A report on extracting oil from oil sands and oil shale says the methods are environmentally and economically unsustainable and will undermine efforts to combat global warming because of the increased levels of atmospheric CO2 that is produced during production.
According to the World Wildlife Fund and Manchester-based Co-operative Financial Services, oil companies are increasingly looking to exploit new oil sources, previously deemed uncommercial, to meet world demand.
However, the extraction of oil from oil sands and oil shale creates up to eight times as many emissions as conventional oil production does. It also involves three times as much water to produce a barrel of oil and involves forest clearance.
The report into 'unconventional oil' says if fully exploited, these oil sources could accelerate climate change to levels that would threaten mass extinction.
The 'Unconventional Oil Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel report' says more than $125 billion of investment in producing what it terms 'climate hostile' fuel has been announced for development by 2015.
The report says Shell will produce 670,000 barrels of oil daily from Canadian oil sand by 2020. It also says ExxonMobil and BP are hoping to exploit oil sands.
The ethical financial services group, the Co-operative, invests on behalf of 6.5 million customers and is calling for a global halt on licensing of new unconventional oil projects and the prohibition of the sale of oil derived as a result of using higher emissions.
'The current rush to invest in unconventional fossil fuels is wholly inappropriate and due to their carbon intensity, these projects risk dangerous levels of climate change,' says Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals and Sustainability at The Co-operative.
'Our long-term future and economic stability depends on the development of a low carbon economy within our lifetimes,' he added.
It says that if all 1.1 trillion barrels of probable extractable North American unconventional oils were exploited in the next century, it would result in an increase in atmospheric CO2 levels of between 49 and 65 parts per million.
That would push global atmospheric CO2 levels, which are currently at 430 parts per million CO2, to over 450 parts per million. This is the level which scientists believe triggers dangerous climate change.