Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Pew Charitable Trusts front group advocates "responsible" development of tar sands to ensure energy security

The International Boreal Conservation Campaign is yet another front group of the Pew Charitable Trusts/Sunoco, the very same folks who brought you the original "Great Canadian Oil Sands Project" in 1967 (now Suncor). The focus in their "messaging" about ensuring energy security, perhaps for their Sunoco refineries now being converted to process dirty oil in Ohio and eventually Philadelphia, is telling indeed.

- Tarpit Pete

Talk is cheap, skeptics say of oil sands message
Tue Jun 24, 2008 7:37pm EDT

By Jeffrey Jones - Analysis

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada's oil sands producers have a rough road ahead persuading environmentalists and an increasingly concerned public they are serious about protecting the environment while investing billions of dollars in new projects.

The industry's lobby group and several chief executives launched a new communications campaign this week aimed at countering a full-court press by environmentalists over the impact of oil sands development on air, land, water and local communities.

Top executives admit they've come up short responding to concerns over their operations and explaining the progress they say they've made in such areas as investing in carbon capture technology and land reclamation.

"As a result, we've been a bit overtaken by the other side of that equation, which resulted in what we think is an unbalanced view of our industry, so we do need pick up the ball and tell our side of the story," Marcel Coutu, chief executive of Syncrude Canada Ltd's biggest owner, Canadian Oil Sands Trust (COS_u.TO: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), said on Tuesday.

The main forum is a website sponsored by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, www.canadasoilsands.ca, where readers can learn how oil sands are produced, pick up information about environmental issues and are encouraged to comment.

Environmentalists are skeptical, saying the gesture is empty unless firms take real action to improve operations. They kept up their call on governments for more stringent regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions and protect forests and rivers.

"The industry is obviously interested in dialogue and we continually present solutions as we raise concerns about oil sands development," said Simon Dyer, oil sands program director for the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank. "But we don't have time for a lengthy dialogue while we are continuing the expansions under business-as-usual technologies."

Some green groups have called for a complete moratorium on development while others say operations can be cleaned up with enough investment and effort.

Canadians and Americans face a major dilemma over the ecological costs of more than $100 billion worth of planned oil sands developments amid concerns about the reliability of traditional oil supplies and record gasoline prices.

Alberta's oil sands, rivaling Saudi Arabia's conventional reserves in size, are seen as a secure source of North American oil. The industry has said oil sands output could nearly quadruple to four million barrels a day by 2020, through both mining and drilling projects.

But environmentalists have taken great pains in recent months to highlight that the projects emit much more carbon dioxide than conventional oil fields.

The industry also came under heavy criticism for the deaths of 500 ducks on a toxic Syncrude tailings pond in the spring.


The message is hitting home in some quarters. At a meeting in Miami last weekend, the U.S. Conference of Mayors called for guidelines and purchasing standards that would discourage the use of high-carbon fuels like those derived from oil sands.

"We think that the best PR strategy for CAPP and for the industry would be to acknowledge their problems, that there are real environmental challenges in the tar sands and to make a concerted effort to actually solve the problems," said Steve Kallick, the Seattle-based director of the International Boreal Conservation Campaign.

Oil bosses said they are not under the impression that the problems will be easily solved by just a communications plan.

"At the heart of it is for both sides to listen and take the concerns that folks raise seriously and to talk about what we're doing about them," said Kevin Meyers, president of ConocoPhillips' (COP.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) Canadian division.

"I have no doubt that along the way we're going to learn a few things that perhaps we're not doing well enough and we need to change the way we go about those elements."

Green groups said they believe it is possible for some meeting of the minds with oil companies, but sharply criticized Alberta's government for what they see as skirting issues by avoiding tougher emissions reduction goals and mounting its own communications campaign to sell the oil sands as clean.

"These are global challenges -- energy security is a big problem for the United States and Canada," Kallick said.

"We want these guys to be able to develop responsibly and we don't think we have to sacrifice the environment. But (the government) wants to create a false choice here, and that's not the answer."

(Editing by Rob Wilson)


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