First they ban our seal imports, now some European companies are considering ditching investments in Canada’s oil sands as well. On May 19, Norway’s StatoilHydro (which is two-thirds government-owned) held a vote on whether to pull out of a $2-billion oil sands venture in Alberta, not because the energy company felt that the sands are a bad investment, but because activist shareholder groups such as Greenpeace say they’re too dirty.
The motion was roundly trounced, but it could easily have gone the other way: a day earlier, Norway’s opposition Christian Democrat party held an emergency vote to prevent the government from opposing Greenpeace, and it was defeated by only six votes. High-ranking members of the country’s Labour party, meanwhile, are continuing to urge Statoil to pull out of Alberta.
The headline-grabbing ruckus sent other investors in northern Europe, including Denmark’s Danske Bank and Norway’s largest bank, DnB NOR, into unscheduled confabs with ethical advisers. “If Statoil cannot protect the environment, it should withdraw from Alberta,” said Kerstin Gronwall, environment manager at KPA, one of several Swedish pension funds who voted to pull out.
Greenpeace ended up losing this battle, but it’s far from losing the war. After all, the organization has succeeded in putting Canada’s oil sands under the green microscope during the critical run-up to a fall election in Norway, and an international climate conference in Copenhagen later this year.
“They’re doing a lot of reputational damage to Canada,” says Simon Dyer of the Calgary-based Pembina Institute. He adds that now that the issue has been raised, he wouldn’t be surprised to see investors across Europe asking tougher questions about the environmental impact of oil sands development.