Statoil’s controversial Canadian oil sands project continues to attract criticism from several quarters. On the day before the company’s AGM, Stavanger bishop Erling Pettersen says Statoil has to withdraw or face the possible consequences.
''If Statoil does not address the concerns of the Norwegian Church Council, then we will disown the shares that we have in the company. This issue was addressed in an internal meeting in April and the Sami Church Council is also supporting us on this issue. A final decision in this regard will be taken at the General Assembly meeting in Stavanger tomorrow,” the bishop told The Foreigner in an email.
The Sami Church Council issued a statement, Sunday, saying it does not accept Statoil’s activities in areas inhabited by indigenous people without gaining prior consent from those affected.
"According to our knowledge, this has not happened regarding the oil sands project in Alberta, Canada. We shall be following up this matter immediately in relation to Statoil’s owners,” declared vice president Laila Susanne Vars.
The Council alleges there have been an unusually high number of cancer cases in the area. Its press statement comes following a meeting between Canadian Indian chief François Paulette of the Dene Nation, who is currently on a visit to Norway.
The Dene Nation, whose homeland is referred to as Denendeh, which means "the Creator's Spirit flows through this Land", have historically inhabited central and northwestern Canada throughout the Mackenzie Delta, east into Nunavut, west into Alaska, and south into the prairies.
Dene, which means “the people”, belong to the Athapaskan linguistic group, the largest one of these in North America.
Bishop Pettersen said there are two reasons why the Norwegian state-owned oil giant needs to reconsider its path to oil sands.
“Firstly, it concerns the rights of the indigenous people in Canada whose livelihoods are being threatened. One of the native Canadian Indian chiefs, François Paulette, who has been one of the leading voices in spreading awareness regarding the tar sands issue worldwide, will also be joining us in the protests. He comes from the region where the extractions are taking place.”
“Secondly, we are protesting against the impact of tar sands on the climate. The way the oil companies are making increasing profits is at the cost of the climate and this is resulting in a very negative impact,” he continued.
“It’s the dirtiest way of producing oil”
2,000 Norwegian senior citizens from the Grandparents' Climate Action Group joined Alberta Environment’s lawsuit last year against Statoil Canada Ltd. Officials alleged the company was guilty of improper water withdrawals from its facility near Fort McMurray.
Statoil Canada Ltd., indicted on 19 counts relating to this offence, admitted some of the charges at a one-minute lawsuit in August the same year. It faced fines of up to 10 million dollars. Three months later, it was ordered to pay 190,000 dollars via the use of creative sentencing.
Most of the money will go towards funding an industry training program about water use and compliance with environmental law. The court withdrew the original charges due to Statoil’s admission.
Prior to judges’ decision, Greenpeace Norway’s Truls Gulowsen, who will be present at tomorrow’s AGM together with Chief Paulette, was still concerned, however, stating, “The project is not helping climate change, as we cannot extract the world’s oil sands reserves and combat this simultaneously.”
Liberal Party (V) leader Trine Skei Grande also joined calls for Statoil to pull out, declaring, “It’s the dirtiest way to produce oil, very bad for the environment, as well as CO2 capture and storage.”
Moreover, US President Barack Obama has chosen to put the kybosh on TransCanada’s Canada-Gulf of Mexico Keystone XL pipeline, with former senior UN and Statoil personnel are advocating for Norwegian government intervention to make Statoil withdraw as well.
The company has chosen to push forward with and expand its oil sands activities in Canada, nonetheless. It has four Kai Kos Deh production licenses under its tar sands project in the Athabasca region, northeast Alberta. These consist of Leismer, Corner, Hangingstone, and Thornberry.
At the same time, Statoil has entered the new Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) together with BP, Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, ConocoPhillips, Devon Canada Corporation, Imperial Oil, Nexen, Shell, Suncor Energy, Teck Resources, Total, and Statoil.
The initiative is aimed at establishing structures and processes where all 12 partners can exchange expertise in improving the environment.
“At Statoil, we believe we can develop resources responsibly,” press spokesperson Bård Glad Pedersen told The Foreigner about the company's oil sands venture, “our project is not a mining project, but it uses the SAGD (steam-assisted gravity drainage) technique, which involves extraction through drilling.”
“We have been reporting openly about the techniques that we have been using and it is being done responsibly, taking into considerations the impact on the environment,” he added.
“We aim at reducing CO2 emissions by 40 per cent by 2025. We also planted 180,000 seedlings last year to address the problem of deforestation. We respect the rights of the indigenous population and we have been having dialogues with the local population so as to address their concerns,” he concluded.
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