Oil Industry Collaboration – Now that’s a sustainable move!

So today, as I’m getting my daily dose of java and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper, I see an article that’s touting the great news that Royal Dutch Shell PLC has made an announcement that it developed a new technology that will substantially speed up the cleanup of oil sands tailings ponds.

My first reaction was “well, that’s great news.”  Given many of us have been made aware of the issues of  Canada’s oil sands through publicity and articles that have been written during the past year, my reaction was probably similar to many.  Sure there’s a lot more to be done, there are very serious issues that need to be dealt with, but advancement is good.  Is it not?

Then I recall, this is the second company that I’ve seen take steps towards meeting the requirements of the Province of Alberta (Canada) Directive 74 (www.ercb.ca/docs/documents/directives/directive074.pdf).  Suncor made an announcement of new technology in May of 2010 at it’s annual meeting.  So what does that mean?  Well it’s good news on both parts, but as a Sustainable Investing Industry Analyst, I was even more thrilled to read that Shell is offering all the technical data on the new process for free to anyone, including competitors.  According to John Broadhurst, vice-president of development in heavy oil for Shell:

“This information is important for industry, it’s important for academics, it’s important for government.  We’ll make it available, no strings attached, no intellectual property, no expectation of money.”

No matter where you stand on the oil sands issue, as a business person or an environmentalist, I believe we should be celebrating this move.  Finally, some collaboration amongst members of the oil industry!  Historically this has been a very competitive industry, so Shell’s move is noticeable.  There are many examples of how other industries come together to work towards finding sustainable solutions to the environmental and social issues that confront their industries (i.e. US retail sector).  Isn’t it time?  Isn’t is great to see leadership in the field?  Yes, I know there are many questions Shell didn’t answer.  Yes, I know there are many issues to be dealt with. But in the sustainability movement, collaboration and transparency are key.  This is how we’ll all move forward to find solutions.

Is this going to solve all of the issues that exist for the industry?  Absolutely not!  But it’s a great step forward.  If one corporation can be so courageous as to make this kind of proprietary technical information available, then we’ve simply raised the bar and the next company can begin to invest it’s research dollars to advance the technology further versus simply trying to keep up with it’s competitors.  With this move, the industry can leap-frog forward.  This is a perfect example of how the collaborative model of sustainability can drive innovation!  Kudos to Shell.

Now, let’s see who’ll take them up on their offer and advance this technology further!

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