In the US there are 769 cars per every 1000 people so even if you’re trying to carpool or bike more, or own a hybrid, most likely you still go to the pump every now and then.
To help consumers make a greener decision when filling up, the Sierra Club published a ranking of the 8 largest oil companies.
A few months ago, when I asked environmental celebrity Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to comment on companies that he viewed as “doing good things”, he didn’t go for the easy answers- those with fair trade credentials or green products- and instead chose to address the idea that an oil company can be “good”.
“There’s a lot of great companies out there, in each of the industries, even the oil industry. You know, there’s good actors and bad actors.
There’s Exxons which are bad virtually all the time and then there’s companies like BP that try to do good stuff and Shell and Hess and some of the others that are much better in those areas.”
You don’t have to take Kennedy’s word for it. The American environmental organization Sierra Club has reviewed the records of the 8 largest U.S. oil companies and ranked them for us. In “Pick Your Poison : An updated environmentalist’s guide to gasoline”, the oil giants are divided into 3 categories- top, middle and bottom of the barrel.
Top of the Barrel (BP and Sunoco)
BP earned high marks not for changing it‘s name to “Beyond Petroleum“, but for their stance on global warming- they support the Kyoto Protocol, and in response to it they pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 10%: a goal they reached in 2001- and their green initiatives, like their withdrawal from the organization lobbying to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and their pledge to invest $8 billion over ten years in alternative energy (sun, wind, natural gas, and hydrogen).
BP did earn some “black marks“ for a 2006 oil spill, a badly polluting plant in Texas and their support of a controversial Middle Eastern pipeline, among others, but no oil company was immune from this category.
Sunoco also received negative points for a spill- this one in a Pennsylvania wildlife refuge in 2000-, but this was outweighed by:
their acknowledgement of the human role in climate change a company-wide net energy use decrease by nearly 12 percent from 1990 to 2005 their position as the only oil company to sign the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) principal, which makes all of their environmental activities, including the failures, publicly available.
Middle of the Barrel (Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Valero Energy Corporation and Citgo)
Although companies like Shell have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 15% from 1990 levels, is a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the world’s leading distributor of biofuels, their black marks are more extensive and include: support for the military government in Nigeria exposing Nigerians to dangerous levels of air pollutants air, water and soil contamination in Brazil continued use of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) in some countries, although according to the EPA, it causes cancerous and noncancerous effects in lab animals.
While all those in this middle category have dealt with environmental and health lawsuits and fines, they all made some effort to “go green“- from Valero‘s $2 billion investment in environmental initiatives, like cleaner-burning fuels, to Citgo‘s longtime sponsorship of the Nature Conservancy.
Bottom of the Barrel (ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips)
Despite their contribution to saving tigers and ducks, ExxonMobil is actively lobbying to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, has received numerous fines from the EPA for environmental violations, still refuses to pay punitive damages for the Exxon Valdez oil spill 17 years ago and is the subject of calls for a boycott from organizations from Amnesty International to Greenpeace for their human-rights history and their stance on climate change (they‘ve lobbied against the Kyoto Protocol and assert that uncertainty remains regarding the human causes of climate change).
ConocoPhillips has a less incendiary record, but despite their support for migratory birds and tallgrass prairie restoration, in 2002 they were rated the 3rd worst polluter in the US based on EPA emissions.