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Chevron, the Socially Responsible Oil Company?

Bill DiBenedetto | Wednesday May 11th, 2011 | 1 Comment

When you’re a member of the Big Oil club, crowing about CSR accomplishments rings a tad hollow from an environmental and climate change perspective, considering the commodity involved.

Chevron’s 2010 Corporate Responsibility Report, released this month, makes these points: The company achieved the safest year in its history; it has reduced total energy consumption by 33 percent since 1992; spent $2 billion with small U.S. businesses and “increased social investment” in communities around the world to $197 million.

“Energy is essential to human progress – it creates jobs, fuels innovation and powers virtually every element of the global economy,” says Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Watson. “Providing that energy safely, reliably and economically is a great responsibility that we take seriously.”

Providing fossil-fuel-based energy is serious business indeed. But Big Oil’s business is not really about energy in the way that Watson talks about providing energy. Big Oil finds, extracts and refines crude oil as economically as possible while trading and selling the commodity for as much profit as possible for its shareholders. That’s its true responsibility and a highly lucrative formula: Watson’s compensation in 2009 was nearly $8.8 million. Chevron’s net income in 2010 was $19 billion and it pulled down $6.2 billion during the first quarter this year, up nearly 35 percent from the first quarter of 2009.

Chevron’s ninth annual Corporate Responsibility Report highlights seven geographic areas where some of its most important projects are located.

  • Western Australia: Chevron said its “strong environmental performance has allowed the company to expand operations, resulting in benefits to its business and the Australian economy. Through its Gorgon Project, the company expects approximately 10,000 jobs to be created at peak construction and an estimated $56 billion to flow into Australia’s gross domestic product.”
  • Angola: Chevron’s partnerships in Angola focus on improving livelihoods and fostering a stable operating environment. Chevron supported a program to vaccinate approximately 624,000 people against an outbreak of polio, provided technical assistance and microfinancing to local businesses and helped launch an entrepreneurship curriculum for students. Through Chevron’s partnership with Banco Africano de Investimentos Micro Finanças, micro and small entrepreneurs received $9.9 million.
  • Richmond, California: “Chevron and the community are continuing to work together to overcome challenges. Chevron granted $3.7 million to local nonprofits to meet needs in education, economic development and job training. Chevron’s Richmond Refinery has reduced regulated air emissions by 70 percent since the 1970s, which includes a decrease in flaring by more than 97 percent since 2007. In addition, more than 60 percent of the water used daily at the Richmond Refinery is treated or reclaimed.”
  • Kazakhstan: “Supporting local suppliers and developing a skilled workforce is fostering beneficial economic and social change. Tengizchevroil, in which Chevron is a 50 percent partner, has spent $645 million on social programs since 1993.”
  • U.S. Gulf of Mexico: “Combining technological expertise with a culture of safe, efficient and reliable operations has positioned Chevron as a leader in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. Following the BP Macondo incident, Chevron demonstrated this leadership by leading the joint-industry task force to raise industry standards to even higher levels. It also responded to community needs by providing $10 million to five Gulf Coast community organizations that participated in environmental and economic relief.”
  • Nigeria: In addition to the Niger Delta Partnership Initiative, Chevron contributed more than $10 million to eight new projects, whose benefits now reach more than 400 communities and involve more than 600,000 people.
  • Indonesia: Chevron continued to strengthen economic opportunities that benefit local communities through microfinance, training and support programs for farmers and continued sponsorship of polytechnic universities in Aceh and Riau provinces. Chevron’s Local Business Development Program has helped participants grow their businesses from $1.3 million in 2001 to more than $123 million in 2010.

Chevron said those points demonstrate its “focus on creating mutual benefit and shared progress.”

While these projects are commendable, they fill the bulk of the CSR report at the expense of more material issues like investment in clean energy technology and renewables. I call that CSR as a sideshow, as smoke and mirrors.

How socially responsible, progressive and sustainable is it for oil companies to continue to do what they do to the environment and economic security without a real plan to get off oil?

 


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