Can An Oil Company Ever Really Be Sustainable?

Can an oil company ever really be sustainable? That is the question at the fore-front of my mind as I read through Occidental Petroleum Corporation’s (Oxy) 2011 CSR report. Oxy is the fourth largest oil and gas exploration and production company in the U.S. If an oil company of that size “greens” up its operations surely that means something, doesn’t it? After reading Oxy’s report I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t mean much.

One of the reasons I don’t think that any sustainability gains Oxy has made amount to much is because the report defends hydraulic fracturing or fracking as a “proven and safe practice in the oil and gas industry for more than 60 years.” The report even claims that “many studies have shown that this process does not jeopardize or affect the water supply.” There is one study that did not come to that conclusion. In December, the EPA released a draft report which stated that fracking may cause groundwater pollution.


The report contains a statement that seems to minimize the environmental effects of oil and gas production: “Oxy’s focus on expanding oil and gas production from long-lived, mature assets and chemical production at existing facilities provides substantial environmental and social benefits.” That is very interesting considering that the petroleum sector is “a significant source of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” according to a 2010 report by the Pew Center On Global Climate Change. In 2007, GHG emissions from the combustion of petroleum made up 38 percent of all U.S. GHG emissions. As Oxy is the largest producer of oil and liquids combined in the 48 contiguous U.S., it is responsible for some of those emissions.

Although the report states that “Oxy is committed to responsible environmental stewardship in its operations,” the fact remains that oil production is responsible for significant amounts of GHG emissions. An oil company can even put in its CSR report, as Oxy did, that it “recognizes the importance of the issue of climate change.” However, no matter how an oil company spins it, there’s no getting away from the fact that fossil fuels cause pollution. To effectively prevent the worst effects of climate change from happening, we will have to significantly reduce our use of fossil fuels.

Although the report acknowledges climate change, it is rather negative about regulating GHG emissions. The report even states that regulations of emissions could cause Oxy to “face risks of delays in development projects, increases in costs and taxes and reductions in the demand for and restrictions on the use of its products as a result of ongoing GHG reduction efforts.” If a company takes climate change seriously, shouldn’t it acknowledge that GHG emissions have to be regulated?

Photo: Flickr user, mrpbps

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

One response

  1. The answer is really pretty simple.

    We all use oil.  We’re all part of the problem.  Therefore the “oil company” really only gets part of the blame.  And incidentally, oil is not all bad. It’s pretty darn useful stuff.

    So yes, an “oil company” can be more sustainable, but it’s really more about can society as a whole get more “sustainable”.  You can only expect so much from an oil company – or any company!

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