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Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? Usually when the words environmental and gas station or used in the same sentence, they negate each other. In this case, however, we are looking to find a gas station that currently does the least environmental harm. In other words, a lesser of evils.
Note: While this article was researched and written in early 2010, we continue to hear many of the same names in the news today. So, please do your research before you fill up the pump to make sure you are supporting the most environmental gas station in your town.
What About Alternative Energy?
We’re all for alternative sources of energy, electric cars, and other modes of transit to free us from our dependence on fossil fuels. However, while the technology, consumer demand, and economic feasibility catch up, the best we can do (aside from taking our bicycle or mass public transit) is fill up at stations that have a better environmental record than others.
Let’s take a look at the top three and the bottom three gas stations in terms of their impact on the planet.
The Winner for Most Environmental Gas Station Is…
Sunoco (formerly Sun Company Inc.) is an American petroleum and petrochemical manufacturer headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is one of the largest gasoline distribution companies in the United States, with Sunoco brand gasoline being sold in over 4,700 outlets.
Sunoco – the Environmental
Sunoco is the only oil company that has signed the CERES (Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) principles, is a Global Sullivan Principles Signatory, and has a non-discrimination policy. Sunoco is a BELC (Business Environmental Leadership Council) member, and they have officially stated that they acknowledge that climate change is affecting our planet adversely.
Sunoco – the Not So Environmental
The outstanding negative marks against Sunoco are a Wildlife Refuge spill back in 2000, a discrimination lawsuit, and an MTBE (gas additive that is a suspected carcinogen) lawsuit.
The Runner Up for Most Environmental Gas Station Is…
BP (initially British Petroleum, but recently renamed to Beyond Petroleum, and also goes under the names Amoco, ARCO, and am/pm). BP is a British global energy company. It is the third largest global energy and fourth largest company in the world. As a multinational oil company (“oil major”) BP is the UK’s largest corporation, with its headquarters in St James’s, City of Westminster, London.
Right now you’re probably thinking – wait, where were you guys during the BP oil spill? We don’t wish to undermine that tragic disaster one bit, but the reality of the situation is that there is no environmentally sound gas company. As far as environmental efforts go, BP has and continues to outpace its competitors. That being said, the BP oil spill definitely played a factor in preventing BP from gaining our top stop.
BP has a laundry list of both good and bad contributions to the third rock from the Sun. Let’s start with the good.
BP – the Environmental
BP is also a BELC member and supports the Kyoto protocol (The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions). BP has made a CO2 reduction commitment, and reportedly has the best climate change awareness in the oil industry.
In addition, BP’s track record includes a $600 million allocation for pollution control in the workplace. BP works together with Amnesty International and the WWF. They use low-sulfur gas, own the largest solar company, run solar-powered gas stations, are a member of CFCP (the California Fuel Cell Partnership), and won the 1998 Enviro Steward Award. The list goes on. They abstain from political contributions, are a member of the Malaysian global warming education program, have a non-discrimination policy, were ranked as one of the 100 best companies for working mothers, were acknowledged as a model for human rights efforts in 2004, and hold self-imposed emissions caps.
Whew, sounds like the greenest gas station on the planet, right? Unfortunately what kept them from taking the #1 spot is their almost equally long list of negatives. Here we go.
BP – the Not So Environmental
The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill is a Gulf of Mexico oil spill, resulting from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon (which drilled on the BP-operated Macondo Prospect) on April 20, 2010. The spill flowed uncapped for three months, and the impact of the spill continues to this day. It is the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. 11 men on the rig were killed during the explosion and 17 were injured.
The leak continued, releasing nearly 5 million barrels of oil (almost 206 million gallons, or 53,000 barrels per day), before the wellhead was capped on July 15th. It wasn’t until September 19th that the well was finally under control and the leaking had stopped to a significant degree.
The BP Oil Spill caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats as well as the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries. In late November 2010, 4,200 square miles of the Gulf were re-closed to shrimping after tar balls were found in shrimpers’ nets. The total amount of Louisiana shoreline impacted by oil grew from 287 miles in July to 320 miles in late November 2010. In January 2011, an oil spill commissioner reported that tar balls continue to wash up, oil sheen trails are seen in the wake of fishing boats, wetlands marsh grass remains fouled and dying, and that crude oil lies offshore in deep water and in fine silts and sands onshore. A research team found oil on the bottom of the seafloor in late February 2011 that did not seem to be degrading.
Skimmer ships, floating containment booms, anchored barriers, sand-filled barricades along shorelines, and dispersants were used in an attempt to protect hundreds of miles of beaches, wetlands, and estuaries from the spreading oil. Scientists have also reported immense underwater plumes of dissolved oil not visible at the surface as well as an 80-square-mile “kill zone” surrounding the blown well.
The U.S. Government has named BP as the responsible party, and officials have committed to holding the company accountable for all cleanup costs and other damage. After its own internal probe, BP admitted that it made mistakes which led to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
More BP Negatives
BP withdrew from the GCC (Global Climate Coalition), and have on their record a number of Clean Air Act violations, illegal waste dumping, and the Beaufort pipeline, a pipeline that will be the first deep-water oil exploration program in an arctic environment. In addition, they are infamous for their giant oil spill in Southern California in 1990. On February 7, 1990, a tanker carrying BP oil spilled 400,000 gallons of Alaskan crude oil along the Orange County, California coastline off the shore of Huntington Beach. Oil residue from the spill contaminated the Huntington Beach wetlands, which are a refuge for migratory waterfowl and contain a number of endangered species. The following month, California’s state Department of Fish and Game accused BP of falsely claiming to have performed oil spill cleanup work on Orange County’s Shoreline.
Recently, BP’s human rights efforts have been stronger. Maybe because of their human rights violations in South America years prior. BP operated out of Burma, has suffered fatalities from refinery explosions, and has been on Multinational Monitor’s list of 10 worst companies…twice. The list goes on and on, unfortunately.
Read a full story on a BP’s Texas City disaster below.
No Gas Station is Environmental
What we have to remember here is that we are finding the most environmental gas station. That still doesn’t mean the gas station is environmental. We’re simply trying to find the lesser of evils. I think we all realize now that the ultimate solution relies in renewable forms of energy, run by companies that specialize in the field – not by oil giants that spend lots of dollars on green marketing. That being said, we move on to the number three spot.
The Third Most Environmental Gas Station Is…
Marathon (also goes under the names Super America and Ashland) is headquartered in Houston, Texas. Principal exploration activities are in the United States, Norway, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Canada. Principal development activities are in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.
Just like the other oil giants, Marathon is taking steps in the green direction.
Marathon – the Environmental
It participates in the API (American Petroleum Institute) Climate Challenge, and is a partner in the Global Gas Flaring and Venting Reduction Initiative, which aims to eliminate venting and reduce flaring of associated gas. In addition, Marathon has instituted a pipeline right-of-way revegetation program, and employs teams that have transformed more than 1,400 acres of Marathon wooded areas, grassland, cropland, lakes and wetlands into habitat certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC).
Marathon – the Not So Environmental
Unfortunately, as with the other contenders this list pales in comparison with the negatives. One of the most controversial issues involves Marathon’s dealings with Equatorial Guinea’s dictator Nguema. Marathon and its partners started BIMCP (the Bioko Island Malaria Control Project) to help curtail Malaria outbreaks. This ended up mitigating some of the criticism around their dealings with Nguema. Marathon was under an SEC ethics investigation, and joins several other oil giants on Multinational Monitor’s 10 worst companies list. The PERI (Political Economy Research Institute) ranks Marathon Oil 96th among air polluting corporations in the U.S. They’ve been fined for pipeline spills and air permit violations.
If that was the top three most environmental gas stations, imagine what the bottom three will look like. Here we go…
In Third Place for Least Environmental Gas Station Is…
Chevron Corporation (which has acquired Texaco and Unocal) was originally known as Standard Oil of California, or SoCal, and was formed amid the antitrust breakup of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil company in 1911. Headquartered in San Ramon, California, USA, and active in more than 180 countries, it is engaged in every aspect of the oil and gas industry, including exploration and production; refining, marketing and transport; chemicals manufacturing and sales; and power generation. Chevron is one of the world’s six “supermajor” oil companies.
Chevron – the Environmental
Chevron is a member of the CFCP (California Fuel Cell Partnership), as well as the BSR (Business for Social Responsibility). They have invested in alternative energy, sponsored coastal cleanups, and improved refineries to promote fuel efficiency. And, they are the only oil company to release greenhouse gas emission numbers.
Chevron – the Not So Environmental
They were the first to drop out of the GCC (Global Climate Coalition), were cited for Nigerian human rights violations, Clean Water Act violations, and toxic dumping in the Amazon. The CEP (Center for Environmental Policy) rated Chevron one of the worst companies, they have been on Multinational Monitor’s list of 10 worst companies 4 times, and are number 41 on their top 100 corporate criminals list. In addition, Chevron has been subject to gender discrimination, racism lawsuits, employee rights violations, SEC ethics investigations, toxic dumping in California, questionable campaign contribution practices, and more.
The Runner-Up for Least Environmental Gas Station is…
ConocoPhillips (also Conoco, Phillips 66, and Union 76). Conoco Inc. was an American oil company founded in 1875 as the Continental Oil and Transportation Company. It is now a brand of gasoline and service station in the United States which belongs to the ConocoPhillips Company. It is an international energy corporation with its headquarters located in the Energy Corridor district of Houston, Texas. ConocoPhillips is a Fortune 500 company, and is the fifth largest private sector energy corporation in the world, as well as one of the six supermajor oil companies.
ConocoPhillips – The Environmental
In 2007 ConocoPhillips became the first US oil company to join the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an alliance of big business and environmental groups. To further its committment, ConocoPhillips proclaimed it would spend $150 million in 2007 on the research and development of new energy sources and technologies, more than double what it spent the year before. They also voluntarily built double-hulled tankers to help prevent oil spills.
ConocoPhillips – The Not So Environmental
ConocoPhillips was ranked 13th among U.S. corporate producers of air pollutions by the PERI (Political Economy Research Institute). In 1998, they were ranked as one of the worst polluters in the world. They have been responsible for massive oil spills, multiple fatal explosions, South American human rights violations, toxic dumping lawsuits, and numerous safety violations. Because of their desire to drill in wetlands, they are a member of the end of the NWC (National Wetlands Coalition), which opposes the U.S. Wetlands policy. Time magazine calls the NWC “a big-biz coalition against wetlands.”
Not surprisingly then, that they have been involved in a groundwater lawsuit. And believe it or not, ConocoPhillips drilled exploratory wells in the heart of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in the State of Utah. If that wasn’t enough, they continue pushing to drill in other protected areas. The CEP also rated them one of the worst companies, they have been on Multinational Monitor’s 10 worst list 5 times, and are number 77 on their list of top 100 corporate criminals. Okay, you’re probably sick to your stomach now. But nothing could prepare you for the monster of oil companies…
The Least Environmental Gas Station is…
ExxonMobil. Exxon formally replaced the Esso, Enco, and Humble brands in the United States on January 1, 1973. From 1972 to 1999, Exxon was the corporate name of the company previously known as Standard Oil Company of New Jersey or Jersey Standard. It is a direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil company, and was formed on November 30, 1999, by the merger of Exxon and Mobil.
ExxonMobil is the world’s largest publicly traded company and is the largest of the six oil supermajors.
Not only is Exxon ridiculously profitable (they have been the most profitable company on the stock market), but their track record for the environment is simply heinous.
Exxon – The Environmental
ExxonMobil will point out that they are a BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) member, a partner in the Global ReLeaf Project, and have made contributions to the Malaria research fund, Save the Tiger fund, and the Alaskan Natives fund. Unfortunately, this doesn’t exactly acquit them of their crimes.
Exxon – The Not So Environmental
ExxonMobil has been accused by major scientific organizations of waging a misinformation campaign aiming to create uncertainty on the issue of global warming. ExxonMobil actively campaigns against the Kyoto protocol and against climate change initiatives. In the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, they took no responsibility and refused to pay damages. Pretty much anything in the negative lists above can be added to Exxon’s list. Clean Air Act violations, human rights violations, toxic dumping lawsuits, radioactive waste lawsuits, air pollutions lawsuits, safety lawsuits, sour gas death lawsuits, etc.
But the worst part is that the actually actively fight environmental initiatives. They have boycotted Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and CRI (Corporate Responsibility International). They are number 5 on Multinational Monitor’s list of top 100 corporate criminals, are a top 25 superfund polluter, and they have been known to discriminate based on sexuality. ExxonMobil is responsible for a whopping 5% of all greenhouse gases on our planet and has the highest emissions in the industry. On the political front, Exxon has silenced shareholder resolutions, has been involved in political manipulations, price-gouging, and deceptive practices.
Maybe It’s Best Not to Fill Up Your Car At All…
Maybe what this article should really be about is finding ways to not drive your car. If you’re close to work try taking your bicycle. Explore public transit options in your area. Ultimately, it will be consumer demand that drives change. That means the more we do today, the less we’ll have to worry about choosing a lesser of evils tomorrow.
BP’s Texas City Disaster
On March 23, 2005 there was a huge fire and explosion at the BP refinery in Texas City, Texas. This was actually the second largest refinery in the state of Texas (and third largest in the entire country) at the time of this unfortunate accident. Fifteen workers were killed and at least 170 other people were injured as a result of this disaster. BP has since been charged with numerous criminal violations of federal law and also been subjected to a number of lawsuits from the families of victims.
BP has reportedly paid out over 1.6 billion dollars as compensation to the families of the dead workers. Additionally, there have been several different fines, including a 50 million dollar plea agreement reached in 2008. This is in addition to the 21 million dollar fine issued by OSHA as the result of over 300 safety violations (the largest fine in OSHA history at the time).
Was This the Foreshadowing of Other Disasters?
One of the most glaring aspects of the Texas City disaster is that it almost seems to have been forewarning the country about future events. According to federal investigators, there were a number of safety recommendations which BP had failed to implement before this incident.
The real problem here is that what happened after the disaster at Texas City. In many ways, what occurred during the Deepwater Horizon incident was eerily similar. There are many who have suggested that these events are most certainly connected and that they form a pattern of misbehavior which must be checked before an even more serious incident occurs.
The Texas City Refinery Background:
The original refinery was built back in the 1930s by Pan American Refining Corporation. Since this time, the facility has gone through a number of different owners. BP took control as part of their merger with Amoco in 1999. Even at this stage, it was obvious to any educated observer that the refinery had some issues that needed to be dealt with. During the 1990s, Amoco had chosen not to make major upgrades that regulators and other reports had indicated were needed.
During the merger, BP intended to bring the Texas City refinery back to profitability (when they took over it had been losing a considerable amount). This was done in large measure due to some very aggressive cost cutting measures. This included a 25 percent across the board budget cut throughout all of their US operations. You would be correct in thinking that this included a large number of safety programs, including:
- Over 1 million dollars was saved from cutting inspectors and maintenance workers
- 50,000 dollars was saved by reducing purchases of safety shoes for employees
- Safety calendars were eliminated
- Safety awards and programs were eliminated as well
All of these cutbacks did have the desired effect, with the refinery returning to profitability in a rather short period of time. By 2004, the refinery was actually the most profitable facility in the BP stable. Annual earnings were approaching 900 million dollars. However, the company still desired additional cuts.
Examining BP’s Safety Track Record:
In 2002, at the behest of a new site director, an outside firm was hired to perform a safety audit of the Texas City refinery. The report actually mentioned that there were over 80 hydrocarbon releases between 2000 and 2001. There were also serious mechanical integrity issues and overdue inspections. Additional recommendations include 235 million dollars in upgrades to the refinery. These same basic concerns were noted again during safety audits in 2003 and 2004.
This same director also issued an email to staff describing the general state of safety in the plant. According to the email, in 2004 there were three avoidable deaths and a major fire. Around this same, perhaps the most damning internal report was issued by the Telos Group, a hired outside auditing firm. Among the conclusions were that the employees had an exceptional degree of fear regarding a potential catastrophe and that there was a type of blindness which prevented any kind of action regarding changes in safety procedures and programs. The report also spoke of hazards caused by poor conditions that would be unthinkable at another major refiner.
Another very telling sign was when the refinery managers outlined some key risk factors which faced the refinery for the year of 2005. This was actually done less than a month before the disaster. Two of the most telling issues outlined were that workers would avoid reporting safety incidents out of fear of punishment along with the strong possibility of the plant actually killing someone within the next 12 to 18 months. In actuality, it took about 20 more days for the second fear to come true.
What Can Be Learned From Texas City?
The lessons from Texas City are far-reaching. It is quite obvious that when proper safety standards are not maintained, the chances of having a major incident like Texas City increases considerably. BP continuously failed to make any of the recommended changes, equipment upgrades or take into consideration any of the outside reports which had been commissioned. Despite repeated warnings and even fines by government regulators and authorities, it seemed that nothing was able to change the culture of higher profits at any cost that reigned supreme at BP.
In addition to a horrible safety record, it is also obvious that the rules and regulations failed. One possibility is that regulators be endowed with even more authority. Perhaps giving them the option of shutting down a plant if repeated warnings and recommendations are not heeded would be a beneficial step? It is clear that the situation as it stood at the time of the Texas City disaster simply was broken. Unfortunately, it seems that not much has changed. There have been additional disasters (Deepwater Horizon) and even the Texas state Attorney General has filed charges in state court due to their continued illegal toxic emissions.
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