STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Oilpatch new international whipping boy

Posted by mhudema on February 19, 2008

CAPP aims to debunk impact of inaccuracies

Claudia Cattaneo

National Post

CALGARY – A new image of Canada–and particularly Alberta — is taking hold abroad, and it’s not a pretty one. Canada is increasingly being trashed as an environmental bum in highly unflattering portrayals in foreign media, while the oilsands deposits are painted as a freak show where Aboriginals are poisoned and the boreal forest wiped out.

An editorial in the Times of London on Feb. 1 described the deposits as “bituminous lakes” and urged the companies mining them to stop “this filthy habit.” A feature story in the Financial Times of London on Dec. 15 refers to incidents of bile-duct cancer among Fort Chipewyan Aboriginals and warns involvement in the oilsands will result in reputational destruction for oil majors. A Dec. 10 article in The Independent, another U.K. publication, about BP PLC’s return to the oilsands through its joint venture with Husky Energy Inc., is headlined: “Canadian wilderness set to be invaded by BP in an oil project dubbed ‘the biggest environmental crime in history’.” And an Aug. 19 article in the Boston Globe refers to the oilsands as “the new dirty energy.”

The environmental movement, which has been expanding or setting up operations in and around Calgary in the past year, goes even further with a publication called emagazine. com referring to Canada as “Nigeria of the North.”

While the debate in Canada about the merits of the oilsands has been raging for years, in contexts as diverse as climate change, energy security, wealth and power redistribution within the country and Alberta, it’s only in recent months that the deposits have been portrayed internationally as a global environmental catastrophe.

Indeed, they appear to be emerging as the new staple of the environmental movement, alongside causes like stopping the seal hunt and the destruction of the rain forest, though, given their huge importance to Canada’s economy, the implications of such a campaign are on a grander scale.

Greg Stringham, vice-president at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, called the trend “a new level of awareness,” of the oilsands.

“The first round of awareness was, wow, it’s really big. We saw the international attention and people saying it’s second in size to Saudi Arabia, and that led to Washington paying attention, too. Following that we knew there would be a new wave based on the environmental impact.”

CAPP has made the environmental impact of the oilsands its major topic of communication this year, Mr. Stringham said.

Part of the communication strategy is to debunk what is being said as inaccurate. Far from being a huge “global” source of greenhouse gases, the oilsands produce 4% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation accounts for 27%, electricity and heat 18%, oil and gas without oilsands 19%, other industries 14%, agriculture 8%. In a global context, the oilsands are responsible for 0.1% of global emissions, while the United States as a whole is responsible for 21%, China for 20% and Europe for 17%, according to CAAP.

Only 20% of the deposits are close enough to the surface that they can be mined, while the rest is and will be produced through thermal processes or new technologies with far less surface impact.

BP’s oilsands project would use thermal technology, not building a mine. Contrary to the suggestion that development is moving ahead unfettered, industry and governments are making huge commitments to reduce their carbon footprint, whether through carbon capture and storage or developing new extraction technologies that require less energy.

Canadians involved in the business say the emerging portrait is so unfair it’s insulting to the country and its environmental record.

“As a Canadian, to read in European newspapers that we are a laggard on the environment is offensive,” said Bob Skinner, Calgary-based vice-president at StatoilHydro ASA, the Norwegian global leader in carbon capture and storage that entered the oilsands business last year.

“Canada has been a leader in acid rain, migratory birds, the species at risk, getting lead out of gasoline, DDT, dealing with ozone depletion, all these things. If you look at the history, [these changes] were not started in Europe, they were started in North America.”

Perceptions of the oilsands as “bad oil” are confronting those seen as figureheads for the deposits — from politicians to corporate leaders — when they venture abroad. Will Roach, president and CEO of UTS Energy Corp., a partner in the Fort Hills oilsands project, said the subject was No. 1 on the agenda when he met with institutional investors in Europe during a marketing trip last month.

“The first thing would be, ‘Tell me about the environmental impact, we hear it’s terrible’,” said Mr. Roach. “So they are positioned before they start.”

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach got an earful during a recent trip to Washington, where environmentalists condemned the oilsands’ environmental impact.

Mr. Stelmach acknowledged in a speech in Calgary that “there are well-funded environmental groups who are trying to influence U.S. trade policy to restrict development here in Alberta,” making it urgent for the Alberta government to move quickly on the climate change file.

Jan Rowley, spokeswoman for Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which has also been targeted for criticism by the European press for its oilsands involvement, said the deposits tend to be associated with climate change, “which in all facets are picking up speed and urgency, whether you are talking about regulation and government roles, or industry and consumers.”

“It has the attributes that makes it easy to feature in a cause, perhaps,” she said.

Observers said the new international image had several triggers. One was the opening of offices or expansion of offices in Alberta in the past year by international environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. Greenpeace spokesman David Martin warned in the media last June that environmental action in Alberta was about to enter a whole new era.

Since then, Greenpeace Edmonton-based activist Mike Hudema has been quoted frequently in the British press with comments such as: “In the tar sands you are looking at the greatest climate crime because not only will these developments produce 100 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually by 2012, but also kill off 147,000 square miles of forest that is the greatest carbon sink in the world.”

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