Campaign on Tar Sands Extraction Targets Oil Investors

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BBC News

Campaign on Tar Sands Extraction Targets Oil Investors

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Protest against tar sands industry outside Canadian Embassy in London. (BBC)

Campaigners against the extraction of oil from tar
sands are encouraging people to lobby their pension schemes if they
hold shares in Shell or BP.

Both firms face resolutions at their shareholder AGMs, questioning their involvement in the business.

The website of Fairpensions lets people send an e-mail direct to their pension fund or ISA provider.

The initiative is being supported by a coalition of trade unions and environmental campaigners.

Catherine
Howarth, chief executive of Fairpensions, said the e-mail campaign was
an attempt to improve the accountability of both companies and their
major investors.

"People do not always realise that their pension provider holds shares in major companies on their behalf," she said.

"Anyone
with pension savings has a right to lobby their fund manager on how to
vote on these vitally important resolutions," she added.

Problems

The extraction of oil from the world's huge fields of tar sands, in countries such as Canada, is controversial.

The oil is naturally present as a particularly sticky form of bitumen, typically mixed with sand.

Campaigners
say the most common extraction process, akin to open-cast mining,
produces far more greenhouse gases than normal oil extraction, leaves
large amounts of toxic waste and causes widespread damage to the
environment.

The resolutions that some shareholders have
submitted to the annual general meetings - BP's in April and Shell's in
May - call on the companies to justify their investment in the business
and explain what they are doing to counteract the problems associated
with it.

"One thing the resolution calls for happens already," said a BP spokesman.

"It calls for senior BP management to engage with the investment community, and we do that anyway."

Underground

BP explained that so far, it had not produced a drop of oil from its tar sands project in Alberta in Canada.

It hopes to give the final go-ahead for the plan, known as project Sunrise, later this year.

The spokesman explained that the tar sands field it was interested in was underground, not on the surface.

The
oil will be extracted via wells and underground pipes, in a process
developed over the past decade called steam-assisted gravity drainage.

"It leaves a much smaller footprint in the surface," he said.

Email campaign

Fairpensions' web-tool lets individuals type in the name of their pension scheme or ISA provider.

This
generates an e-mail that can be sent to the relevant pension fund or
investment manager, calling on them to support the AGM resolutions.

The plan is supported by groups such as Greenpeace, WWF, the Co-op and several trade unions.

Dave
Prentis, general secretary of the large public sector union Unison,
said: "We're getting the word out to our 1.3 million members in
Britain's public services, encouraging them to express support to their
pension funds and savings institutions."

"Our members' pension
funds have an estimated investment value of £250bn, so at Unison, we
understand the need for a low-carbon economy.

"These resolutions demand the clear answers from oil companies which our members need and deserve," he added.

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