Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

"Saving the Oil Sands"

Of the three supposed most incorrect statements listed here in this Tait article, I would assume that since the 3rd one is word for word lifted off of the front page of OilSandsTruth.org it deserves response.

However, since it is clearly designed to mock the tar sands critics, and to do so with the most far reaching split hairs, let us take up the first two points she critiques:

The tar sands deposits do indeed cover an area slightly larger than one England, or similarly the state of New York or Florida. The size estimation is made based on the lands that need to be disturbed if the entire deposit were to be developed according to what industry believes is recoverable. The quote was not as far off as one might think, though yes that person was incorrect.

The second point: based on current water use to tar sands barrels of synthetic oil ratios, and considering there is still absolutely no way to deal with the waste water in less than 600 years (at current rates of settling), if all of the mineable tar sands are developed the size of the waste water tailings could equal a volume roughly the size of Lake Ontario. This is more than enough to make the point, never mind incorrect statements about Washington State nor diversions and dodges from paid industry employees.

However, the third one is the easiest. Peak oil, combined with war on Iraq and after the Katrina hurricane saw the highest price oil had ever reached. For most economies in the world this would cause severe problems. In the case of the United States and Canada, it allowed for a breakneck pace of investment into the tar sands in Alberta, rapid escalation of the tar sands into the number one source of 'oil' daily for the US-- all the while helping to fuel the economy of the US despite having taken the Iraqi oil off the grid and driven other economies into freefall as a result of destabilization of the price of oil per barrel. When the Iraqi war was launched, the spike in oil prices led to just such a turn of events for Athabascan tar sands developments. This was written about years ago by Naomi Klein in her excellent piece "Calgary booms while Baghdad burns."

Not hard to understand and even has had the US Department of Energy write about it. Thus is the main contribution (not the only one) to continued US imperial aggression through the Canadian Tar Sands Gigaproject.

"Saving the Oil Sands"

Carrie Tait in Calgary, Financial Post · Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010

Alberta’s oil sands are twice the size of England.

Alberta’s oil sands tailings ponds are, collectively, the size of Washington State.

Alberta’s oil sands help subsidize continued wars of aggression against other oil-producing nations such as Iraq, Venezuela and Iran.

These three statements all make Janet Annesley’s Top 10 list, a David Letterman-inspired collection of the most egregious falsehoods against the oil sands. As the vice-president of communications for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), she is on the front lines of a he said/she said public relations war.

The oil-sands industry, she concedes, has been getting creamed.

“We were caught flat-footed,” she said. “The oil-and-gas industry was not being effective in engaging Canadians because it didn’t have the ability to connect with them emotionally.”

Indeed, organizations have been taking pot shots — as well as making reasonable and fair critiques — at the oil-sands industry for years. They reached out to citizens on an emotional level. But the industry’s wonky technical rebuttals went ignored.

Now, after two years of revamping its PR strategy, CAPP hopes it can trump, even pre-empt, its critics’ charges.

In September, the lobby group will release a new environmental and social report. A cross-country discussion mission is planned for October and November, and a white paper based on those talks will follow. Schools will be targeted, YouTube spots are coming, and print and TV ads are already running.

The new and feisty approach comes after a two-year introspection period. In mid-2008, CAPP brought in Peter Sandman, a risk-communications specialist, who charges hundreds of dollars an hour for his services, to address its CEOs and build a fresh strategy.

“He said, ‘Guys, you need to listen,’ ” according to Ms. Annesley.

The bottom line was CAPP lacked a solid understanding of what Canadians wanted to know and what issues needed to be addressed. The chief executives needed to listen before responding. So, CAPP commissioned opinion polls, met with governments and opposition MPs and discussed issues with organizations such as the David Suzuki Foundation and Ducks Unlimited.

CAPP was in the process of changing, in part because its research showed Canadians had changed.

Bruce Anderson, a consultant at Harris Decima and National Public Relations, decided two years ago there was something fundamentally different about the way Canadians look at the environment today compared with how they did in the 1980s and 1990s.

In a project unrelated to CAPP, Mr. Anderson interviewed 17,000 North Americans, the majority being Canadian, to back up his hunch. Baby Boomers sent a message:

“For the first time, we’re really seeing a large number of people say, ‘I’m concerned that I’m going to pass on to future generations a planet that is in worse shape than the one I inherited, and I don’t feel comfortable that,’” he said.

Translation: Today’s environmentalists are more than just young liberals. They are regular Baby Boomers saving for retirement and fretting about their legacy. Right-wing and centre-leaning aging citizens – notably, men – have taken up the green cause, Mr. Anderson said.

He calls it “modern environmentalism.” The new greens believe corporations are trying to do a better job, governments have tightened regulations and real penalties exist. Boomers acknowledge their role in the planet’s woes, want change, but not at the expense of the economy.

This research caught CAPP’s attention. The organization hired him to query Canadians on how they viewed the oil sands. It was all part of the listening process to pinpoint what CAPP should focus on.

Mr. Anderson polled people earlier this year in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver — areas more likely to snub the oil sands. He also identified respondents by political stripe.

When asked, What is the best goal when it comes to the oil sands? the majority of those polled, regardless of political affiliation, said they should be developed with an effort to limit environmental affects.

Fully 79% of those who identified as Liberal went down this path; 78% of both Conservative and Bloc Québécois respondents opted for this answer; 65% of NDP supporters agreed; and 58% of Canada’s Green Party supporters went this way.

About 4% of Conservatives said the oils sands should be stopped all together, with 12% of Liberals, 20% of BQ, 31% of NDP supporters, and 38% of the Greens agreeing. The rest believed the oil sands should be developed with a focus solely on maximizing their full economic benefit.

Those perceived to be hard-core environmentalists, or at least staunch dissenters, came out much softer than traditionally believed. With support from these surprising corners, and footnoted support from traditional supporters, CAPP could focus: Canadians were in favour of the oil sands, it reasoned. They just needed to see and hear tangible environmental progress.

CAPP will deliver such information in September, in the form of an industry report on issues such as water use, greenhouse gas, social issues and other key areas of concern.

This is the first tangible piece of evidence on how the oil sands industry is doing as a whole with respect to the environment and social concerns. All of the oil sands players, save for Husky Energy Inc., which is not a CAPP member, were included in the report.

The report will not break out the results company-by-company, but it will give CAPP solid, cohesive information as it battles its opponents. The industry will be going on the offensive rather than just responding to one accusation at a time. The report will become an annual affair, and new yardsticks could be added to reflect the demand for answers.

Some of the larger companies, including Suncor Energy Inc. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, for example, have produced sustainability reports on their own, but data has never been compiled across the industry and put into a single report.

CAPP has already rolled out part of a multi-media advertising campaign that features real oil sands employees, rather than actors. In one half-minute television commercial, shot amongst trees now growing in an area once occupied by a strip mine, Syncrude Canada Ltd.’s Steve Guadet declares, in what appears to be spontaneous moment: “Oh, there’s two squirrels chasing each other for a cone over here.” It is an example of CAPP’s own emotional card.

In another spot, Imperial Oil Ltd.’s Eddie Lui walks around a lab, describing heavy oil as having the consistency of peanut butter. CAPP says these are concepts people understand. There’s no technical discussion of heavy oil’s viscosity. No stats on chemical levels or talk about a “fresh water cap” in man-made swaps.

The commercials are also on YouTube, reaching out to a younger generation, and two-minute spots will soon arrive on YouTube using clips that did not make it to TV.

Further, a cross-country tour is planned in September and November with stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, as well as Chicago, New York and perhaps Washington. Academics, business, energy and environmental leaders will be participating in the “National Oil Sands Dialogues,” and a white paper will flow out of these discussions, Ms. Annesley said.

Improved “energy literacy” is also part of the plan, with schools being part of CAPP’s target audience. It is working with organizations that help design curriculum material, with the hope that teachers will discuss issues like sustainable energy development.

“We know that CAPP does not have a role in the classroom, but we don’t think that Greenpeace has a role in the classroom either,” Ms. Annesley said, defending charges of brainwashing children.

Will CAPP’s PR strategy work? Its critics say no. Arguments about industry improvements, part of CAPP’s plan, will fall flat, says Matt Price, a policy director at Toronto-based Environmental Defence. “As long as expansion is outstripping the efficiency environmental gains, they are making matters worse. The evidence will always be on our side,” he said.

Snazzy videos, Greenpeace argues, will not make problems disappear. “They don’t have a public relations problem; they have an environmental impact problem, they have a human health problem, they have an indigenous rights problem,” said Mike Hudema, a Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner with law and education degrees.

Marc Chikinda, dean of communication studies at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, says CAPP is on the right track by understanding the emotional element, but it needs to be more radical. They need to admit the industry is ugly, and then show striking evidence to back up their claims of improvement, he said.

Take water, for example. Its new September report will have numbers, but people need more to be convinced. Deeds, not numbers, are key.

“When you have the president of Suncor, or the premier or the minister of environment, drinking water coming out of a pipe that is feeding water back into the ecosystem to show that its clean, that’s a deed,” he said.

CAPP’s YouTube videos could backfire, Mr. Chikinda said. “If the ads … on YouTube … are slick media ads, they will be seen as such by young people. Young people are tremendously sophisticated consumers of social media, and they will know when someone is trying to manipulate their opinions. They are much more responsive to genuine acts … such as those done by Greenpeace.”

Perhaps CAPP’s newfound humour, tied to pop culture, will resonate with them. When its critics compared the oil sands to the hit movie Avatar, in which humans, mining a mineral in fictional Pandora put an indigenous tribe at risk, CAPP snapped back.

“We invite these activists back to planet Earth to discuss the appropriate balance between environmental protection, economic growth and a safe and reliable supply of energy,” Ms. Annesley said in a press release in March. (This incident also makes Ms. Annesley’s Top Ten favourites).

For the record, Ms. Annesley, who has long been a sharp-tongued defender of the industry, said the oil sands have disturbed 602 square kilometres, not 260,000 square kilometres, which is twice the size of England. Alberta’s tailings ponds cover about 170 square kilometres, not more than 184,600 square kilometres, which is roughly the size of Washington State.

As for the oil sands subsidizing wars? “We come in peace,” she said.



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