Investors raise environmental concerns about oil sands

A coalition of 49 investors representing $2 trillion in assets, including investments in companies that operate in Canada’s oil sands, Monday called on those companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts of their operations.

“We recognize the economic significance of the resource but are concerned that the current approach … threatens the long-term viability of the oil sands as an investment,” the investors say in a report  to Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, or COSIA, an industry-led group formed last spring. The investors prepared the report with Ceres, a coalition  that advocates for economic and environmental sustainability in business practices.

COSIA CEO Dan Wicklum issued a statement that said his organization is focused on “enabling the responsible development of the oil sands while accelerating the pace of environmental performance improvement through collaborative action and innovation.”

He said the organization’s member companies want to meet public expectations and will work to improve their environmental performance.

“We will listen to stakeholders and respond. We look forward to understanding Ceres’ positions more clearly,” Wicklum said. “We may not agree on all points but we look forward to having the opportunity to engage. We welcome their input.”

COSIA was formed by 12 companies involved in production in Canada’s oil sands, with the stated goal of more quickly improving the environmental record of production there.

Peyton Fleming, a spokesman for Ceres, said Monday’s proposal from investors isn’t intended as a threat.
Instead, he said, the investors — signatories include representatives of the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System, the California State Teachers Retirement System and Walden Asset Management — are concerned that failure to move quickly will create a risk for investors, as regulators in the United States and Canada could shut down production over environmental concerns.

The investors also call for full consultation with Canadian First Nation tribes and other communities affected by oil sands projects.