Global environmental challenges
Retailers reject oil sands — a good move?
Two big U.S. retail chains have turned their back on Canada’s oil sands, a move that was both hailed and derided, split as you might expect along environmental lines.
Whole Foods and Bed Bath and Beyond this week said they were boycotting the Canadian oil sands and they would actively seek alternatives to oil sands fuel for their delivery trucks to reduce their carbon footprints.
The oil sands are the largest source of oil outside of Saudi Arabia, and most of the 1.2 million barrels a day of oil sands-derived crude gets shipped to the United States.
Unlike conventional oil and gas, production of oil sands is more carbon intensive because it requires the use of hot water and chemicals to glean the the sticky black bitumen from the frozen sands. The used water then collects in toxic ponds.
“We have an entire team dedicated to environmental responsibility and we are always looking for a better option,” Whole Foods spokesperson Libba Letton told the Toronto Star newspaper.
The industry counters that it is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in land reclamation and such new technologies as carbon capture and storage. The American Petroleum Institute says on its Energy Now website that “on a life cycle (or well-to-wheels) GHG emission basis, oil derived from Canadian oil sands is comparable with other crudes refined in the United States.”
Refiners mix their feedstocks and swap product with competitors for efficiency reasons, Alan Knight, a U.K.-based sustainable development consultant explains in the Globe and Mail newspaper.
“It’s difficult to see the boycott as much more than a publicity stunt,” Knight adds.
He suggested companies like Whole Foods instead prod the oil industry to accelerate investment in clean new technology, and refuse to buy from those companies that are laggards among their peers.
National Post writer Don Martin acknowledges it may be “a hollow victory for some environmentalists” but says the boycott serves a purpose. In his column U.S. firms stick it to oil sands, Martin points out “these are the first major American corporations to demonize oil sands use in their business plan.”
Whole Foods Market, a natural and organic foods supermarket chain, employs more than 50,000 staff in over 270 stores in North America and the UK, according to its website. Retail chain Bed Bath and Beyond operates over 1,000 stores and is a Fortune 500 company, also according to its website.
Image shows heavy equipment mining the oil sands at Syncrude’s Aurora mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta in this May 23, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Todd Korol/Files