Corporate social responsibility or CSR initiatives are important parts of the corporate structure in the twenty first century, as consumers are more, now than ever, looking for a more in-depth relationship between them and the organization they select to purchase a good or service from. This trend is causing more organizations to shift their approaches to CSR initiaves from obstructionist and defensive, to accomadatice and proactive, simply due to the public’s opionion about how a corporation interacts with the world around it.
The oil and gas company Syncrude Canada Ltd based in Fort McMurray, Alberta, is a major name in the oil and gas industry, producing enough each year to meet the crude oil needs of 6. 2 million Canadians each year. This production of crude oil leads to massive environmental damage, not just due to the extraction of the fuel, but also because of the by-products of the use of the fuel. The extraction of the oil in northern Alberta involves the mining of a rock called crude bitumen, which involves destroying forested areas to create a pit mine. To combat this destruction of the prevalent boreal forest in northern Alberta, Syncrude works hard to reclaim former mine sites to their former existence as forested areas. According to Syncrude’s CSR website, they made efforts to reclaim 126 hectares of former mine land in 2016 alone, planting 400, 000 trees and shrubs that year. Syncrude also has initiaves that work to combat the toxic tailings that they produce as a byproduct of their operations. Their research and development department saw an investment of $3 billion to combat the impacts of their tailings ponds that exist on their Athabasca oil sands site in northern Alberta. This research enabled them to formulate a process called “Composite Tailings”, whereby making their tailings into a composite mixture that can be “capped with sand and soil, enabling the development of landscapes that support forests and wetlands”.
Syncrude works in accordance with the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act to ensure that these reclamation efforts are sufficient, submitting mine reclamation reports every 10 years, with an update every five years. These are in addition to progress reports that are submitted to the Alberta government every year. In a report by former Alberta member of parliament, David Kilgour, outlines in a case study that “Syncrude’s long-term plans are unique”, the plans calling for “the restoring of land to a biologically sustainable state that has a productive capability”, showing that Syncrude’s initiatives are well received, even by those whose jobs are to critique these efforts. However, not all of the CSR efforts that Syncrude has made have been received well by all Albertans and Canadians. For instance, the environmental organization Greenpeace staged a demonstation against the practices of Alberta oil sands, shortly after 500 ducks died after landing in a tailings pond. 11 activists were arrested that day and charged with trespassing. The activists were argueing that the oil sands are one of the most harmful methods of the production of crude oil, and that not enough was being done to prevent harm to wildlife, and other environmental factors.
Environmental organizations have a point too, straight from a table on Syncrude’s CSR web page, they account that the total land that they are actively using for mining activities and refining operations are 20, 027 hectares, while the amount of land that they have reclaimed since the project began in 1978, is a measily in comparison 3, 642 hectares. Directly addressing the complaints of Greenpeace, syncrude has made efforts as well to reclaim their tailings ponds, however this project seems to be moving at a glacial pace. The total amount of talings produced, and dumped ponds on their athabasca oil sands site is 632. 4 million cubic meters in 2016 alone, while only 30. 4 million cubic meters were reclaimed that year.