World Environment News

Oilmen's "green" pledges met with disbelief in Rio

Date: 06-Sep-02
Country: BRAZIL
Author: Andrei Khalip

Environmentalists invited to the 17th World Petroleum Congress in Rio de Janeiro said the eco-friendly pledges by the world's top oil men would have been plausible had they not come after the disappointing Johannesburg Earth Summit.

The U.N. summit, which ended this week, approved a target-less program to promote non-fossil energy, which angered environmentalists who branded it a weak-minded sell-out to the U.S. oil industry and the OPEC oil cartel.

Environmental pressure groups and other non-governmental organizations were invited to take part in the Rio congress, but only as observers and speakers at sideline events.

"Before we sit at their plenary sessions to discuss with the oil companies how to move away from oil to renewable energy, there is a big risk that all their talk is window dressing," Benedict Southworth, Greenpeace International's energy campaign coordinator, told Reuters.

"We hope that this invitation is a progress, but we are quite realistic after the Earth Summit," Southworth said.

Greenpeace will hold protest acts in Rio on the last day of the WPC yesterday. The congress has gathered 3,000 delegates under the slogan "Excellence and Responsibility in Serving Society."


Although downplayed by environmentalists for a lack of concrete goals, the promises and proposals that oil companies are making can be considered environmentally friendly.

David O'Reilly, CEO of ChevronTexaco Corp. , called energy demand the "defining challenge of the 21st century". The solution, in his view, is to responsibly develop the resources, including new sources of energy, with oil firms leading this crusade.

"Petroleum is finite, but progress doesn't have to be," he said, pointing out that oil and gas development projects created infrastructure and other benefits that could fuel social and economic development in poorer countries.

Royal Dutch/Shell director Lew Watts went further: "Sustainable development is the right thing to do. If we don't do it, our customers won't let us operate. There is no alternative."

But even ardent supporters of sustainable development and environment protection among oil industry officials recognize that oil and fossil fuels are here to stay for decades.

"Whether we like it or not, fossil fuels are the main source of energy for the next 20 years," said Norway's Petroleum and Energy Minister Einar Steensnaes. In his country, renewable hydroelectric and wind power accounts for 60 percent of all energy usage.

The examples of new policies centered mainly on the use of natural gas that oil producers normally flare at the rigs, but now try to channel to communities in developing countries, although not without a profit.

"The international oil industry must act as a responsible global citizen, morally and economically. You'll be watched by governments, communities and stockholders. Today we reached a stage when good ethics equals good business," Steensnaes said.

© Thomson Reuters 2002 All rights reserved

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