WPC: Energy companies urged to embrace environmental responsibility

A United Nations official Wednesday urged energy executives at the World Petroleum Congress to embrace the principles of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro earth conference and shoulder responsibility for social and environmental improvements among emerging nations. Simply accepting responsibility is not enough, said Jacqueline Alosi de Larderel, a director of the UN environmental program. She said companies also must be 'accountable' by setting specific goals and reporting facts and figures.

Jun 14th, 2000


Sam Fletcher
OGJ Online

CALGARY�A United Nations official Wednesday urged energy executives at the World Petroleum Congress to embrace the principles of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro earth conference and shoulder responsibility for social and environmental improvements among emerging nations.

In fact, simply accepting responsibility is not enough, said Jacqueline Alosi de Larderel, director of the division of technology, industry, and economics with the UN environmental program. She said companies also must be "accountable" by setting specific goals and reporting facts and figures by which to measure their progress and compare their efforts with those of other companies.

Moreover, such accounting should be done openly. She said corporate "lobbying is not consistent with the Rio principles" that establish a so-called "triple bottom line" of economic prosperity, social equality, and environmental protection (OGJ, Dec. 13, 1999, p. 139).

Hers was as strong an environmental and social rights message as espoused by many of the protestors who tried to disrupt the World Petroleum Congress earlier this week (OGJ Online, June 13, 2000). Yet Alosi de Larderel got the most applause of the panel of three speakers, which included Halliburton Co. CEO Dick Cheney and Statoil AS Pres. and CEO Olav Fjell.

Dialogue encouraged
WPC delegates�a mix of industry, government and academic representatives�also tittered and applauded when she took Cheney to task for an earlier remark.

In his address, Cheney said the industry needs to remind some governments that it has been unique in building roads, hospitals, and other community facilities in host countries while developing resources to improve local economies.

Alosi de Larderel admonished Cheney to "listen to governments and establish a dialogue with them."

In a question-and-answer session following their presentations, Cheney said, "I grant my distinguished colleague's point that we need to listen as well as to educate." However, he said, the improved dialogue among industry, government and other interested parties in recent years "does require more respect for different points of view. Just because we disagree [with some environmental programs] doesn't mean we favor dirty air."

Cost of environmental responsibility
During the Q&A, Alosi de Larderel seemed to dismiss the point raised by one participant about the financial impact on developing economies by some proposed environmental programs. "It may cost in the short-term, but it pays off in the long-term" to prevent rather than cure environmental problems, she said.

In his keynote address Tuesday, OPEC Secretary General Rilwanu Lukman complained of environmental penalties imposed on certain fuels that amount to an additional tax on oil. But Alosi de Larderel said Wednesday that higher oil prices make renewable energy more competitive.

At a subsequent press conference, WPC Pres. Dirk van der Meer, a retired Royal Dutch/Shell executive who chaired Wednesday's plenary session, said, "For a long time, the industry has been cynical about customers' willingness to pay more for cleaner fuels." Now, he said, US industry officials tell him that's no longer true.

That doesn't explain efforts by some local authorities, in the face of rising pump prices, to pull out of earlier voluntary commitments to switch to reformulated gasoline advocated by the US Environmental Protection Agency, however.

During that press conference, Alosi de Larderel said that, while the oil and gas industry "has started to come a long way" in meeting its environmental and social responsibilities, it still has "an even longer way" to go. Although a few companies have emerged as leaders in that conversion to a new environmental-industrial way of doing business, she said, "a lot of companies" are still resisting their need to correct a world full of environmental problems.

"The world is full of bad spots coming from past performance," she said. She declined to specify many of the pollution areas or any of the best or worst-performing companies, however.

A few oil companies such as Statoil, Royal Dutch/Shell, and BP Amoco PLC have publicly adopted part or all of the Rio principles. But industry sources report many other companies have adopted similar initiatives with less fanfare. Those firms apparently are still dismissed by some environmentalists as self-serving foot-draggers, sources said.

ExxonMobil Corp., for example, has been a leader in the development of low-emission fuels and of technology for capturing and reinjecting CO2 during production of natural gas. Yet that company is frequently bashed by critics for what some consider a poor environmental program.

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