Why We Engage With the Energy Industry: It’s For Nature

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Published on May 23rd, 2010  |  Discuss This Article  

Mongolia's goitered gazelle benefits from our engagement with energy companies.

Peter Kareiva is chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy.

A passionate environmental scientist and good friend recently sent an e-mail chiding me. “So, given what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico,” he wrote, “are you still glad The Nature Conservancy works with BP wind energy and BP natural gas exploration in the western United States?”

My answer: Yes. Here’s why:

In order to protect and rebuild our environment, the Conservancy identifies the species and habitats necessary for a sustainable future.

Then we assess the threats to these systems. One of those threats is the energy industry (and not necessarily just oil and natural gas, but also the siting of renewable energy infrastructure like wind turbines).

We next ask how to reduce those threats. In the case of energy industry threats, there are a range of possible responses, including:

  • Regulation (required safety valves, drilling depths, etc);
  • Improved technology;
  • Careful siting of activities (zoning); and
  • Offset or mitigation funds to make up for the damages.

Each of these is part of our Development by Design framework, which is science-based and rooted in our long-standing tradition of conservation planning that uses the best available data. We’re applying that framework in projects from Colombia to Wyoming to Mongolia.

We engage with BP and other extractive industry companies in order to identify “no-touch” areas for such development and to optimize mitigation efforts for the ecological damages done by such development.

For example, the Conservancy is working with BP and state and federal agencies in Colorado and Wyoming to prevent and mitigate the environmental impacts of natural gas extraction in these states. We assess the ecological importance and sensitivity of various potential sites. BP provides some of the funding to pay for data collection and analysis, which is peer-reviewed and publicly available.

In Wyoming, these data are being used to help direct $24.5 million in mitigation funding that energy companies pay into a multi-agency government fund. Money from this fund is being used to protect over 80,000 acres and improve management for more than 200,000 acres.

Coming back to the Gulf disaster, there is a lot science in general, and Conservancy science in particular, that needs to be done. Most of what we know about oil spills is from ships, not wells. The other big oil well blowouts (Santa Barbara and the North Sea) were in very different ecosystems. And oil comes in a lot of forms – the damage depends on the type of oil. In addition, the dispersants being used now as part of the cleanup are known to have toxic impact on fish eggs.

We have extensive sets of baseline regional data for the habitats of the Gulf as well as site-based data from conservation sites in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Data from these sites will be invaluable in assessing impacts and damages.

I for one am not ready — based on this one event, whose impacts and causes are as yet unknown — to abandon the idea of conservation working with the energy industry. In fact, although we have never engaged with BP or other energy companies on their offshore Gulf drilling, maybe we should have — we might have been able to help site their activities to reduce the risk to the Gulf’s globally significant habitats.

I have to admit: My friend’s concern about “conspiring with the enemy” irked me. This is not an issue of environment versus energy – people need both. “Working with” does not mean “selling out.” Anyone who drives a car is a supporter of the oil industry — should we propose no one drives?

Look, I know that energy extraction is sometimes environmentally damaging, just as roads, ports, biofuels and even desert solar panels can be. In fact, Conservancy scientists engage with the energy industry precisely because that industry does often harm the environment.

But the point is: We need energy and we also need nature — we have to figure out how to do this energy thing with minimal environmental damage. We have to find the right energy policies and regulations that help meet the United States’ need for fuel and protect our natural ecosystems and the
livelihoods they provide.

And at the Conservancy, our scientists work with our policy experts to not just do science, but to help inform policy. The reason I love my job (and I even love getting angry e-mails about “selling out”) is because we do science that is in the thick of it — science that uses our on-the-ground data and experience to understand impacts and tradeoffs and advise the most creative and pragmatic policy thinkers I have ever worked with, all in the service of nature and the benefits it gives us.

I do not know enough to give any advice at this moment, however. Right now, my focus is not on judgment or reaction, but rather on assessment and action. I will leave judgment to my friend.

(Image: Goitered gazelle, Mongolia. With about 40 percent of Mongolia under lease for mining and energy exploration, the Conservancy is applying Development by Design in Mongolia to support effective landscape-level planning — steering development away from conservation priorities and advancing mitigation strategies. Image credit: Richard Reading.)

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Comments: Why We Engage With the Energy Industry: It’s For Nature

  •  Comment from Mary Cecelia

    I’m extremely disappointed and devastated to learn that BP is a “business partner” of TNC. Disgusting.

  •  Comment from Alison Ward

    BP gains a great deal of green legitimacy for their measly $10 million contribution to The Nature Conservancy. Since BP’s recent and on-going massive destruction of the Gulf of Mexico region, you should require at least $100 billion from your business partner. Or, are The Nature Conservancy’s land purchase efforts in other states more important than the devastation that BP has caused in states along and the waters of the Gulf?

    As you stated in the article, “the dispersants being used now as part of the cleanup are known to have toxic impact on fish eggs.” The USEPA recently ordered BP to immediately stop using that particular chemical, which is already banned in the UK, but YOUR business partner has refused to do so. That’s not my idea of a green company.

    The Nature Conservancy used to stand for something. If you can say with a straight face that you are partnering with energy companies like BP “for nature” you need to remove your blinders.

  •  Comment from S. M.

    Very troubling. My continued support of the N.C.–if they continue such business relationships–will hinge on what I discover about their effectiveness in the past in addressing core risks: such as the improvement of use of safety valves and their testing. What specifically did N.C.’s relationship with BP do to issues like this? If these relationships are ineffective in addressing such core risks, then you are simply being used.

    What is the point of identifying “no touch” areas that will simply be wiped out eventually by rare but devastating “black swan” events? If you arn’t significantly reducing the core risks, then you are simply moving chairs around on the deck of the sinking ship, and my money will be best served elsewhere.

  •  Comment from Dave Connell

    My name is Dave Connell and I’m an employee from The Nature Conservancy. We obviously don’t think article from The Washington Post provides the right context or all of the background of our relationship with BP, so I would like to respond to your concerns.

    The Nature Conservancy has worked with BP on several projects dealing with energy siting in Western states. We have not worked with the company on any offshore drilling activities.

    About 20 energy and environmental groups, including The Nature Conservancy, BP Wind Energy, the Sierra Club and Audubon, together have formed the American Wind and Wildlife Institute, which works to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat through the timely and responsible development and sighting of wind energy facilities.

    As Peter Kareiva outlined in his blog post, The Conservancy uses a science-based planning approach we developed in working with BP and state and federal agencies in Colorado and Wyoming to prevent and mitigate the environmental impacts of natural gas extraction. In these projects, we bring to the table our scientific and conservation planning expertise. BP provides some of the funding to pay for data collection and analysis, which is peer-reviewed and publicly available. In Wyoming, our data is being used to help direct $24.5 million in mitigation funding energy companies pay into a multi-agency government fund. Money from this fund is being used to protect over 80,000 acres and improve management for more than 200,000 acres.

    We work with BP and state and federal agencies on energy siting issues because energy development is taking place or being planned for areas we want to see conserved. Our goal is to make sure exploration and drilling operations or wind farm sighting is done in a way that has minimal impact on nature. We do this work because poorly planned and executed energy development can harm important wildlife habitat. After careful analysis, we have made the judgment that we gain far more by trying to influence energy development decisions today rather than focusing solely on restoration tomorrow.

    Our ultimate goal is to move to a clean energy future, but even when that future becomes a reality we will need to consider the environmental impact of these facilities.

    Over the last 30+ years, BP and its foundation have donated $9.9 million to the Conservancy, including a $3 million piece of donated land in Virginia. To put these numbers in perspective: in Fiscal Year 2009, the Conservancy’s total dues and contributions were $416 million dollars. Of that, 5 percent of our dues and contributions came from businesses.

    The donated property near Yorktown, Virginia is a square mile of forested wetlands for Chesapeake Bay wildlife. The land is being transferred to the Commonwealth of Virginia as a state wildlife management area, open to the public. In this instance, the Conservancy is able transfer the land at no cost to the state. With land, especially in urbanizing areas, increasingly expensive, this donation was a welcome opportunity for the Conservancy to work with the state to provide public access and water quality benefits at a very low cost to us.

  •  Comment from Ananda

    It is clear from this article that the Nature Conservancy is reluctant to criticize BP. This is exactly the reason Nature Conservancy should not work with companies like BP. The true
    test is whether the funding has compromised your ability to say
    it like it is.

    The NYTimes, other news organizations and the government have provided enough information to determine that:

    a) BP and other oil companies have a cosy relationship with government agencies like MMS so much so that the government is
    splitting up MMS. Thus even government agencies aren’t immune to
    the charms of MMS.

    b) BP and its partners have been responsible for engaging in deep see drilling without adequate forethought or safety precautions. They submitted written plans to the government
    arguing that no oil spills were possible during this drilling
    and thus no plans were necessary to deal with spills.

    c) BP and its partners did not follow their own procedures leading the problems.

    d) Transocean has moved forward to limit its liability to $26 million (at least for lost earnings to fisherman and other industries etc).

    e) The oil leak is several times more than 5000 barrels/day but
    BP doesn’t want to admit that.

    f) The leak is going to destroy the Gulf Ecosystem for many years and the jobs of many people. There is a good argument that
    drilling under such conditions should never be done.

    I do realize that we need energy. There are many ways to reduce
    our energy consumption by making more efficient cars, improving the public transport system and a number of other approaches.
    Europe has half the per capita energy consumption of the US and our standard of living. So this can be done (we can reduce it even more). Organizations like the Nature Conservancy can focus
    their energy on conservation advocacy.

    When an organization like the Nature Conservancy is unable to admit that BP is at fault and the oil leak is going to lead to major issues with the environment it is clear that its advocacy
    has been compromised by its funding. It is a sad day and under
    these circumstances I will not be renewing my membership.

    Ananda

  •  Comment from D.R.

    My impression of TNC has changed irrevocably and for the worse. I can’t imagine how much publicity BP has milked out of this “partnership.”

    WHAT partnership? The exchange of cash for the right to intimate to the public that BP is concerned about protection of the earth’s natural resources? Go down to the Gulf and feast your eyes on the product of BP’s concern!!!

  •  Comment from Dave Connell

    Hi, I’m Dave Connell and I’m an employee from The Nature Conservancy.

    Ananda and others,
    I definitely want to reiterate our position on the oil spill, specifically since there have been some questions about how we’ve responded to BP’s culpability.

    There is no question that BP is at fault for the Gulf oil spill. No question. We have never equivocated on that point, nor have we been at all reluctant in any way to say so. We have been quite clear here on our blog and elsewhere about who is responsible. I would also reiterate that we have never worked with BP on offshore oil drilling.

    And, as you probably imagine if you’ve been following our blog, no one knows better than the Conservancy how devastating this catastrophe will be for the Gulf. We already are spending thousands and thousands of dollars trying to protect tens of millions of dollars’ worth of investments in shellfish restoration projects and coastal habitat acquisitions. Also, we completely agree about the need to make investments in energy conservation. We have been clear that energy conservation is the most cost-effective way to begin to wean ourselves off of our collective fossil fuel addiction and get us on the road to a clean energy future.

    Finally, our efforts to get energy companies, like BP, to properly site their energy developments to ease impacts on wildlife habitat has in no way influenced our position on the BP oil spill or our positions on other matters. Please take the time to learn a bit more about our work on energy siting before you decide to cancel your membership.

    You can read a long article on this here:
    http://www.nature.org/magazine/winter2008/features/art26450.html

    I think you’ll find that the conservation outcomes of our science-based enagement in Wyoming and Colorado are valuable.

    Thanks for the comments and the opportunity to respond,
    Dave

  •  Comment from Ananda

    Dave Connell,

    Thank you (and Nature Conservancy) for your prompt response.

    I am not opposed to environmental organizations working with
    companies but there is a difference between working with companies to try and mitigate environmental impacts and accepting
    funding and putting oil companies like BP on an International Leadership Council (which is what the Post article mentioned).

    I don’t know what exactly your Leadership Council does but having BP on it just sounds bad. Oil companies by their nature
    create bad environmental impacts (BP in particular has been mentioned by the NYTimes, the Washington Post and the government
    and Congress as having had several incidents in the last few years) so I am not sure what the logic is in putting them on it.
    Its clear that BP’s aim is to greenwash its image and the Nature conservancy should not be a party to that [maybe you could call it the Dirty Companies Council :-) ). The companies on the Leadership Council do get to interact regularly with your CEO
    etc as mentioned on your website – not something that ordinary
    members get to do.

    In addition, my earlier posting was also in response to the Chief Scientist’s blog posting which seemed to whitewash BP’s
    involvement by saying that if the Nature Conservancy had helped them the problem in the Gulf may not have happened.
    BP and the oil industry are unprepared to deal with accidents in deep water and should never have been allowed to drill there.

    At this point, I suggest that your CEO make a public statement saying something to the effect that BP is at fault for the oil spill and clarifying the relationship between BP and the Nature conservancy and why they are on the Leadership Council. Given the Post article I think you need to do something like that.

    I am also beginning to realize that the Nature Conservancy has a closer relationship with corporations than I was aware of and this has given me something to think about.

    Ananda

    P.S. I did read the article you linked (it sounds better than the Post’s or your summary) but it does sound like the best of a bad situation.

    •  Comment from Dave Connell

      Ananda,
      The purpose of the International Leadership Council is to get biodiversity conservation onto the agendas of as many of the big companies as possible. These companies individually and collectively have major ecological footprints. In many cases the business decisions they make determine whether or not individual priority places are conserved or irreparably damaged. So, we created the ILC as a venue for elevating the dialogue about global conservation.

      Participants are able to learn about, and in some cases see for themselves, places where science-based conservation planning is being incorporated into business practices. These examples can serve as catalysts to get other companies to improve their own practices. Of course engaging companies through the ILC is just one of many approaches we are using to protect priority places around the world. We are not naïve. We know we will not win every battle over business practices. But, we want to win as many as we can. If we don’t engage and press for change, either through an entity like the ILC or through one-on-one outreach, nothing will change.

      Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to respond,
      dave

  •  Comment from Cindy

    I know everything I need to know about The Nature Conservancy’s ties to BP; that there are any ties at all is disappointing; that you take money from them is disgusting and wrong! The NC can dodge and justify all it wants, but you’ve lost my support and membership.

    My great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in 1880, entering at the Port of New Orleans, and from that moment on my relatives have lived near the Gulf of Mexico. It sickens me to see that beautiful eco-system destroyed, and I am appalled that NC would be so greedy as to ask your members to donate money to clean up the mess; why aren’t you demanding that your partner, BP, foot the bill? You also ask that your members donate their time; why don’t you insist that your buddies at BP *pay* your members to do that work? Just the billions of dollars in profits they made earlier in the year should cover it.

    Shame on you, Nature Conservancy! If this is how you are “Protecting nature. Preserving life” then I want no part of it!

    •  Comment from Robert Lalasz

      Cindy, I’m Robert Lalasz, an employee of the Conservancy. Let me respond to your comment.

      We are very sorry to lose your support — and, of course, the support of some of those who are commenting here tonight. There is no question that BP
      should foot the bill. In fact, it’s required by law. We fully support that. And, in all likelihood, we will be among the thousands seeking restitution for costs we are now incurring for protecting coastal habitat and shellfish restoration sites from the BP oil spill.

      We are not asking supporters for money for clean-up. Clean-up costs are among the costs the company should pay for. We have been working to protect
      wildlife habitat in the Gulf for decades and have tens of millions of dollars invested in coastal habitat acquisitions and shellfish restoration projects. We will be there for decades to come, and we will have our work cut out for us restoring what the oil spill is at this very moment destroying. The help and support we are asking for is for our long-term restoration work.

      The Nature Conservancy has always been and always will be the pragmatic conservation organization that works with all sectors of society to protect ecologically important places around the world. To put it bluntly: We’ll never save our lands and waters by talking to ourselves. We’ll only get there if we try to influence entities, such as BP, whose decisions affect the very places we want to conserve. Our ultimate goal is a clean energy future where fossil fuels and their associated impacts are a thing of the past — and where we also consider the impacts of renewable energy on land and habitats. In the meantime, energy exploration and development is happening. It is a reality. We would do our conservation mission a disservice by not trying to get energy companies to conduct their development more responsibly.

  •  Comment from S. M.

    > We have not worked with the company on any offshore drilling activities.

    This would appear to support my point. Would not a “science based planning approach” have shown that risks of this kind were of greater possible significance and therefore priority than those of wind(!?) and inland gas extraction?

    So why work with companies on issues of lower significance and ignore the issues of arguably higher significance? Is this because N.C. didn’t make the attempt (e.g. no N.C. properties at risk in the gulf?), or because the companies are choosing what they allow you to influence?

    •  Comment from Robert Lalasz

      S.M., I’m Robert Lalasz. I’m an employee of the Conservancy, and I’m happy to respond to you.

      You have a very good point — one that our chief scientist, Peter Kareiva, also makes in his blog post. In his post, Kareiva said, “ In fact, although we have never engaged with BP or other energy companies on their offshore Gulf drilling, maybe we should have — we might have been able to help site their activities to reduce the risk to the Gulf’s globally significant habitats.”

      What is a priority depends in some cases on where you sit. For Conservancy’s programs in Wyoming and Colorado, new oil and gas fields and the sagebrush habitat that development is fragmenting, degrading or destroying is a high priority, so those programs figure out who they need to work with to address the threats in those states’ priority conservation targets. Development trends led these programs to work to try and influence how energy companies site their wells or wind turbines. Our work in these areas follows our rigorous Development by Design framework, which is driven by science and conservation priorities, nothing else.

      In the Gulf, the Conservancy has made millions of dollars worth of investments in coastal wildlife habitat acquisitions and restoration. That work has been also been a priority for the organization, and it would be folly for the organization to endanger that critical work because of, as you suggest, a conflict of interest. As Kareiva argues, perhaps the Conservancy should have been working more on offshore issues. The organization is taking a hard look now at how and whether we should be more engaged in those issues, and what we might want to stop doing in order to shift resources. We also are working on developing a Gulf-wide conservation and restoration plan.

      The Conservancy determines its conservation priorities through science, not because of the agenda of other organizations or corporations. Our science-based planning process is called Conservation by Design. Whether we choose first to invest in coastal habitat acquisition, undertake a marsh restoration project or help to mitigate the impacts of oil and gas development on nature has nothing to do with the priorities of BP or any other external organization.

  •  Comment from Steve Castner

    Who caused the BP disaster? Everybody who consumes oil and natural gas products, directly or indirectly, no matter how well intentioned, drove the need to explore further, drill deeper, use the capacity of the earth and take ever greater risk.

    BP, Shell, Exxon, Conoco, Citgo, Total and all the other oil and gas exploration and production companies are our proxies, our agents, to supply our insatiable global needs.

    As consumers, we decide from whom we purchase energy, or whether we buy it at all. It is a fair assumption that many NC members recently fueled up at a Citgo station, supplied by the repressive Venezuelan government, or at a BP store.

    The odds also are high that few NC member who recently filled their tanks at a BP station concerned themselves with the probability that their purchase drove deep drilling that tested the limits of technology and safety.

    Did the risks that were created by our market demand cause BP to take significantly greater than those taken by other oil and gas production companies? Global oil and gas production courts disaster every day.

    If we truly desire to avoid the certain environmental costs of deep drilling, oil sands extraction, mountaintop coal mining, and corn-based ethanol production, then we must withdraw from the energy grid, a nonstarter of an idea.

    Public policy change, vast capital costs of renewable energy research and development and the reformation of the global economy that are necessary to avoid consequences such as the BP disaster cannot occur with the speed necessary to occur another such catastrophe tomorrow or the next day.

    The BP disaster is a collective guilt.

  •  Comment from Cindy D.

    Why are my comments not being posted? Are the moderators afraid to leave up criticism of NC? I notice that my posts and those of others who are critical of NC have been removed. Even more reason to revoke my membership. Oh, and remember, you don’t moderate the world; there are plenty of other venues in which to expose your hypocrisy.

    •  Comment from Robert Lalasz

      Cindy, all of your comments have been posted, and we have replied to each one. Again, we are sorry to have lost your membership. The Conservancy has never hidden our work with corporations. As I have replied to you elsewhere, we’ll never save our lands and waters by talking to ourselves. We’ll only get there if we try to influence entities, such as BP, whose decisions affect the very places we want to conserve. It would be conservation malpractice not to try to get energy companies to conduct their development more responsibly.

  •  Comment from Mavis B.

    Pragmatic consultation is one thing, accepting donations and facilitating BP public greenwash is another. I’m a long time supporter, but this history with BP certainly gives me pause before next renewal.

  •  Comment from Jim Gilsenan

    There’s nothing wrong with engaging the energy industry provided you know what you’re doing and what you’re in for. BP has positioned itself as an earth-friendly corporation. But it’s behavior since the beginning of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been anything but earth-friendly. In fact, it’s been downright earth-Hateful! Taking a moment to think only about the actual size of the spill versus the much smaller sized spill BP would have us all believe in… It’s time for the Nature Conservancy, it’s members and all who support this amazing organization to cut ties with BP. This company is going the way of Union Carbide after Bhopal, only a much more universal scale. Does the NC want to go with it?

  •  Comment from Cindy D.

    You write that TNC “would do our conservation mission a disservice by not trying to get energy companies to conduct their development more responsibly.” How’s that working out for you? Not too well from the look of things in the Gulf of Mexico.

    You can try to justify all you want, but sleeping with the enemy is NEVER the right path to take.

  •  Comment from terry

    Rooked in your rookery?

    No more contribution from me until BP is off the Board!

  •  Comment from MFox

    The Nature Conservancy bases its work on science. Science will drive the work of assessment and clean up efforts. I am proud to volunteer for an organization that goes beyond sound bites and works with all people and organizations to help each of them become better stewards of our shared earth. My gifts to The Nature Conservancy are not evidence of my stewardship. Changes in my behavior based on what I have learned from this organization are. Let’s not through stones at an organization that is rich with the scientific information we need so desperately. In fact, let’s make sure they have the resources to lead a science-based recovery.

  •  Comment from terry

    British Petroleum CEO Betts: The oil spill (read: disaster)will only have a “very, very modest” impact. Not what we’re seeing on the ground!!!

    These people are greedy sociopaths. BTW, where does Betts reside?

    I can see why Obama is reluctant to be the last man standing in ‘musical chairs’, but it may be time to send in the troops and get BP out of decision-making. Letting a multinational manage what’s left of our habitats is criminal.

  •  Comment from Dgerman

    Wow. Just Wow.

    What De Leon didn’t know was that the Nature Conservancy lists BP as one of its business partners. The Conservancy also has given BP a seat on its International Leadership Council and has accepted nearly $10 million in cash and land contributions from BP and affiliated corporations over the years.

  •  Comment from Dgerman

    in short, it’s now understandable why you didn’t come out against lifting the moratorium, or more strongly when the ongoing disaster started. Too much cost benefit analysis of the short term.

  •  Comment from Chris Kelly

    Let’s BOYCOTT BP forever. Regardless of the Nature Conservancy’s stance on working with BP, our personal gasoline purchases do not have to be done thru a BP station.

    BOYCOTT BP forever.

    Please. We have to do something.

  •  Comment from Anonymous

    Why are so many of you blaming the organizations that actually do some good? This is not The Nature Conservancy’s fault. THIS IS BP’S FAULT. This is the fault of the regulators that made drilling rules more lax during the last administration. Are all of you going to abandon your support for all of the organizations that have worked with BP? Be prepared to have very few options left.

    Things are not as black and white and so many of you think they are or want them to be. If groups like the Conservancy don’t work with other less-than-savory organizations, think of the lost opportunities there would be. It’s not enough anymore to just go around buying up bits of land.

    If you really want to blame The Nature Conservancy for this tragedy, you should look at all of the groups that have worked with BP — including yourself, everytime you fill up your gas tank.

  •  Comment from Anonymous

    Answer these questions:
    Do you drive a vehicle? Do you fly? If yes (this includes myself), consider taking some blame for our dependency on oil. Let’s take a look at ourselves first. Nothing is going to change until then. Stop complaining and do something proactive like biking to work.

  •  Comment from Joseph Hill

    The Nature Conservancy:
    “Working with” does not mean “selling out.”
    In this case, yes, it does. Mark Tercek, the President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, developed his appeasement skills as a managing director at Goldman Sachs. From Day One of this corporately created catastrophe, BP has lied, denied and tried to conceal the horrific destruction that is now unfolding n the Gulf of Mexico. As a valuable PR “trophy”, the 10 million dollars BP spent to rent The Nature Conservancy’s reputation seemed like a great bargain…until now. Perhaps Mr. Tercek can donate the BP percentage of his $600,000+ salary to a more reputable charity. The Washington Post did an excellent investigative series on the long history of financial relationships between The Nature Conservancy and Wall Street…not a pretty sight.
    I doubt if this post will be allowed online, but it is important for The Nature Conservancy to know that many people are becoming aware of it’s compromised character, and will be sending their charitable donations to more worthy organizations.

  •  Comment from Anonymous

    Have any of you actually looked up what the International Leadership Council is?? It’s a forum, not a “reward” for a donation.
    http://www.nature.org/joinanddonate/corporatepartnerships/leadership/

    There is inherent risk in the work that energy development companies do, and that is not going to change until Americans stop their insatiable demand for that energy. Does that mean environmental organizations should never work with any energy companies because of the risk of “contamination by association?” That is small-minded and would lead to even more environmental damage than is already caused by these companies. At least by working with these companies, organizations like TNC can help stop or at least mitigate some of that damage before it occurs.

  •  Comment from Al S. Drew

    Cindy – TNC is public about who there contributors are. If you have contributed to any large conservation organizations (or any other large entity for that matter), you may want to withdraw your support from them too, because like it or not (you clearly don’t) many of them are taking the same pragmatic approach TNC does. A number of smaller conservation organizations work with TNC and/or BP too. Are you going to boycott all of them too?

    This has been a terrible disaster. Anger is more than justified. I must admit, I’m disappointed that TNC is getting a black eye here and maybe to some extent its justified. But if you boycott TNC, then please examine your own personal buying habits and charitable contributions as far as energy, conservation, environmental impact etc. are concerned and really do some research and apply the same yardstick to them. My guess is if the oil leak had not occurred, you would blissfully be going on with TNC contributions. To me there is some hypocrisy there on your part. But then again, I don’t know you and that may be too judgmental on my part. I apologize if that offends.

    Personally, conservation organizations that take a realistic approach to what they do will need to engage corporations like this. To me its only “sleeping with the enemy” if that activity either results directly in a negative result (or in this case an ecologic calamity) or if the “enemy” truly is evil and goes against all your principles. Clearly TNC was not involved in the Gulf oil spill disaster. TNC will not lose my support, but I must admit it will be interesting to see how corporate dealings go on in the future. Call me hypocritical if you want, but in most cases then I could say that is the pot calling the kettle black.

    With emotions and anger extremely high, the debate here will likely be very hot and quite frankly I’ve found that when that occurs, its nearly pointless. Everyone is too entrenched. There will be a lot of agreeing to disagree here. I don’t envy TNC’s PIO right now. Just wanted to let TNC know you sill have a supporter in me.

  •  Comment from Leslie Scales

    What is your position on the waiver given to the Natural Gas industry to inject millions of gallons of toxic waste into the groundwater via fracking?

    •  Comment from Robert Lalasz

      Leslie, Robert Lalasz from The Nature Conservancy here. The Conservancy is supporting U.S. Senate action on the American Power Act (otherwise known as the Kerry-Lieberman climate change bill), which contains a provision (section 4131 amending the Community Right-to-Know Law) requiring that companies doing fracturing disclose all of the chemicals that they use on the Internet. We are working hard to get the Senate to act on that bill.

  •  Comment from Nate

    BP and its foundation have donated $9.6 million to the Conservancy over the last 30 years.

    In 2008 alone, BP spent $16 million to lobby Congress against conservation and regulatory issues.

    I think that says it all on the question of BP’s real intentions.

  •  Comment from brendancalling

    I think what a lot of commenters here want is for the nature conservancy to publicly cut off ties with BP. Publicly, vocally, and unequivocally.

    And someone needs to remind both TNC and BP: “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.”

  •  Comment from George Wood

    You lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.

    If you’re having trouble understanding this concept, it looks like there are any number of intelligent posters here that can explain.

  •  Comment from Jason

    I do not think the partnership between TNC and BP should continue. I understand the larger goal of preserving biodiversity, but taken dirty money from BP is not the long term sustainable solution for the largest land trust which has been given the public’s trust to preserve the heritage and cultural resources. BP has taken less precautious and sound engineering approaches to build these drilling platforms along the deeper oceans. This is an environmental disaster and having spent my life growing up along the Indian River Lagoon, it hurts me know that the sub-surface oil may eventually impact the Florida coastline. For a company that promotes itself “Beyond Petroleum,” this is by far the most explicit example of why TNC needs to find new collaborative partnerships. BP is not an environmental company. It is a wolf in sheep’s lining.

  •  Comment from Glenda Green

    This is so sad. As a 12 year member and frequent donor to The Nature Conservancy (feel free to look up my name…I will gladly post my member number when I am home to find it) there is no way I can continue donating to this organization knowing this information.

    BP is to blame for the oil spill, the toxic dispersants, and the lies.

    If you want my donations back, and from what I am reading, many others – you will need to publicly denounce & renounce your relationship with BP.

    Maybe it is not as much money… but at least it isn’t blood money.

    Thanks,
    Glenda Green
    San Francisco, CA

  •  Comment from Robert L. Steiner

    I am a long-time supporter of the Nature Conservancy and a Legacy Club Member. The Conservancy has a mighty conflict of interest problem by accepting $10,000 from BP over the past 20 years. To show that it has not been “captured” by BP, the Conservancy must loudly assert that it agrees that BP must be held financially responsible for all costs associated with the clean up of the oil spill.

    But more than that, the Conservancy must not be seen as playing no role in the greatest environmental disaster of recent years.It must aggressively offer all possible expertise and assistance in the cleanup effort and to the Obama adminisration’s current project to develop new rules that clearly specify when off-shore drilling can be permitted.

    If the Conservancy fails to do that, its reputation will be tarnshed for years to come and it will be seen as an irrlvelant organization. Its passivity will be attributed to the influence of BP or to its inability to act in the face of the greatest environmental disaster of our time.

    Robert L.Steiner

  •  Comment from David

    Hope you like knowing that BP’s $10 million “donation” pays your salary. It’s blood money, and if it was how I was paid I couldn’t sleep at night… or at least not call myself an environmentalist.

  •  Comment from Edward

    If the amount BP provides to TNC is so insignificant while your individual donors are your bread and butter, then where’s the problem in severing the shady relationship as a gesture to your valued donors?

    There’s no problem entering into Professional Services Agreements with BP and all the other Forbes 500 corporations, but as an employee of a NGO I know the pressure to avoid offending your donors.

    Those donations should be unrestricted, and there should be no secrecy clauses tied to donation agreements (I am not saying such clauses exist – how would I know???). I do know that TNC does NOT publicly release all of its donors’ names. Read the published lists and note how many are gifts from Anonymous.

    TNC has done and continues to do a lot of good, but the bigger it gets, the more difficult it is to know just what TNC is doing. Not everything in the Post expose a few years ago was justified criticism, but TNC recognized the perception and made strides to clean up their act…but a lot remains to be done.

    Personally, I think TNC has gotten too big (Too Big to Fail???) and too arrogant. At one time I wanted to work for TNC, but I prefer to stay with the smaller NGOs who have not yet lost sight of their mission.

  •  Comment from Brooke

    I find it interesting that everyone is up in arms about The Nature Conservancy partnering with BP NOW, even though they have been a partner long BEFORE the oil spill. If the oil spill had never happened, these people wouldn’t be talking about ending their support of the conservancy. Are they now going to stop donating to Sierra Club, Audubon, and all other non-profits that have any sort of ties to any oil companies as well?

  •  Comment from Rachel Carson

    @Robert Lalasz

    “Offshore drilling provides a major share of this country’s energy and is a significant driver of the local economies in Louisiana and other states. It would be unrealistic to halt existing production.”

    This is all true. Life must bend under economic pressure. Thanks.

  •  Comment from Edward

    Brooke, all of those organizations are asking themselves the questions being raised here. Few people have the time to research, yet we can’t assume their corporate propaganda is accurate. This is not the first time TNC or other NGOs you listed have been scrutinized for gray area relationships (I even referenced the Wash. Post in my previous comment), and it will not be the last. You as the donor are obliged to know to whom you donate. TNC is a great organization, and the current questioning should help them improve. They are a tax-exempt public trust, and they need to prove to us that they are serving the public ahead of BP, et al. The U.S. taxpayers now support ~1.5 million non-profit organizations, and not all are legitimate.

  •  Comment from Josh Klugman

    I have a question for the TNC staffers posting on this forum. If human rights organizations followed your model and decided to take money from governments such as those running Iran, Syria, and the Sudan; invited them to sit on an “International Leadership Council”; and “engaged with them” to “optimize mitigation efforts” for their human rights abuses, do you think those organizations would become more or less effective at promoting human rights?

    •  Comment from Robert Lalasz

      Josh — Robert Lalasz from the Conservancy here. Thanks for the comment. We completely understand the point you are trying to make. We don’t think the comparison is fair, however.

      We would not equate respect for fundamental human rights and the abuses perpetrated by the countries you cite with trying to get an oil and gas company to consider the importance of biodiversity conservation and ease its impact on the environment.

      Additionally, in the case of some of our project work with energy companies, we are working in places where state and/or federal government agencies, acting under U.S. laws, have leased publicly-owned assets (sub-surface natural gas and/or the right to access that gas across and on federal/state lands) to the company to exploit. Since the government, for better or for worse, has made that decision, our goal is to work with the involved agencies and the companies that are extracting the gas to do so in a way that either avoids ecologically-important areas, minimizes impact or mitigates damage when they can’t or won’t avoid important areas.

      At the same time, we also we draw on our years of field experience and data to help shape government policies on development. Our dedicated scientists and conservation staff working with the companies on the ground are doing so because its, in some cases, the only way to make a difference for conservation in these places. To learn more, give this article on our work in the Jonah gas field area of Wyoming a read.

  •  Comment from Kara

    “Comment from Steve Castner
    May 23, 2010 at 8:04 pm
    Who caused the BP disaster? Everybody who consumes oil and natural gas products, directly or indirectly, no matter how well intentioned, drove the need to explore further, drill deeper, use the capacity of the earth and take ever greater risk.”

    Steve’s comments and a few others with similar messages hit the nail on the head.

    Cindy, what do you drive? How many cars does your family have? Are you willing to give up air conditioning? Live in a bungalow where your kids might have to share a bedroom??? I don’t mean to pick on you specifically, but you have been so vocal and it’s hypocritical — because unless, as someone else posted, you live without electricity, cars, grow your own food, etc., you and we ALL contributed to this mess by being so dependent on oil.

    Of course, we all know BP is to blame. “Punishing” companies like BP with a measly fine after a disaster of any size is a “band-aid” approach. How about we proactively pass NATIONAL legislation to conserve energy… a very small start would be to STOP selling SUV’s and other gas guzzlers in this country. You don’t see them in other parts of the world. Almost no one has a true need for such a large vehicle; people just want them to go with their McMansions so they can keep up with the Joneses. Stop watering lawns and using pesticides.

    Get off your high horse already. It’s so easy to point the finger at everyone else. We all need to take some responsibility for our personal support of the oil industry… it all adds up. Stop sitting around complaining and do something constructive.

    It’s naive to expect environmental organizations to stop working with the oil industry… keep your enemies close.

  •  Comment from David B. Richman

    OK- I’m out of the TNC. After reading these comments, including the justifications from TNC, I cannot in good faith support your organization. It pains me greatly, but I think that the association with BP has been fatal to my trust in your organization. I have known and liked several TNC employees, and have worked with the TNC on several projects, but I know and love the Gulf Coast more. When you can cut your ties to big polluters like BP and BP restores the Gulf to what it was before this blowout, I’ll rethink this, but I doubt that you can put the genie back in the bottle. I certainly will not be sending money for clean up to people who have been so tightly involved with the people who caused the mess. My money (such as it is) will go to other organizations who are not that much a part of the problem. And yes, I am aware that I support the companies when I buy gas (one reason I’ve started walking to work), but I did not tell them to skip regulations or spend many times over what they give to TNC to dodge any oversight.

    David B. Richman

  •  Comment from Harold Johnson

    To the TNC staff reading & posting here — evidence is growing that BP’s culture is still stained by mismanagement, excessive risk, poor (or nonexistent) backup & mitigation planning, and an inability to simply be honest & forthright in their assessment of their environmental impacts. Their assurances don’t seem to have any weight behind them, it’s just words. Can TNC still consider BP a viable business partner?

    I wonder, if TNC were to spread the word that they were renouncing all ties with BP, and asking for folks just to send a dollar or two to make up the “loss” of this tainted honeypot, if it’s really so hard to believe that we couldn’t replace that $10 million.

  •  Comment from Bubba Smith

    So, seriously, how’s your partnership with BP working out? Have you made the cleanup better, more effective, have you helped BP stop the leak and environmental damage? Are the goo covered birds that look like chocolate fountains or the marshes any better off for your partnership with BP? Well?

  •  Comment from John Tyler

    Some of you people on here drive me nuts. We all drive cars, fly planes, use paper, consume agricultural products, etc. All of these activities have ecological impacts. Bringing these activities completely to a halt is utterly unrealistic. The Nature Conservancy has for years, and I’m sure will continue, to try to work with industry to mitigate the impacts of these activities. In the real world, that is the only way to effect change. Very often this means dealing with people whose practices you find a bit unsavory. Oh well.

    Everyone’s eyes are on BP at the moment, but ALL the energy companies have caused environmental disasters at some point in the past (some of these disasters have occurred in parts of the world without the U.S. 24 hour news media so you are just not aware of them), and I promise you these will occur again in the future and the culprit may be someone other than BP. I would rather have the Nature Conservancy trying to monitor and influence these companies, than have the Nature Conservancy severe all ties so that these companies end up engaging in these activities without any input from Nature Conservancy scientists. Therefore, I will continue to support the Nature Conservancy.

    Unless you do not use any transportation or electricity powered by fossil fuels; grow all your own food; etc. Please get off your high horse and rejoin reality.

  •  Comment from Janet

    You are simply in denial if you think that the energy companies are going to change in any substantive way just by partnering with TNC. Sadly, BP’s image is enhanced by this partnership, while TNC’s image is tarnished. They are using you as cover, greenwashing for their dirty work, and you are accepting gifts from them–there’s a word for people who do that. It is very clear that big corporations and conservationists are on opposite sides, and that corporate profits trump nature every time in America. Big corporations are our adversaries, not our partners, because the very profit ethic is rooted in a belief that nature is there to be exploited for commodity production. There is a fundamental disconnect between the culture of profits and the culture of conservancy, and you cannot play with them without losing your way. There are other ways to push corporations–grassroots organizing is one; it takes commitment, but at least you know what side you’re on. If you don’t have the commitment to do this, then the only thing you and BP are partners in is crime.

  •  Comment from Janet

    It is simplistic to make those “if you drive a car you must share the blame” arguments. It’s a little like blaming the victim–a cheap shot. Everyone in the world uses energy–it is a necessity, not a luxury–but only certain corporations provide it. If a corporation is deceitful, irresponsible and corrupt, then consumers can, theoretically, buy from another. However, when monopolies distort the economy to the extent that the large energy companies have done, this may not be possible. The dishonesty of the producers does not mitigate the need for energy. When cities don’t build public transportation because of lobbying by auto and oil companies how can anyone be so blind as to blame the people for the corporate culture we live in? No one forced BP to cut corners and ignore the warnings of scientists. BP’s culture of greed lead to this disaster, not ordinary consumers purchasing fuel for their cars so they can get to work and school. BP is criminal and hopefully there will be a criminal investigation–if it doesn’t have every politician in its pockets. It’s all about politics and the corporate economy, so please stop trying to get BP off the hook by guilt-tripping and specious arguments.

  •  Comment from Darci Palmquist

    Hi Janet, This is Darci Palmquist with The Nature Conservancy.

    Thanks for your comment. As you point out, there are many ways to push corporations. Grassroots organizing is an incredibly important one and many organizations do that very, very well. Other important ways of influencing corporate behavior include advocating for strong laws and regulations that protect the natural world and using conservation science and planning to show companies how they can ease the impact of their operations. Those are the ways the Conservancy works. Do companies listen every time? No, they don’t, but sometimes they do…and sometimes when they do it can make a big difference.

  •  Comment from Barry De Jasu

    You are so deluded to believe that you will change the likes of BP. It is you who will change in your association of money.

  •  Comment from Jerry Nichols

    I applaud the NC’s mature view of the energy industry. Too many people simply assume that the oil industry is some kind of monolithic force for evil, even though they know very little about it. Janet’s comments fall in this category of uninformed energy consumers.

    For example, she says: “However, when monopolies distort the economy to the extent that the large energy companies have done, this may not be possible.” In fact the oil industry is highly fragmented. The largest publicly traded company, Exxon, has a 3% global market share in crude oil production. The largest refiner, Valero, has about 12% of the US gasoline market. There are about 13,800 oil companies and over 50 refiners. Where did this idea of monopoly come from?

    Janet then states that “The dishonesty of the producers does not mitigate the need for energy.” What dishonesty? Are all 13,800 oil producers dishonest? She doesn’t present any evidence for her views, she just states as fact that people who work in the oil industry are all dishonest, as if this were a given that all reasonable people should just take for granted. This is of course absurd.

    Also, we have “BP’s culture of greed lead to this disaster, not ordinary consumers purchasing fuel for their cars so they can get to work and school.” Well, BP wouldn’t be drilling in deep waters if people didn’t drive to work or school. And as Janet has presumably no BP or industry experience, she just assumes that BP is greedy and sloppy and possibly even malicious. Well, it’s possible they were negligent (partner Anadarko claims this), but we don’t know this for certain. I think we need to see the evidence before we hang them.

    Finally, she says “BP is criminal and hopefully there will be a criminal investigation.” Why bother with an investigation if guilt is known already? It sounds as if Janet is requesting a kangaroo court. This is a symptom of junk science: making a politically biased assumption, and then proceeding to find any evidence that might support it. Evidence that might conflict with the assumption is ignored or discarded. Or does Janet have the technical expertise in well engineering and completion technology, reservoir engineering, and geology one would need to establish the root cause of the accident? This is a very complex case that involves ambiguous data and human judgment. It’s not the good guy-bad guy story that inexperienced and technically uninformed people like Janet seem to believe.

  •  Comment from Jerry Nichols

    John Tyler says: “ALL the energy companies have caused environmental disasters at some point in the past (some of these disasters have occurred in parts of the world without the U.S. 24 hour news media so you are just not aware of them).”

    There are about 13,800 energy companies in the US alone, and many thousands more around the world, plus thousands more in the form of refiners, shippers, distributors, etc. It’s ludicrous to say they ALL have caused disasters. A few have. But disasters have also occurred in many other industries. The US oil industry has caused three in the last 40 years (Santa Barbara, Valdez, and now BP).

    Prior to BP’s spill, 52,000 wells had been drilled successfully in the offshore US Gulf, including 4,000 deep water wells. Prior to the BP spill, going back to 1971, 1,800 barrels of oil had been spilled in blowouts in the US Gulf out of 14,000,000,000 barrels produced. That’s a 0.000012% error rate.

    The fact is, the oil industry is highly motivated to avoid environmental disaster. It obviously doesn’t want to incur the almost limitless costs brought about by cleanup, repair, litigation, fines, and possible loss of license, and it would prefer to sell oil rather than spill it. Very few operators will want to make foolish gambles when the cost of failure is so high. This explains the aforementioned safety record. The charge that the industry is reckless is unwarranted.

  •  Comment from David

    Ok, then why would TNC take millions from the likes of Monsanto? Monsanto has been on roll to destroy our planet for years, and they keep getting worse, yet I dont see you guys trying to stop them. Why is that? Hmmm.

  •  Comment from Chris Klug

    Sometimes the lines blur a bit between good and evil. BP is in partnership to develop Florida’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant, and that’s a positive action. Every gallon of ethanol we add to gasoline is a gallon less of MTBE, a known carcinogen. It also reduces our gasoline consumption by the amount of ethanol added to gas. We need to get off fossil fuels entirely, but it’s not going to happen overnight or tomorrow. Biofuels can make a tremendous difference. Ethanol from algae is just beginning to blossom, and that technology will make all the difference. Biofuels are here now, and should e a big part of our future.

  •  Comment from Joe Sortais

    The real question is whether The Nature Conservancy’s key principles and effectivity are being allowed to be compromised by relatively modest donations from the energy companies. This can be a slippery slope-In the beginning of the partnership TNC staff is alert to where the line is drawn. Over time issues become more opaque and compromises can be made. BP is like a lot of oil companies-they are focused on the bottom line and make hard headed decisions on funding of and cooperation with environmental organizations largely for public relations purposes. This partnership can still work to the benefit of TNC and the environment, but requires constant vigilance. Contrast that with the social behavior of Tesoro and Velero in the California election, where any partnership would be worthless.
    Joe Sortais

  •  Comment from Holly Reyes

    Thank you for being a voice of realism and reason amongst the haughtiness of “Us vs. Them” environmental activists. If my grandchildren are to inhabit our world with some intact nature and exploration of renewable energy, we cannot decide that nature trumps the reality of our needs as human to have industry, habitable homes and places devoted to leisure.

  •  Comment from Muxin Li

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I’m glad to know that there’s at least one organization willing to work with the big oil/gas companies in order to bring about the renewable, clean energy future we all need. They can be major allies with the money, resources, and capabilities to become the energy giants in a new world – BP Solar, Exxon Wind, who knows? I’m sad that there are many vocal people who don’t see it the same way, especially amongst environmental activists. It seems that politics is run by whoever’s the loudest, and not always by those who make the most sense or has the best judgment. This global warming and fossil fuel economy crisis is something that ALL people are facing, and it’s strange to me that we spend so much time pointing fingers and forming divisions in this critical time. Solidarity with everyone is necessary to bring about the great changes we need to be making – “united we stand, divided we fall.”

    Again, thank you. And thank you for the graceful, patient responses you’ve made to people’s questions and frustrations. It’s good to see an internet discussion about a contentious issue that doesn’t broil down to knee-jerk name-calling and insults.

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