Recently I noted that planned expansion of the Alberta oil sands can not possibly be reconciled with the Harper government’s promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades. (And Simon Fraser climate policy researcher Mark Jaccard apparently agrees). And I also exposed the ever mounting number of evident links between the Conservative government, including Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, and the pro-oilsands EthicalOil.org PR group (a.k.a the Ethical Oil Institute).
From: Quesnel Cariboo-Sentinel
Now Oliver has upped the ante on both contentions spectacularly. Answering questions from NDP environment critic Megan Leslie in the Canadian Parliament today, Oliver repeated a previously debunked claim that oil sands emissions (not intensity, but actual emissions) have fallen. And he implied that emission intensity (i.e. GHGs per barrel) continues to fall. Those same mistaken assertions were also made by former Ethical Oil executive director Alykhan Velshi in the ironically titled “Myths and Lies” section of EthicalOil.org, albeit with incomplete hasty corrections later on. And Oliver never did come clean on his understanding of climate science, doing little to reverse the impression that anti-science contrarians have gained a significant foothold in Ottawa, and that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have no intention of meeting their climate commitments.
As a once in a generation Canadian pipeline review process gets underway, the rhetoric around the massive Northern Gateway project has heated up noticeably. The Conservative government and the Ethical Oil pro-industry group seemed to take turns ratcheting up attacks on environmental groups opposing the project almost daily. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver may have set a new low in his recent attacks on those who would “hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda”, backed by “foreign special interest groups”, not to mention “billionaire socialists … like George Soros”. The eerie echoes of Ethical Oil’s recent advertising campaign and back-and-forth timing have led some to recall previously discussed ties between Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and key Ethical Oil figures Ezra Levant and former executive director Alykhan Velshi (now safely back in the PMO).
But it turns out there are other interesting ties behind the scenes. An examination of the web server hosting EthicalOil.org reveals a network of fifty or so websites, mainly on behalf of right-wing causes and politicians. The latter include two Conservative cabinet ministers, Velshi’s old boss immigration minister Jason Kenney and that scourge of foreign billionaire socialists, Joe Oliver. And it also points to the key involvement of Go Newclear Productions, a somewhat mysterious “full service digital agency with a focus on public affairs and politics”.
Go Newclear is headed up by none other than political wunderkind Hamish Marshall, already a veteran of both the PMO and the Conservative federal council – and husband of hapless Ethical Oil spokesperson Kathryn Marshall. The other Go Newclear directors /officers (and presumed principals) are linked to the Conservative PR machine known as the Conservative Resources Group; radio and TV advertising specialist Brendan Jones left the CRG in 2009, while developer Travis Freeman, astonishingly enough, is still with the group. Not only that, but the Ethical Oil cluster of websites and Joe Oliver.ca form a distinct sub-group within the Go Newclear network, with unmistakeable signs of common development and a deployment seemingly aimed at obfuscating the link to Newclear team. So there is more than just common ideology tying EthicalOil.org to the Conservative PR machine; they also share digital service providers – and a lack of transparency.
The illogical (not to mention deceitful) framing of Alberta oil sands development as a supposed choice between “ethical oil” and “conflict oil” continues to fall apart. In the latest fiasco playing out at Huffington Post Canada, Ben Amunwa, a prominent critic of Shell Oil’s environmental record in Nigeria and the Alberta oil sands, has shredded EthicalOil.org spokesperson Kathryn Marshall’s ridiculous assertion that he is on the “same page” regarding the ethics of oil production (h/t Holly Stick).
So far, however, controversy has centred overwhelmingly on the distracting “ethical vs conflict oil” arguments and less on the equally misleading statements on the real environmental issues in the oil sands from EthicalOil.org (a.k.a. the Ethical Oil Institute). So today I’ll take a detailed look at the Ethical Oil position on the oil sands carbon footprint, as seen in former spokesperson Alykhan Velshi’s error-filled and confused post entitled Mythbusting: Are the Oilsands Major greenhouse Gas Emitters?, part of his “Myths and Lies” series.
I’ll focus on the two most significant problems in Velshi’s piece:
- Velshi’s original premise was that not only are oil sands greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relatively insignificant, but that they are actually declining. This has been partially corrected, presumably in response to my initial commentary on this issue, but in such a way as to render his argument completely illogical. And Velshi’s conclusion still repeats the utterly mistaken assertion that oil emissions “are falling”, whereas in fact they are rising at a rapid rate.
- Ethical Oil’s credibility is further damaged by misleading statements concerning the supposedly tiny contribution of oil sands emissions when compared to total global human and natural emissions. This echoes barely veiled climate “skeptic” arguments in Ezra Levant’s 2009 book that started the whole “ethical oil” rebranding effort. And an examination of Levant’s previous statements on climate science would appear to confirm that a strong anti-science stance is not far from the surface, despite the efforts of Ethical Oil spokespersons to hide it.
Here is part of a high-minded statement of purpose from a Canadian non-profit organization; see if you can guess which one.
The objects for which the Company is established are:
(a) To support and encourage research and education respecting the following:
(i) the use and development of natural resources including, without limitation, the extraction, production, development, conservation, protection, and distribution of natural resources, and other related matters, throughout Canada and the World;
(ii) conservation and protection of the environment;
(iii) ethical issues and considerations in respect of the items described in subparagraphs (i) and (ii) including, without limitation, issues and
considerations of environmental responsibility, peace, treatment of workers, democratic rights, and human rights; ….
Suzuki Foundation? Nope. Well then, how about the energy think tank Pembina Institute? Wrong again, although this newer organization is also based in oil rich Alberta.
Say hello to – wait for it – the Ethical Oil Institute. Today I’ll take a first look at the hitherto unknown entity behind the latest push to defend the Alberta oil sands (a.k.a. tar sands). I’ll review the emerging roles of the Conservative-linked masterminds behind the initiative, namely pundit and author Ezra Levant and government spokesperson turned blogger Alykhan Velshi. And I’ll introduce Levant’s silent partner in the Institute: Calgary lawyer Thomas Ross,who also happens to be a partner at oil patch law firm McLellan Ross and one of the leaders of the firm’s OilSandsLaw.com initiative. All of this belies the studiously cultivated image of Ethical.org as a “grassroots” organizational effort; indeed, it looks more and more like industry sponsored astroturf.