Not every barrel of oil has the same carbon footprint - some extraction processes radically increase the amount of greenhouse gases which are released. We've been collaborating on research to identify the worst offenders, and our report (released yesterday to coincide with the company's Annual General Meeting) singles out Shell as the most carbon intensive oil company in the world, based on its total resources.
Shell tops the list for three reasons: its reliance on Nigerian crude oil, which is associated with huge levels of wasteful gas flaring; its investments in highly energy intensive liquefied natural gas; and its massive gamble on Canada's oil-bearing tar sands, for which the extraction process is so energy intensive that it produces up to five times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil.
The bad news for Shell shareholders is that 30 per cent of its total resources are now in tar sands. As the US moves to introduce carbon control legislation, and the world looks towards December's Copenhagen summit for action to limit climate change, Shell is fighting a determined rearguard action - taking a lead in industry lobbying against similar measures being proposed by the Eurpean Union.
To be fair, tar sands are not just a problem for Shell. Investors around the world are voicing their concerns over tar sands investment. 30 per cent of ConocoPhillips shareholders recently voted for a resolution demanding an assessment of the environmental impact of the company's tar sands projects, and today at the AGM of Norway's Statoil’s annual meeting, significant support is expected for a motion calling for the company to end its tar sands investment altogether.
Shell's tar sands liability and carbon exposure is currently greater than any other company, making a mockery of its claims to be leader on 'responsible energy'. It urgently needs to rethink its position: a strategy based on tar sands won't just damage the climate, but will also increase risks to the company’s future and (as we warned them last year) threaten the value of shareholders' investments.
I'd like to have been a fly on the wall at their AGM as the Shell executives tried to defend their strategy in the face of increasingly nervous investors - must have been an interesting meeting.