Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Grandmother from Colorado Versus Syncrude

U.S. activist takes on Syncrude
Colorado woman 'appalled' by the energy used at the Alberta tar sands operation

Syncrude Canada Ltd. has picked an unlikely David-and-Goliath-type battle with a feisty 85-year-old Colorado grandmother over a website she created that portrays the giant energy company in an unflattering light over the environmental costs of the tar sands.

The strange flap over the grandmother, Liz Moore, and her personal Internet protest against Syncrude got nasty in mid-April, when the company's legal department sent her a letter demanding that she immediately remove photographs she had posted showing how the company extracts oil from the tar sands and reclaims land afterward.

Ms. Moore took the photographs at Syncrude's sprawling operation in northern Alberta near Fort McMurray last summer during a company-organized tour of the oil sands. The company says it owns the images and won't allow their reproduction without permission.

She also included on her website images some might construe as negative about Alberta, such as a tourist promotion offering a gas-guzzling Hummer as a prize and a shot that shows a Fort McMurray street clogged with fuel-wasting pickup trucks.

Ms. Moore says that after the tour of the site, she was "frankly appalled" by the huge impact of the oil sands, and she felt compelled to speak out to Americans. She estimated that Syncrude's annual greenhouse-gas releases of about 10 million tonnes equal the emissions of the coal-fired power plants supplying Chicago with electricity.

"People need to know about this," she said.

She decided that the way to reach a wider audience was to create an anti-Syncrude website, http://www.oilsandsofcanada.com. It began in March and cost her $3,600 (U.S.) to set up. It has been one of the side roads on the information highway, with only about 240 hits. Despite this low profile, the site irked the company, and its legal department demanded that nine of about 73 images be removed.

Now Ms. Moore is complaining she's being muzzled, an assertion the oil-sands operator denies. Syncrude says it wanted the pictures removed because it owns copyright of photographs taken by tourists.

"We see this as an issue of copyright, accuracy, and quality," says Alain Moore, Syncrude's spokesman and no relation to Ms. Moore.

He says the company's action has "not so much to do with the message" Ms. Moore is giving out.

The company found out about the website by word of mouth, although Ms. Moore said she wrote to its three top executives telling them that she'd opened a site critical of the company. "I sent them a notice, so there was nothing sneaky about it," she said.

Syncrude said that Ms. Moore gave the company rights over her pictures last July when she signed the standard waiver required of tourists before a tour. Among the provisions on the one-page form is a requirement to have the company approve the publication of any pictures.

Over the past few days, Ms. Moore has had the pictures that drew Syncrude's objections taken down. The spots they occupied are now blank, with "Censored by Syncrude Canada Ltd." stamped over them and a short description of the removed images.

Even though most Canadians assume many Americans know next to nothing about Canada, Ms. Moore is an exception, and says she's "a great fan of Canada." She says she reads The Globe and Mail online every day to keep up with Canadian news, and knows details about Prime Minister Stephen Harper's intensity-based greenhouse-gas measures, which she deems ineffective. Before retiring, she worked in a U.S. government laboratory that specialized in renewable energy.

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