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Recasting Big Oil’s Battered Image

Steven Mufson, Washington Post
Ads by Chevron and Others Aim to Send Positive Messages

A 2 1/2 -minute television commercial will debut this weekend, directed by Lance Acord, the cinematographer on “Lost in Translation,” “Being John Malkovich” and “Marie Antoinette.” It will feature music by the British composer Paul Leonard-Morgan, who was recently commissioned to write a piece for the U.S. Olympic Committee. And it will have an earnest voice-over by acclaimed indie actor Campbell Scott.

All this theatrical firepower has been marshaled for a new “power of human energy” campaign by Chevron, a charter member of Big Oil (often seen as Big Bad Oil). In today’s eco-conscious political environment, Chevron is trying to portray itself as a company with “people of vision” striving to meet today’s energy needs while searching for better, cleaner ways to meet them in the future.

It isn’t the first time a big oil company has spent lavishly on image ads. British Petroleum rebranded itself as simply BP to stand for “beyond petroleum” and came up with a sunburst-style logo. In recent weeks, Exxon Mobil has been running print ads called “reinventing your wheels” about its efforts to improve fuel economy and “passport to progress” about the company’s funding for U.S. math and science and overseas literacy programs.

But few have matched the new Chevron campaign for polish or emotion, or for its ambitious bid to recast itself as an environmentally responsible corporate citizen. Its creator said it was more of a “rallying cry” than an advertisement
(28 September 2007)

British Columbia.: Tough new rule may stop wells flaring, but not tempers

Patrick Brethour, Globe & Mail
…Governments that have been steadfast friends to the oil and gas sector are taking policy U-turns.

It might seem ludicrous to burn off natural gas rather than to sell it, but the industry has economics firmly on its side. Much of the flaring takes place at isolated oil wells in the rugged foothills in the northeast of the province, a geography that makes it difficult to build the web of pipelines needed to transport the natural gas often intermingled with crude oil. As a result, energy companies would actually lose money if they tried to produce the natural gas. It’s simply more cost effective to burn it.

The economic argument is unassailable, and as of Jan. 1, mostly irrelevant.

In the draft regulations obtained by The Globe and Mail, the B.C. energy ministry has laid out aggressive targets designed to eliminate routine natural gas flaring by 2016. New wells face tight restrictions on flaring as of Jan. 1, with existing wells coming under scrutiny by the end of August. In 2009, the industry will be expected to reduce routine flaring by at least 10 per cent, a big first step toward a 50-per-cent cut by 2011 and total elimination five years later.
(28 September 2007)

Review: Stupid to the Last Drop (Alberta tar sands)

Original: “Big, bad oil in all its glory”
D. Hasselback, Financial Post
Review of:
Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (and Doesn’t Seem to Care)
William Marsden,
Alfred A. Knopf Canada
256 pp. $29.95 (Available Oct. 2)

The rise of the loonie has been partially explained by the price of oil, which recently hit a record of almost US$84 a barrel. The Canadian economy has the world’s attention because Alberta’s oilsands contain an estimated 174 billion barrels of oil, the second-largest oil reserve tally after Saudi Arabia.

William Marsden’s book, Stupid to the Last Drop, paints a darker picture of the oilsands. Not only does Marsden argue that Alberta’s oil business poses significant environmental risks, he tries to portray the industry and its supporters as somewhat thick.

The book launches with an exotic and engaging tale. In the 1950s, Manley Natland, a paleontologist from the Richfield Oil Co. of California, came up with a plan to release the oil mixed within Alberta’s gritty sand using an underground nuclear blast . The force of the nine-kiloton explosion would blow a giant cavity in the underground rock, and the heat and the pressure from the blast would literally boil the oil out of the sand.

Richfield Oil thought the plan was a great idea. It even went so far as to spend $350,000 to buy an atomic bomb from the United States government for what the company came to call “Project Oil Sands.” A debate in Canada over nuclear testing in the early 1960s diverted Richfield Oil’s attention to Alaska. Project Oil Sands was shelved.

From the vantage point of the 21st century, the fact anyone would consider using nuclear weapons to mine oil seems absolutely harebrained, which obviously makes it the ideal launching pad for a book entitled Stupid to the Last Drop. Marsden’s book is an engaging and entertaining read. He mingles amusing anecdotes with some hefty science, something that’s not always easy to do.

That said, as the title instantly suggests the book is no objective description of life in the Alberta oilpatch.
(29 September 2007)