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This 2014 photo shows the Shell Albian Sands, the mining operation part of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP). (Photo: Julia Kilpatrick, Pembina Institute/flickr/cc)

Another Sign Just Came in That Tar Sands Operations Are on Life Support

'Societal acceptance of the energy system as we have it is just disappearing,' Shell chief executive said

Andrea Germanos

Royal Dutch Shell announced Thursday that it is selling off the majority of its tar sands assets, as its chief executive noted dwindling "societal acceptance of the energy system as we have it."

Of the $7.25 billion deal with energy company Canadian Natural, Shell said in a statement that it will "sell all of its in-situ and undeveloped oil sands interests in Canada and reduce its share in the Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP) from 60 percent to 10 percent."

As InsideClimate News noted, the sale is "one of the biggest in a series of steps by multinational companies to turn away from the tar sands, among the most expensive and carbon-intensive sources of oil."

For Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden, it marks "a significant step in re-shaping Shell's portfolio in line with our long-term strategy."

The Greenpeace-led Save the Arctic campaign, meanwhile, tweeted after the announcement: "there's a lot more money in making the world better than destroying it."

Reuters noted that

Shell is trying to sell assets totaling $30 billion to cut debt following its $54 billion acquisition of BG Group and is under investor pressure to mitigate climate change risks.

Shell also said on Thursday that 10 percent of directors' bonuses will now be tied to how well it manages greenhouse gas emissions in refining, chemical, and upstream operations.

The announcement of the sale came the same day as van Beurden said that public acceptance of his industry "has been eroded to the point that it is becoming a serious issue for our long term future."

"This is the biggest challenge as we have at the moment as a company ... The fact that societal acceptance of the energy system as we have it is just disappearing," he said an energy conference in Houston, Reuters reported.

Those comments, climate group 350.org said in a tweet, show "we're winning."

Last month, as Bloomberg reported,

Exxon Mobil Corp. slashed proved reserves the most in its modern history after removing the entire $16 billion, 3.5-billion-barrel Kearl oil-sands project from its books on Wednesday. That followed ConocoPhillips announcement a day earlier that erased 1.15 billion oil-sands barrels, plunging its reserves to a 15-year low.

That "de-booking," wrote Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow, showed the companies "are telling investors that they don't believe the oil trapped in the sands is an asset any longer—that the prices will never rebound far enough to make it worthwhile to extract it."

Days after his swearing in, however, President Donald Trump signed an executive order advancing the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would bring crude from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast.

"But as Big Oil abandons the tar sands," Doctorow continued, "there's simply no case for building pipelines to bring the oil that will never be extracted from them to ports that will never ship it."

The announcement from Shell also comes on the heels of an investigation that showed that it, much like Exxon, knew for years of the risks of fossil fuel extraction had on the climate yet continued to lobby against climate legislation and push for fossil fuel development.


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