FFI Perspectives

Identifying the Oil Sands Investments in Your Portfolio: Why It’s Important, How We Can Help

There is no question on the definition of fossil fuels. Oil, coal, and their derivative products are well understood. Fossil fuel companies, on the other hand, can be harder for investors to identify. For example, Maersk is generally known as a shipping giant. Mitsui & Co. is known for its iron and steel business. However, both companies hold large reserves of fossil fuels and, as a result, have ranked in every edition of our Carbon Underground 200 list.

Oil sands companies can be even more difficult to identify. The collapse of oil prices has brought oil sands operations into focus because of their relatively high production costs in the spectrum of oil projects. In addition, climate scientists have placed oil sand deposits on the list of fossil fuels best left unexploited. [1]


Figure 1

Our research shows that potential oil sands CO2 emissions have experienced remarkable growth, as demonstrated in Figure 1 above. Therefore, accurately identifying companies that have significant reserves of oil sands has never been more important for investors concerned about the climate risks embedded in their portfolios.

Oil sands companies can be particularly difficult to identify. There are companies whose sole business is oil sands. MEG Energy and Syncrude are prime examples. Investors will find MEG on the Toronto Stock Exchange. But Syncrude, the largest single oil sands producer, is a joint venture owned by five separate publicly-traded companies. To understand and quantify an investor’s exposure to Syncrude’s oil sands assets, therefore, requires a good deal of research.

As the details of Syncrude’s ownership suggest, some of the largest publicly-traded holders of oil sands reserves are not primarily known as oil sands producers. For example, ExxonMobil’s oil sands reserves outstrip those of the largest Canadian companies. ExxonMobil’s Albertan reserves are well documented and reported to the SEC. Other multinationals, such as Statoil, fail to disclose any oil sands reserve holdings despite major investments.

FFI’s Carbon Underground Tar Sands 20TM (Tar Sands 20) can ease an investor’s burden in identifying companies owning oil sands reserves. In compiling this ranking of the largest publicly-traded holders of unexploited oil sands reserves worldwide, we track approximately 80 companies listed on more than 10 international stock exchanges. We utilize regulatory filings, Canadian government data, and other sources to gather the numbers on proven oil sands reserves. We also provide the context for companies’ oil sands exposure relative to their overall fossil fuel reserves portfolio. Finally, we include all equity issues for the companies on the list, and update the rankings quarterly for subscribers. The six oil supermajors (ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP plc, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhilips, and Total S.A.) are represented on the Tar Sands 20 and comprise 37% of total proven reserves for the list.

We consider the Tar Sands 20 list to be the definitive tool for identifying oil sands companies. If you’re interested in learning more about The Carbon Underground Tar Sands 20, contact us at tarsands@fossilfreeindexes.com.

[1] See also: “The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C” by Christophe McGlade & Paul Ekins (Nature 517,187–190, January 8, 2015).

Leave a Reply