestment of oil sands

Have some oil sands companies made significant progress in reducing carbon emissions, as the Alberta government has said?

It depends on how you define "significant." Joule Bergerson, a professor in the department of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Calgary, told me that he has seen reductions in carbon intensity, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted per unit of energy extracted, in the range of 15 percent to 20 percent.

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The companies themselves report having made significant reductions. Cenovus told me in a statement that its intensity of greenhouse gases had fallen 30 percent in 15 years. Suncor said in a statement that the intensity of emissions at its oil sands base had declined more than 60 percent since 1990.

But Dr. Bergerson added that the reductions in the scale we have seen so far are not necessarily going to change investors' opinions about abandoning oil sands because they still leave most of those projects well above the global average intensity of carbon. As he said, those companies "are really trying and putting their money where their mouth is in terms of developing new technologies." Still, he said, it is unclear whether they will be able to reduce emissions enough to persuade other investors not to leave.

How willing were the people in the industry and the Canadian financial community to talk to you?

I was surprised how difficult it was to get Canadian investors and oil sands companies to talk to me. Apart from the Caisse de dépôt et place du Québec, none of the large pension funds agreed with my requests for interviews. The major oil sands companies also rejected my requests for interviews, although some agreed to answer written questions.

When I mentioned that to the people I spoke with, many of whom asked not to be identified, the explanation was that nobody wants to be the next to be attacked by the prime minister's office. I would have asked Mr. Kenney about that, but his office rejected my interview request.

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