Ask Mr. Green: What's the Best Oil Company?
What is the greenest oil company?
—Elizabeth, in La Mesa, California
It’s mighty tough to rate oil companies because of all the different ways that they can mess up the environment, and they are by nature more oil-slick brown than ecotopian green. Even their discussions of messes and methods have to be considered. For example, in ranking of oil behemoths, the environmental watchdog Greenopia looks at environmental reporting as well as five other factors: greenhouse gas emissions; production efficiency; oil spill efficiency; pursuit of alternative fuels, and stance on climate change. BP slid from first to fourth in their ratings mainly because of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Greenopia’s highest green ratings go to Sunoco, Shell, and Hess, in that order, with Valero and Citgo at the bottom of the barrel. Before Deepwater blew, BP also got top marks from Sierra because of its work on alternative energy and its openness about global warming at a time when the drill-babies at Exxon were lobbying against action on global warming and were funding think tanks that denied its existence. BP also slipped on its oil slick in Sierra's ratings.
And there’s room for dispute about as big as the Gulf. For example, Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, flipped out over Greenopia’s top rating of BP in 2009, accusing Greenopia of “greenwashing” BP, while ripping the oil company’s “Beyond Petroleum” slogan by saying, “BP is no more beyond petroleum, than McDonalds is beyond burgers.” With 600 million barrels of Gulf oil reserves waiting for another BP rig, the Atlantis platform, the point is well taken. (Hauten also warned that BP’s recklessness with Atlantis could cause a catastrophe, though it turned out that Deepwater beat its sister in the rush to disaster.)
To further complicate matters, some aspects of going beyond petroleum have been challenged by environmentalists, because of worries that developing plant-based fuels might involve dangerous genetic engineering and cultivation of biofuel plants that put increased strain on land and water resources
So, burning as little fossil fuel as possible and demanding tighter regulation of the gas-and-oil industry remain the most effective ways of dealing with its hazards and forestalling its disasters. For more about a less fossilized future, take a look “Beyond Oil.”
Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!
--illustration by Little Friends of Printmaking