STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Environmental fight against oilsands development increasingly international

Posted by mhudema on January 18, 2008

Bob Weber, THE CANADIAN PRESS

EDMONTON – Ed Stelmach could soon have much bigger worries than the protester in a polar bear suit who waved an anti-oilsands sign during the Alberta premier’s visit to Washington, D.C., this week.

Some of the world’s most influential environmental organizations are targeting customers for the oilsands, the banks that finance them, the home offices of the multinationals that develop them and the refiners and pipeliners that move the product – and the Alberta government admits it’s falling behind in the public relations battle.

“This is now an international campaign,” said Liz Barratt-Brown of the Natural Resources Defence Council, one of the largest environmental organizations in the United States. “It’s certainly bigger than an Alberta issue.”

The council helped organize the protests that Stelmach encountered on his visit Wednesday, but that’s only the start of the group’s actions to increase opposition in the U.S. to importing oilsands oil.

Last week, it began lobbying airlines to stop using oilsands-derived fuel. It’s also working with groups to oppose the expansion of American energy infrastructure to accommodate that oil.

Plans to expand refineries in Indiana and Illinois are now meeting opposition, as is Enbridge’s (TSX:ENB) proposal for a new pipeline through wetlands in Wisconsin.

“This is all focused on the tarsands issue and the expansion of the infrastructure in the U.S.,” said Barratt-Brown. “We need to take responsibility for our oil use.”

The Rain Forest Action Network, based in San Francisco, has begun talking with major banks such as Citigroup and Bank of America over how their loan portfolios in the oilsands and in coal mining are influencing climate change.

“These are two big drivers in North America that are taking us in the wrong way,” said spokesman Bill Barclay. “The finance sector is a very, very big player in all this.”

In Britain, the World Wildlife Fund has released a pair of reports critical of how oilsands development has been regulated. The group has also organized flyovers of the area in northern Alberta for journalists from major news organizations such as the Financial Times, the Guardian newspaper and ITV for first-hand looks.

As well, Greenpeace is working in the home countries of energy multinationals with major oilsands stakes.

“We’re really trying to internationalize the issue,” said Mike Hudema, the group’s Alberta representative. “We’re looking at companies like StatOil (Norway), BP (Britain), Shell (Holland) and Total (France).”

Greenpeace in Canada is providing information to other national branches to help them mobilize campaigns, he said.

“We’re in conversation with them now about what the next phase will be.”

The Sierra Club of Canada is starting similar talks with its U.S. affiliate, said spokeswoman Emilie Moorhouse.

Tzeporah Berman of Forest Ethics notes that many in the environmental community have been working together on such campaigns since the Clayoquot Sound debate in the early 1990s. A concerted effort by protesters in that case ultimately prevented logging of ancient old-growth forests on Vancouver Island.

“We have a long history of market campaigns, and in the future the oilsands are going to be a top priority for us,” she said. “It’s really exciting what we’re building together.”

Such international pressure tactics – involving several of the groups now opposed to oilsands development – have been effective in the past.

The Great Whale hydro project in Quebec was cancelled in 1994 after lobbying and public pressure caused two major customers for the power in New York to cancel their contracts. In 2006, about two million hectares of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rain Forest were protected from logging after a prolonged international campaign.

Newfoundland’s seal hunt continues to fight European efforts to block imports of sealskins.

“It’s pretty clear we need to do more in terms of getting out the message,” said Alberta Energy spokesman Jason Chance.

“Industry in Alberta is doing a much better job than people think. In many cases, the entire picture is not being presented.”

The province is concerned about the rising anti-oilsands tide that could threaten future investment in the industry, Chance acknowledged.

In Washington, Stelmach called concerns that oilsands development comes at too high a price a “myth.” Energy Minister Mel Knight is also expected to defend the province’s environmental record at upcoming meetings in London, England.

But that doesn’t necessarily get the message out to the public, Chance said.

“It’s clear that both government and industry need to do a better job of communicating of what’s being done.”

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