APLA ’21: Petchems bad reputation could change with independent environmental audits – academic

Jonathan Lopez


MADRID (ICIS)–Petrochemicals companies’ bad reputation could change if external auditors were invited to test whether the industry’s environmental record is up to scratch, an academic said on Tuesday.

Jared Diamond, a geography professor from the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), said the lobbying by some US petrochemicals major producer to soften environmental rules over decades has greatly dented the industry’s credibility.

That lobbying was even done, Diamond added, when the CEOs of major companies knew what they were saying was not true.

The academic was speaking at the Latin American Petrochemical and Chemical Association (APLA) virtual annual event, which ran on 8-9 November.

“If petrochemicals companies say they love the environment, the public won’t believe them. But if they invite outside consultants or environmentalists to test it, people will believe them. They also need to learn from bad behaviour,” said Diamond.

“Some US petrochemicals companies gave money to deny the relationship between petrochemicals and climate change. Denying obvious facts was very short-sighted from the CEOs of US petrochemicals companies, who undermined their own credibility: don’t say things that nowadays everybody knows not to be true.”

Diamond highlighted the example of Stillwater Mining, a US miner involved a few years back in a row about its polluting practices after residents near one of its mines in the state of Wyoming were concerned a river was being polluted, affecting fish.

“Stillwater would keep saying they took good care of the rivers, but no-one believed them. They invited fishing companies or the Trout Unlimited [a conservationist organisation] to report on their findings. Once Trout Unlimited said the water was very clean, residents believed the company,” he said.

The academic threw another recommendation on the petrochemicals industry to improve their record as well as to guarantee their own survival in a world getting ready to slow down global warming.

Petrochemicals are one form of energy, he said, but there are other forms of energy that have already proved to be profitable that producers, especially in the US where they are lagging, need to start exploring, and do so quickly.

“Use your expertise – you know more about energy than anybody else in the world. Be bold and develop sustainable sources of energy, like in France.”

When mentioning France, Diamond had in mind the country’s dominant, state-controlled utility Electricite de France (EDF), who has made of nuclear power its identity.

EDF operates 56 nuclear reactors in its domestic market; more than 70% of France’s residents are served by it, which makes the country less dependent on imports of crude oil or natural gas to produce its electricity.

“EDF has invested massively in nuclear power, but they have been very careful in managing nuclear waste, there has never been an accident in France. EDF is very careful about its reputation of being a clean energy company,” concluded Diamond.


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