Walgreens, Gap, Levi Join Oil Sands Fuel Boycott

by | Aug 30, 2010

A campaign to boycott Alberta-sourced gasoline has gained momentum after several U.S clothing manufacturers and a major U.S. drugstore chain announced they would avoid oil sands-related fuels.

The Gap, Timberland and Levi Strauss, as well as Walgreens, have joined a growing list of corporations choosing to avoid using gasoline refined from Canadian bitumen, reports the Calgary Herald.

Whole Foods and Bed, Bath and Beyond had previously joined the boycott according to the Canadian Press.

Federal Express has promised it will consider the environmental and social impacts of the fuels it uses, although it didn’t specifically mention the oil sands.

The move to less carbon-intensive fuels was sparked by an ongoing campaign by San Fransisco-based environmental group Forest Ethics, Walgreens spokeswoman Tiffani Washington told the Calgary Herald.

“We found that it was a relatively simple process of surveying our vendors, seeing which ones may have tar sands oil sourcing and simply avoiding those vendors,” Walgreen’s spokesman Michael Polzin told The Canadian Press. “We are in that process right now.”

The drugstore chain, which operates more than 700 trucks in its 7,500-store network, surveyed its fuel providers to avoid any sources of oil sands-sourced gasoline, Polzin said.

“What this signals is the beginning in earnest of the financial war over the tar sands,” said Todd Paglia of the environmental group Forest Ethics, which is organizing the campaign.

“In the U.S., customers are increasingly saying we don’t want to be part of the tar sands,” Paglia told The Canadian Press.

Paglia admits the U.S. produces heavy oil of its own that isn’t singled out in Forest Ethics’ campaign. But he said the size and environmental impact of Alberta’s oil sands as well as the plans to increase its imports into the U.S. makes it an appropriate target.

Canada is the largest exporter of oil, both conventional and synthetic, to the United States, shipping approximately 1.99 million barrels per day of its 2.6 million bpd production south of the border.

The list of U.S. based refiners processing Canadian bitumen include BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, as well as Sunoco, Murphy Oil and Marathon Oil.

Forest Ethics’ campaign wasn’t the first against the oil sands sourced gasoline. Last month Corporate Ethics International urged Americans and Britons to “Rethink Alberta” as a polluting, environmentally challenged province rather than a Rocky Mountain tourism destination, reports the Canadian Press.

The news that more retailers were avoiding Canadian crude, raised the ire of Albertans, from politicians to business associations, which called for reverse boycotts of U.S. products.

The Alberta Enterprise Group urged residents to stop supporting retailers that say they have stopped using bitumen-based gasoline but continue to face allegations of using child labor in Asia.

“It smacks of hypocrisy,” David MacLean told the Alberta Herald. “It’s a public relations stunt at our expense, and by ‘our,’ I mean Albertans and Canadians.”

International and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Iris Evans noted the industry is one of the most heavily regulated in the world, and urged consumers to learn more about what Alberta is doing to produce cleaner energy.

“We’ve been talking to a lot of global transportation providers and retailers and a lot of them understand the complexities of not only oil sands, but about removing any type of fuel from the fuel supply,” Janet Annesley, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers told the Calgary Herald. “And they want to work with us to find solutions rather than simply make a PR statement about a boycott.”

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