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February 14 2012

09:36

Unethical Oil: Why Is Canada Killing Wolves and Muzzling Scientists To Protect Tar Sands Interests?

In the latest and perhaps most astonishing display of the tar sands industry’s attacks on science and our democracy, the government of Alberta has made plans to initiate a large-scale wolf slaughter to provide cover for the destruction wrought by the industrialization of the boreal forest ecosystem.

In the coming years, an anticipated 6,000 wolves will be gunned down from helicopters above, or killed by poison strychnine bait planted deep in the forest. Biologists and other experts say the cull is misguided, and that their studies have been ignored or suppressed. Worse, they warn that although the government is framing the wolf cull as a temporary measure, it has no foreseeable end.

The Alberta government has already initiated the wolf cull in regions of Alberta heavily affected by industrial development. In the Little Smoky region, an area heavily affected by the forestry, oil and gas industries and just a few hundred kilometeres away from the tar sands region, a broad wolf cull has already begun, claiming the lives of more than 500 wolves.

Recently the Alberta government proposed a plan to open this brutal form of 'wildlife management' to other regions, suggesting an extensive and costly cull in place of more responsible industrial development.

This is clear evidence of the fact that Alberta’s tar sands oil is unquestionably conflict oil, despite the propaganda spouted by the “ethical oil” deception campaign. Aside from its desruptive affects on wildlife, tar sands oil is dirty, carbon intensive and energy inefficient from cradle to grave.

And that’s without mentioning the role the tar sands boom has played in Canada’s slide from climate leader to key villain on the international stage. Beyond its environmental consequences, tar sands extraction has negatively affected local tourism and recreation-based economies, impacted public health and torn at the rich fabric of cultural diversity and pride among Albertans and all Canadians. 

Behind the Harper administration’s unbounded drive to drown Canada’s reputation in tar sands oil pollution lies the political corruption characteristic of the classic petro-state. Free speech is being oppressed, while respected members of the scientific community claim they are being muzzled, ignored and intimidated.
 
Conservation and environmental groups are being falsely attacked as ‘radical ideologues' and 'saboteurs'. Neighbors are pitted against each other while important decisions about the future prosperity of all Canadians are rigged to favor the interests of multinational oil companies and foreign investors.
 
The wolf cull is ostensibly designed to protect northern Alberta’s woodland caribou, a species that in recent years has become critically threatened. But scientists have ridiculed the plan, saying this sort of ‘wildlife management’ turns the wolf into an innocent scapegoat, while the real culprit – the province’s aggressive timber, oil and gas development – is spared any real scrutiny or accountability.
 
According to this strategy, caribou and wolf alike fall prey to another kind of predator: multinational corporations.

read more

January 13 2012

18:32

Cozy Ties: Astroturf 'Ethical Oil' and Conservative Alliance to Promote Tar Sands Expansion

As the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project Joint Review Panel begins hearing over 4,000 comments submitted by community members, First Nations, governments, and environmental groups, the tar sands front group EthicalOil.org has launched its latest PR offensive in support of the pipeline. OurDecision.ca, the new astroturf ad campaign, is another dirty PR attempt to undermine the real and growing grassroots opposition to Big Oil’s plans to ram through this destructive pipeline. 

The controversial Northern Gateway project is opposed by 70 First Nations and a majority of British Columbians, who fear the inevitable oil spills that will accompany tar sands expansion, and in particular the threat of offshore tanker accidents on BC’s coast.

Viewers of Ethical Oil’s disingenuous new ad campaign aren’t being told about the intricate web of industry influence peddlers behind the effort and their connections to the Harper government and oil interests. In the middle of this web is Hamish Marshall, a Conservative strategist deeply connected to oil interests as well as both the Conservatives and ultra-right wing Wildrose Alliance Party. In this case, the lines between politics and big business interests are so blurred, it is nearly impossible to distinguish them.

OurDecision.ca is the Ethical Oil Institute's attempt to dupe northern BC citizens into supporting the Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker infrastructure, claiming that it’s “our choice” as Canadians to exploit the tar sands and pipe it to foreign export terminals. The fact that the oil boom will actually enrich foreign investors from China, Europe and the multinational oil companies with a major stake in Alberta oil patch is nowhere to be seen in Ethical Oil’s propaganda. (The hypocrisy of their arguments here is reminiscent of their previous attempt to claim the mantle of women's rights to greenwash the tar sands.)

Since the overwhelming public opposition to the project is hard to argue with directly, Ethical Oil decided to change the subject entirely by claiming a foreign conspiracy because some of the environmental organizations working to oppose tar sands expansion receive funding from U.S. foundations. 

Stephen Harper was quick to echo EthicalOil.org’s talking points by decrying the foreign influence that is “overloading” the Northern Gateway review process. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver took a page from Harper's playbook, writing that environmental groups "threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda," using funding from "foreign special interest groups."

The “foreign special interests” in question are progressive American foundations that fund a wide range of initiatives: from education and infrastructure in developing countries, to the performing arts and urban poverty in North America and around the world.

Since climate change recognizes no political borders, the foundations have supported the efforts of a wide range of Canadian and American groups to raise awareness about the consequences of expanding tar sands development. This is a global issue, no doubt about it, and that's why people from all over the world are watching Canada and weighing in on this. Tyler Mccreary covers this point well today at Rabble.

Yet, Ethical Oil's OurDecision.ca website refers to these foundations and environmental groups as “foreigners and their local puppets.”

ETHICAL OIL

Ethicaloil.org is a classic case of dirty energy industry astroturf. Visit OurDecision.ca’s donation page, and you’ll be linked to a PayPal account for the Ethical Oil Institute. As previously noted, the Ethical Oil Institute was incorporated to the Edmonton law firm McLennan Ross, which has many tar sands industry clients.

The Ethical Oil Institute's Board of Directors has two members, Ezra Levant (the creator of the 'Ethical Oil' myth) and Thomas Ross, Levant’s lawyer and a McLellan Ross partner. Thomas Ross is also one of ten lead partners in McLellan Ross’s OilSandsLaw.com initiative, a “slick new oilsands cross-selling strategy" and marketing campaign.

But that's just the beginning of the connection. The websites of both OurDecision.ca and EthicalOil.org are hosted on exactly the same server and IP address as strategicimperativesonline.com. Normally this wouldn’t be surprising – it's common for many websites to be hosted on the same server. But this isn't a coincidence. Strategicimperativesonline.com is registered to GoNewClear Productions, a business incorporated in British Columbia to Travis Freeman, Brendan Jones, and Hamish Marshall.

WHO IS HAMISH MARSHALL?

Hamish Marshall is the President and COO of GoNewClear Productions. He is a well-known strategist and activist trainer within Conservative circles, and also served as one of two British Columbia representatives on the federal Conservatives' national council between 2008 and 2010.

He started his political career working for Canadian Alliance MP Joe Peschisolido from 2001-2002, and for the Conservative Party doing outreach for the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition from 2002-2003. He then left his position at the Conservative-Party connected NaiKun Energy in 2006 to work in the Prime Minister's Office as Harper's Manager of Strategic Planning until September 2007. In 2008, he managed polling for the Conservative re-election campaign.

The Ethical Oil-Harper government revolving door doesn’t end there. Hamish Marshall is married to EthicalOil spokeswoman Kathryn Marshall, who took over last fall when her predecessor Alykhan Velshi moved into the Prime Minister’s Office as the director of planning.

Hamish Marshall, through strategicimperativesonline, has registered 32 websites. Nearly all are connected to EthicalOil.org, the Conservative Party of Canada, and the right wing Alberta Wildrose Alliance Party.

Both ethicaloil.org's americans4opec.com and chiquitaconflict.com are hosted on the server, as is Kathryn Marshall’s personal website, kathrynmarshall.ca.

DEEP TIES TO CONSERVATIVES

The web gets really interesting when you look at the other sites registered on Marshall's server.

Conservative Party candidates with websites hosted on Hamish Marshall’s server include Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, one of the most vocal proponents of the tar sands. Oliver's open letter last week refers to the "environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade". See the WhoIs profile for www.JoeOliver.ca.

Pierre Poilievre's www.ResultsForYou.ca website is hosted on the strategicimperativesonline server as well. A Calgary-school graduate, Poilievre is Harper's former Parliamentary Secretary, and is currently the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Poilievre also worked for Jason Kenney, whose site www.JasonKenney.com is hosted on the same server. 

Former EthicalOil.org spokesman Alykhan Velshi used to serve as the Director of Communications for Kenney. And Velshi's mother, Rumina Velshi, was just appointed by John Oliver to the national nuclear safety commission, raising ethics questions among critics. 

For the pro-tarsands Wildrose Alliance Party, Hamish Marshall hosts both the official party websites, wildroseallancecaucus.ca and wildrosecaucus.ca, as well as numerous Wildrose Party candidate websites. This includes former leader Paul Hinman, and candidates Doug Cooper, Corrie AdolphDave Yager, Heather Forsyth, and Richard Dur. Dur is also the Chairman of Policy for Jason Kenney’s Conservative Party constituency association.

Toronto City Councillor John Parker's website is also hosted on Marshall's server. 

Back in BC, Marshall hosts the website of former BC Liberal candidate Kevin Falcon. After working on Falcon’s unsuccessful run for BC Premier, Marshall went to work for BC Conservative leader hopeful John Cummins as his campaign manager. His website is also registered on Marshall’s server. Hamish Marshall is now one of the directors of the BC Conservative party

Finally, Marshall’s server hosts a website that makes campaign signs for Conservative MPs, as well as the website of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Association (OPCCA), the campus youth wing of the PC Party of Ontario is hosted on this server (campuspc.ca).

This is certainly only the beginning of an expansive web of connections between EthicalOil.org and the Conservative Party. The dizzying connections between them suggest that EthicalOil.org and the Ethical Oil Institute are acting as shadow arms of the Harper government and its desire to protect tar sands interests ahead of the public interest.

(Update: See DeepClimate's extensive look at this entangled web.)

What is most disingenuous about EthicalOil.org’s campaign is its work to systematically discredit the hard-working individuals in the Canadian environmental movement who work to protect public health, robust ecosystems and the global climate from the tar sands threat. The real threat to Canadian sovereignty is the greedy foreign corporations and governments buying up financial stakes in the Alberta oil patch, and EthicalOil.org’s support of them.

Ask yourself: who are the real patriots in this scenario?

Will the Harper government and ethicaloil.org own up to their cozy connections and finally recognize the importance of a rapid transition away from an oil-addicted economy towards a clean energy economy that relies on the robust, renewable resource of Canadian ingenuity and sustainability know-how? The clock is ticking.

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September 07 2011

14:15

Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey on 'Ethical Oil' Ads

Dear Oprah,

I just don't know where to begin. 

I can't find my words because I respect you so much. You're a woman pioneer who has done much to advance the status of women globally. You've donated millions of dollars to various organizations, and have used your talk show to raise the profile of women's issues. Your philanthopy has funded projects like The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, and Women for Women International. You've also used your celebrity to raise awareness of environmental causes, notably the efforts to rebuild the Gulf. 

That's why I'm so stumped right now by your choice to feature ads from EthicalOil.org on your television network. 

I'm all about the work that you do, but the logic of promoting tar sands oil by appealing to our desire for women's liberation, our desire to help protect women in despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia, is deeply flawed and misguided. 

The ad [below], which is airing exclusively on your network in Canada, claims that strict rules in Saudi Arabia prevent women from driving, from leaving their homes or working without their male guardian's permission. With those sad facts firmly established, the ads powerfully appeal to our deep emotions about women's rights, human rights and fundamental political freedoms by implying that by buying "conflict oil", we are supporting oppression. 

The ad presents Canada's tar sands as an "ethical oil" alternative to "conflict oil". At the end of the ad the viewer is told "It's a choice we have to make". 

So, to be clear, the argument being put forward on your network is that expanding tar sands production will help liberate women from oppressive petrocracies like Saudi Arabia. It also appears to imply that we must support the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would massively expand tar sands production, because it will decrease our reliance on conflict oil. 

Let's unpack this argument a little further.

I agree with you that Saudi Arabia abuses women's rights. But let's be perfectly clear: the link that this ad campaign tries to make — that expanding tar sands production will somehow liberate Saudi Arabian women — doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

The choice about whether or not to buy bitumen from the tar sands has no real effect on Saudi Arabia's oil revenues. We live in a world that is hungrier and hungrier for the stuff. The United States and Canada combined hold less than 5 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. Increasing output from the tar sands won't substantially decrease our reliance on foreign oil, and it won't reduce the world's demand for Saudi Arabia's crude.

Kate Sheppard aptly notes in Mother Jones that even with increased tar sands output, Saudi Arabia will continue to have the largest oil reserves in the world and be the world's largest exporter. Expanding the tar sands just makes it easier for us to keep delaying the transition to clean energy.

Glenn Hurowitz, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, does a great job of debunking this claim. Basic oil industry economics show that the argument that domestic drilling will reduce consumption of foreign oil is deeply flawed. Here's how it works: 

Because Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil is so much cheaper to produce and more plentiful than remaining domestic oil reserves, those countries can almost always outcompete domestic U.S. competitors and still maintain their enormous profit margins and high levels of production. Saudi and Iraqi oil, for instance, costs just $4-$6 per barrel to produce with another $2-$3 tacked on for transportation costs (costs are similar for Iranian oil). Production costs for tar-sands oil clock in at a minimum of $30 per barrel; costs for other domestic sources are similar.

Increasing the output of the tar sands is thus not going to hurt Saudi Arabia oil coffers in any meaningful way. 

Mike G at the Rainforest Action Network notes that TransCanada’s own research demonstrates that the raison d'être of the Keystone XL pipeline was never to decrease our reliance on foreign oil from "unfriendly regimes". We will have to continue importing just as much oil from Saudi Arabia. The pipeline is designed to keep Gulf Coast refineries running at capacity, not to replace current oil imports. 

Oprah, let's not use these women as pawns to support tar sands extraction in Canada. You can support women's liberation efforts. You can oppose development of the tar sands. To say the least, these issues are not mutually exclusive. 

The Ethical Oil ads airing in Canada are duplicitous, and use the worst kind of fear mongering and manipulation tactics to sell us the filthiest oil on the planet.

Speaking of duplicitous manipulation, the people behind the Ethical Oil blog and ad claim to be a small Toronto-based NGO to hide deep connections to the Alberta oil industry. Oprah, I'm curious to understand how a small non-profit managed to land a featured spot on your network.

I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt that neither you nor your production company are directly funded by tar sands interests. But if you really believe that EthicalOil.org is a small grassroots non-profit concerned with the plight of women, you've been sorely misled.

According to Deep Climate, Ethical Oil isn't the low budget grassroots organization it purports to be. Its principals are some of the rising stars of the conservative movement in Canada, and one is a lawyer for tar sands firms.

Here's the back story: Ezra Levant turned "ethical oil" into a meme late last year. Almost overnight, pro-industry and government officials, keen to sell the filthy oil to a skeptical public, picked up the term and ran with it.  After the Conservative election victory in May, Conservative government spokesperson (and former American Enterprise Institute intern) Alykhan Velshi took over at the helm of the ethicaloil.org blog. The blog is registered to Levant, who also has strong links to the Conservatives.

And, here's another thing that just doesn't add up for me. How is it that a former advisor to Environment Minister John Baird, and communications director for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, would find himself taking an "unpaid" job as a blogger?

Thanks to the folks over at Deep Climate, it makes a lot more sense. EthicalOil.org is connected to the obscure Ethical Oil Institute. Though there is scant reference to them online, according to their notice of incorporation, the institute was registered on March 9, 2011 to an Edmonton address, 12220 Stony Plain Road, Edmonton AB T5N 3Y4.  

That just so happens to be the address of the law firm McLennan Ross. McLennan Ross makes bathtubs full of money doing work for tar sands firms. 

The two members of the Ethical Oil Institute's board of directors are Ezra Levant and McLellan Ross partner Thomas Ross. Thomas Ross is one of ten lead partners in McLellan Ross’s OilSandsLaw.com initiative, a “slick new oilsands cross-selling strategy" and marketing campaign.

And this makes me question EthicalOil.org's PayPal donation statement that clearly maintains it "will not take money from foreign corporations, foundations, governments, or lobbyists." The evidence that's stacking up sure seems to suggest otherwise. 

Oprah, sorry to break it to you, but the facts suggest that EthicalOil.org is just a really clever PR tool for the oil industry.

To echo the EthicalOil.org ad, "It's a choice we have to make". To that I ask you, what's your choice going to be? If you want to support women's liberation efforts in Saudi Arabia, why don't you fund women's liberation efforts in Saudi Arabia?

Oprah, this is what I know for sure: There's nothing ethical about oil, no matter where it comes from. If you actually want to take on Saudi sheiks, then support a transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy.  

Sincerely, 

Emma Pullman, Vancouver BC

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