Oil Supermajors Desperately Chasing a Tar Sands Pipe Dream

Mon, 2011-01-17 13:47Brendan DeMelle
Brendan DeMelle's picture

Oil Supermajors Desperately Chasing a Tar Sands Pipe Dream

The six major oil companies that for decades enjoyed phenomenal profits and power over the world’s oil supply now find themselves fighting over the dirtiest and most dangerous oil left - Alberta’s climate-wrecking tar sands and the dangerous deepwater deposits in the Arctic, Gulf of Mexico and other difficult to reach areas. Geoff Dembicki reports today in The Tyee that the oil supermajors once known as the “Seven Sisters” now control a tiny fraction of the world’s dwindling oil reserves - just seven percent - while state-owned oil companies and national governments control 93 percent.

That shift in power has left the six Anglo-American oil majors sparring fiercely for control of the remaining dregs to feed our oil addiction.  Dembicki writes that:

“aggressive oil sands development appears to be one of the few viable growth strategies left for ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, ConocoPhillips and Chevron. These six energy giants are among the top-earning private companies on Earth. Yet their continued corporate existence, at least in its current form, is far from assured.”

In their race to the bottom, these six oil companies are all vying for control of Canada’s dirty tar sands. Dembicki notes that:

“all the supermajors own – or plan to develop – huge operations in Alberta’s oil sands. Canada is one of the few countries left on Earth offering unbridled private sector access to major known oil reserves (in this case, the planet’s second-largest).”


An excellent report from Oil Change International recently revealed that the six oil majors don’t have much else to show to shareholders besides the climate-killng tar sands, which dominate their portfolios of liquid fuel reserves.  Oil Change International estimates that ConocoPhilliips has derived 71 percent of its liquids reserves from Canada’s tar sands over the past five years. That reliance on tar sands is also evident at ExxonMobil (51 per cent), Shell (34 per cent), Total (26 per cent) and Chevron (7 per cent).

Making matters worse, the Tyee notes that the competition over Canadian tar sands has inspired other countries with oil shale deposits to open up for business as well:

“The oil sands, meanwhile, are serving as a model for other countries eager to exploit their own unconventional reserves. Several supermajors, capitalizing on expertise gained in northern Alberta, have signed extraction agreements with governments in Russia, Madagascar and Jordan. They’re also eyeing hungrily the potentially massive oil shale deposits spread across Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.”

If the supermajors continue heading in that direction - instead of embracing the huge potential of clean energy technologies - they may well survive to profit a few more years on dirty fossil fuels.  But in the long run, they will have sealed the fate of humanity to endure the worst impacts of climate change. 

As the late Judy Bonds could often be heard reminding those engaged in the futile fossil energy race, “there are no jobs on a dead planet.”

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