Industry Steps Up the Greenwash
Posted by mhudema on July 31, 2008
Stepping up efforts to win over critics; Lobby Group
Thu 31 Jul 2008
Section: Financial Post
Byline: Claudia Cattaneo
Source: Financial Post
CALGARY – Faced with an unflattering image as a global environmental disaster area, the oil sands sector is stepping up its offensive to counteract critics.
The sector has re-branded the Oil Sands Developers Group, a Fort McMurraybased coalition of 28 companies developing the business, and put forward its president, Don Thompson, to get out the message that reality on the ground is different from that portrayed by green groups and others who want development stopped.
Members of the coalition, which Mr. Thompson said are used to solving complex problems, range from industry pioneers such as Syncrude Canada Ltd. and Suncor Energy Inc. to new entrants including Norway’s Statoil Hydro ASA and Korea National Oil Corp.
“There has been a lot of responsiveness [by industry and government] to our issues recently, and we want to make sure people understand that,” Mr. Thompson, who is also general manager of regulatory and external affairs at Syncrude, said in an interview yesterday. “When you understand the facts, you are able to put things into a much better context.”
For example, while the northern Alberta region is often portrayed with images of unsightly mines, billowing smoke stacks and giant industrial plants, the air quality is as good as anywhere in Alberta and has not materially changed with growing oil sands extraction, he said.
The same is true for water quality, which he says remains high, in contrast to claims the water is toxic from tailings ponds and oil spills. Both air and water, he said, are monitored by independent third parties.
Meanwhile, the impact on the boreal forest has been minimal, despite views oil sands extraction is devastating an area the size of Florida.
“Far from threatening the boreal forest, we are borrowing 0.01% for surface mining, and of that, we will have to reclaim it back to land that has productivity equal or greater than what was there before,” he said.
While development is displacing wildlife, the evidence is that it quickly colonizes reclaimed areas, he said.
Perception development has taxed Fort McMurray’s infrastructure is also yesterday’s news.
Projects to improve roads and bridges worth $600-million are under way right now, while two new subdivisions, with a capacity to house up to 40,000 people, have been launched to ease the region’s housing crunch, he said.
The group also has a different take on the oil sands’ impact on aboriginal communities from that put forward by anti-oil sands activists, who highlight health concerns or their lack of participation in the windfall.
About 1,500 aboriginals are employed by oil sands companies, while aboriginal enterprises have been awarded contracts in the past decades worth $2-billion, Mr. Thompson said.
“We also make contributions to aboriginal communities for social and cultural purposes, and we have ongoing consultations with First Nations industry relations corporations.”
Labour shortages remains a problem, but efforts are being made to respond, including measures negotiated by governments to increase inter-provincial mobility.
The group, which was previously known as the Athabasca Regional Issues Working Group, is bolstering its communications efforts alongside other industry and Alberta government initiatives.
Negative perceptions of the oil sands as a big engine of global warming have resulted in a series of U. S. policies to discourage their use.
That, too, has been blown out of proportion, Mr. Thompson said. The oil sands account for 4% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, while Canada’s emissions are 2% of the world’s total. “We have not been communicating enough with our key public,” he acknowledged. “That is something that we want to change. We want to reengage and understand all the issues that people have with the oil sands … and we want to make changes where they are required to ensure we have dealt with issues.”
OIL SANDS GROUP HAS A MESSAGE: – The air quality in Fort McMurray is as good as anywhere in Alberta – Oil sands companies employ 1,500 aboriginals and have awarded aboriginal enterprises $2-billion in contracts – The oil sands account for only 4% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions – Oil sands mining operations affect 0.01% of the boreal forest – Projects to improve roads and bridges worth $600-million are under way right now in Fort McMurray – Two new subdivisions, each with the potential to house 20,000 people, are under construction
• Color Photo: Todd Korol For National Post / THIS MAN CHARGED WITH FIXING OIL SANDS IMAGE: Don Thompson is head of the new Oil Sands Developers Group.
• Color Photo: Greenpeace / A protest banner overhangs tailing ponds near Fort McMurray.
Story Type: Business
Length: 713 words
Ad Value: $15,666.21