[R-G] New Tar Sands Propaganda Strategy

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Thu Jul 31 08:49:43 MDT 2008

Stepping up efforts to win over critics
Lobby Group
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  
counteract critics.

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  
better context."

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  
third parties.

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,  
he said.

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  
inter-provincial mobility.

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  
their use.

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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