The key findings of the report suggest that tar sands extractionthreatens shareholder value in BP and Shell because:
Thecompanies are struggling to maintain their reserves replacement andare therefore seeking to increase access to and production fromunconventional resources, particularly tar sands. The perception that‘there is no where else to go other than unconventionals’ is leading toa distorted perspective from management and messages to investorsand industry alike, are lacking transparency. Significant extractionexpansion decisions are being made at precisely the time when thepolitical and economic environment is shifting against these carbonintensive fuels.
Pressure isbuilding in the USA against tar sands production with a Low CarbonFuel Standard coming into effect in California in December 2008 andthe possibility of matching legislation at the federal level if BarackObama wins the November 2008 presidential election. Low carbonfuel legislation is also present in the Federal Energy Independence andSecurity Act (December 2007). The companies have so far notreported on the potential impact of such threats to their strategy.
There is an unrealistic expectation of the effectiveness andaffordability of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology builtinto the tar sands investment case. CCS is unlikely to be operationalon an industrial scale before the mid 2020s and if the optimismsurrounding this technology turns out to be unfounded, tar sandsprojects could become stranded assets.
The costs of constructing new tar sands projects are rising due topressure on raw materials, equipment, labour and skills. Additionally,the cost of delivering new gas supplies to the region, throughextensive pipeline projects from the Arctic, adds significantly to thecapital expenditure and the risk of maintaining tar sands production.
The impact of tar sands developments on local communities is significant andopposition to these developments is growing, especially given theongoing habitat destruction, toxification and depletion of watersupplies in the region. This represents potential litigation risk andstrong reputational risk for the companies. It is unclear what provisionhas been made to address the possibility of future litigation and cleanup liabilities.
The greatest risks arisefrom the climate impacts of tar sands. Given the significant impactsof developing Canada’s tar sands on the climate, a substantialreputational risk could extend to BP and Shell’s shareholders.In general, the companies appear unprepared to respond to the strategicchallenges in the shift to a low carbon economy. Instead they areseeking to build their value by increasing their carbon intensive reserves.The scale of climate change makes it questionable to what extent theserisks are in fact manageable. Investors deserve greater transparencyfrom the companies on the risks and costs of pursuing anunconventional oil strategy and more debate over what wouldconstitute an alternative plan.This report is produced at a significant moment when decisions are beingmade about further investment in the Canadian tar sands. Thesedecisions come at a time when industrialised countries need to reducecarbon emissions dramatically. BP and Shell shareholders have aresponsibility and a role to play in the making of these decisions. Theauthors of the report, Greenpeace and PLATFORM, would like toencourage investors to call for Shell and BP to halt further investmentsin the Canadian tar sands.