[R-G] New Tar Sands Propaganda Strategy
fentona at shaw.ca
Thu Jul 31 08:49:43 MDT 2008
Stepping up efforts to win over critics
Claudia Cattaneo, Financial Post Published: Thursday, July 31, 2008
CALGARY - Faced with an unflattering image as a global environmental
disaster area, the oil sands sector is stepping up its offensive to
The sector has re-branded the Oil Sands Developers Group, a Fort
McMurraybased coalition of 28 companies developing the business, and
put forward its president, Don Thompson, to get out the message that
reality on the ground is different from that portrayed by green groups
and others who want development stopped.
Members of the coalition, which Mr. Thompson said are used to solving
complex problems, range from industry pioneers such as Syncrude Canada
Ltd. and Suncor Energy Inc. to new entrants including Norway's Statoil
Hydro ASA and Korea National Oil Corp.
"There has been a lot of responsiveness [by industry and government]
to our issues recently, and we want to make sure people understand
that," Mr. Thompson, who is also general manager of regulatory and
external affairs at Syncrude, said in an interview yesterday. "When
you understand the facts, you are able to put things into a much
For example, while the northern Alberta region is often portrayed with
images of unsightly mines, billowing smoke stacks and giant industrial
plants, the air quality is as good as anywhere in Alberta and has not
materially changed with growing oil sands extraction, he said.
The same is true for water quality, which he says remains high, in
contrast to claims the water is toxic from tailings ponds and oil
spills. Both air and water, he said, are monitored by independent
Meanwhile, the impact on the boreal forest has been minimal, despite
views oil sands extraction is devastating an area the size of Florida.
"Far from threatening the boreal forest, we are borrowing 0.01% for
surface mining, and of that, we will have to reclaim it back to land
that has productivity equal or greater than what was there before," he
While development is displacing wildlife, the evidence is that it
quickly colonizes reclaimed areas, he said.
Perception development has taxed Fort McMurray's infrastructure is
also yesterday's news.
Projects to improve roads and bridges worth $600-million are under way
right now, while two new subdivisions, with a capacity to house up to
40,000 people, have been launched to ease the region's housing crunch,
The group also has a different take on the oil sands' impact on
aboriginal communities from that put forward by anti-oil sands
activists, who highlight health concerns or their lack of
participation in the windfall.
About 1,500 aboriginals are employed by oil sands companies, while
aboriginal enterprises have been awarded contracts in the past decades
worth $2-billion, Mr. Thompson said.
"We also make contributions to aboriginal communities for social and
cultural purposes, and we have ongoing consultations with First
Nations industry relations corporations."
Labour shortages remains a problem, but efforts are being made to
respond, including measures negotiated by governments to increase
The group, which was previously known as the Athabasca Regional Issues
Working Group, is bolstering its communications efforts alongside
other industry and Alberta government initiatives.
Negative perceptions of the oil sands as a big engine of global
warming have resulted in a series of U. S. policies to discourage
That, too, has been blown out of proportion, Mr. Thompson said. The
oil sands account for 4% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, while
Canada's emissions are 2% of the world's total. "We have not been
communicating enough with our key public," he acknowledged. "That is
something that we want to change. We want to reengage and understand
all the issues that people have with the oil sands
and we want to make changes where they are required to ensure we
have dealt with issues."
OIL SANDS GROUP HAS A MESSAGE: - The air quality in Fort McMurray is
as good as anywhere in Alberta - Oil sands companies employ 1,500
aboriginals and have awarded aboriginal enterprises $2-billion in
contracts - The oil sands account for only 4% of Canada's greenhouse
gas emissions - Oil sands mining operations affect 0.01% of the boreal
forest - Projects to improve roads and bridges worth $600-million are
under way right now in Fort McMurray - Two new subdivisions, each with
the potential to house 20,000 people, are under construction
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