I had an opportunity to take a field trip to Alberta last fall. Our group stayed in Fort McMurray and toured an oil sands operation and an SAGD operation. When we weren’t tooling around in a large coach, we were meeting operators, provincial officials, and local citizens to discuss everything from air and water quality to land reclamation to wildlife conservation.
The thing that struck me was how well these people got along with each other. There was no finger pointing or heated discussion. When the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development called on oil sands operators to develop better reclamation technologies for tailings ponds, they responded with an attitude of, “Well, it’s not going to be easy, but we’ll figure it out.”
In other words, there seemed to be a sense of groups with potentially different agendas working together for a common goal. Apparently that was due to Americans not being up to date on oil development in Canada.
The Keystone XL pipeline changed that. Suddenly America was at war, with environmentalists decrying the destruction of the land while pro-business folks said, “We’d rather get our oil from Canada than the Middle East.” This plunged oil sands into an unfamiliar position – front and center in the glare of public opinion.
Now the industry is fighting back. Taking its cue from groups such as the American Natural Gas Association and Energy In Depth, the American Petroleum Institute (API) has created Oil Sands Fact Check, a campaign intended to counter false accusations about the environmental impact of oil sands development. The plan is to provide a barrage of factual information to show naysayers the homework has been done.
“There are more Americans talking about this now,” said Travis Davies, manager, Media and Issues for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), a backer of the campaign. “That’s a much bigger market, and it’s a different market. At the end of the day, it can never be facts against emotion. But to have those facts available to people is very useful.”
While the API touts the benefits of importing Canadian oil to the US economy, CAPP’s approach is to outline the actual impact of oil sands development on the Canadian environment. Its website includes a 56-page treatise titled “The facts on oil sands,” which answers pretty much any questions people might have as well as several they never thought of.
“We need to be dead-on with our factual information because it will get attacked and scrutinized,” Davies said. “The pressure to have information with integrity is huge.”
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