tar_sandsSo Mordor is getting a makeover. Big-time.

There is a concerted, multi-faceted public relations campaign going on to greenwash the tar sands. Dirty black is trying to become virgin white, or so that’s what they want.

According to three Albertan cabinet ministers, the tar sands are a “Canadian jewel” that should be celebrated and exploited.

Environment Minister Rob Renner, Energy Minister Ron Liepert and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Iris Evans have been in Toronto to spread their disinformation campaign, called “Alberta’s story.”

Meanwhile right-wing author, Ezra Levant, who is apparently known for his humour and wit, is stretching everyone’s sense of humour with a book called “Ethical Oil”.

Yes you guessed it, the tar sands are ethical, according to Levant. They are the equivalent of “fair trade coffee” and one of the country’s “greatest assets” argues Levant.

Levant’s argument is that Canada’s tar sands are by far the most ethical source of oil. Other oil producers, such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq and Venezuela have long track records of human rights abuses, bad labour practices and corruption, and their environmental records are worse than Canada’s, he argues.

Levant says: “I don’t know how it happened that God put the oil industry all in the hands of the bad guys. We need to stop being defensive and start being proud,” he argues. “The oilsands are the most ethical source of oil in the world, and we need to start producing as much of it as possible to replace all the oil from the bad guys.”

The flaws in this argument are so large you could drive a tar sands lorry right through the middle of it, not least on the fuel being far more energy intensive; not least on climate change, water usage, or pollution causing health impacts in the local indigenous population. Not least every dollar invested in this dirty fuel could be going to fund the clean energy revolution.

As one Canadian reviewer said: “Levant is a good writer and a better debater. He is witty, provocative and relentless in his sense of certainty …. He is also a master of logical fallacy and half-truth …. Just remember that being witty, provocative and relentless is not the same as being right.”

When it comes to climate change, Levant argues that “The (GHG) difference between the oil sands and the average barrel’s cocktail of non-sands oil is already down to 10 per cent, according to independent studies.”

He footnotes his source as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which is no surprise really.

He conveniently forgets all the other great work done on the subject by the Pembina Institute and other NGOs like Platform.

Mind you he will be furious that another study has just come out that it’s too late for his book that supposedly backs up his argument. This is a new study that “supposedly” suggests that tar sands emissions are only 6 per cent above normal oil.

Once again, the reality is somewhat different. Sheila McNulty has written a great blog about it in the FT:

“Is oil sands (or tar sands, as environmentalists like to call the fuel from Canada’s tar-like bitumen) really not as bad for the environment as traditional crude oil?” writes McNulty, “ At first brush, the latest report on the controversial subject, this time from the well-respected IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, might have left me with that impression.”

CERA draws on 13 publicly available studies from government, academic and industry sources that found that total emissions from refined products from tar sands is five to 15 percent higher than the average crude consumed in the United States.

But then here comes the trick. CERA concludes that emissions for tar sands products processed in the US are on average only 6 per cent higher, because those products are often blends of lower carbon products.

As McNulty writes: “So it is not that oil sands’ crude is a lower carbon emitting source – it is just that, because US oil refiners combine the oil sands’ crude with traditional crude, the end product is not as carbon intensive as some might think.”

She makes argues that CERA’s argument “does not change the carbon intensity of producing crude oil from oil sands. That is like saying marijuana or transfats (pick your poison here) are not as bad for you as some might think if you mix them with water (or anything else) and dilute them.”

Its abit like Tony Hayward saying that the Deepwater disaster wasn’t a disaster at all because it was only a drop in the ocean.

Indeed the NRDC has criticized the report, saying its own studies, examining many of the same sources, showed life-cycle emissions to be 8 percent to 37 percent higher than other crudes processed in the United States.

So you can argue that black can become white, but the figures or the evidence just don’t back it up.

One Comment


    Financial PostFP Comment

    Peter Foster: Ethical oil
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    Peter Foster September 21, 2010 – 7:10 pm
    Oil sands opponents are motivated by anti-capitalist, anti-development ideology and organizational self-interest
    An Alberta government delegation came east this week to sell the embattled oilsands as a good news story for all of Canada. The Pembina Institute took a group of Athabasca aboriginals to Washington to claim that they were being poisoned.
    One of the frustrations of observing the oilsands “debate” is how one-sided it is. The Albertan government officials couldn’t stop apologizing for how much harder they had to work — like the carthorse in Animal Farm — to be more “sustainable.” Their opponents — who never created a productive job in their lives — continued to unload factual garbage by the dump truck, to be faithfully served up by the media.
    Given this reluctance to fight, it is uncertain how far the defenders of the oil sands will welcome the uncompromising support of Ezra Levant. Mr. Levant is an intellectual bulldog, as the Canadian human rights establishment discovered to its cost. He is also sometimes a loose cannon (he recently managed to libel the appalling George Soros, which takes some doing), but not here. In his new book, Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s Oil Sands, he not only exposes the lies and hypocrisy of the media-coddled opponents of the vast resource, but raises the uncomfortable question of what alternatives to the oilsands these moralists prefer.
    If the United States doesn’t take oil from the oilsands, it has to take it from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria or Iran, whose human rights records are appalling, and whose environmental performance tends not to be so great either.
    Mr. Levant notes that the “facts” about the oil sands are comprehensively perverted. They are presented as laying waste to an area the size of Florida when in fact only 2% of that area will be disturbed by anti-photogenic strip mining (which has to be reclaimed). The development is portrayed as a gigantic sponge for fresh water when the maximum that it can divert from the Athabasca river is just 2.2% of its flow. “Dirty” oilsands oil is declared to be a threat to the global climate when it is responsible for one-thousandth of global human emissions of CO2, which in turn are a small part of overall emissions. The oilsands are painted as destroyers of aboriginal culture when in fact they provide hope, and well-paid jobs, for desperately poor, often dysfunctional, communities.
    Mr. Levant goes after the NGO peddlers of doom and gloom — from Pembina through Greenpeace and church group Kairos to the World Wildlife Fund — suggesting that they are motivated by a combination of anti-capitalist, anti-development ideology and organizational self-interest. He lacerates those who purport to rank businesses on “ethical” grounds while profiting from the very activities they condemn. He skewers craven U.S. corporations such as Whole Foods and Bed Bath & Beyond because when they cave in to environmental extremists in supporting boycotts, they are of necessity supporting fascist theocracies and Bolivarian despots.
    Mr. Levant suggests that Greenpeace’s priorities are severely skewed by organizational self-interest. They treat the truly horrendous environmental problems of China with kid gloves because Beijing allows them to raise funds in the country, which they see as a huge “market.” While Chinese cities are the unhealthiest places to live on earth, Greenpeace China’s top campaign issues are recycled Western cellphones and disposable chopsticks!
    Mr. Levant emphasizes that petroleum-driven industrial society isn’t going away any time soon, and stresses that such “alternatives” as wind and solar are in fact heavily subsidized job destroyers. He suggests that the oilsands get so much flak primarily because Canada is a free, open and democratic country.
    The book raises questions that demand not so much further analysis as psychoanalysis. These include just why people would manufacture egregious falsehoods about the oilsands, and why the media would be so ready and willing to regurgitate them. Perhaps the outstanding example is that of Canadian Dr. John O’Connor and his claims about extraordinary high levels of certain types of cancers at Fort Chipewyan. Dr. O’Connor was made a media hero, in particular by Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, but when authorities sought to investigate the doctor’s findings, he obstructed the inquiry, which found that he had either greatly exaggerated, or entirely manufactured, details.
    Mr. Levant points out that Mr. Nikiforuk has taken money from Greenpeace, but it is perhaps a mistake to imply that the likes of Messrs. Nikiforuk and O’Connor are not genuinely motivated by a desire to prevent harm and do good. The problem is that such desires seem to be like mental viruses that sometimes occupy the brain to the exclusion of all objective evidence, and consume their hosts with moral self-inflation and a demonic image of “the enemy.”
    Mr. Levant has certainly already raised the ire of his opponents. Police had to be called to a book signing in Saskatoon. Matt Price, policy director of Environmental Defence, wrote to The Globe and Mail: ‘So Ezra Levant thinks it’s somehow more ethical to replace dictator-supporting, planet-cooking oil with dictator-free tar sands oil that cooks the planet even faster?”
    Last week the CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi held a “debate” between Mr. Levant and Mr. Nikiforuk. Mr. Levant steamrollered both of them (it inevitably turned out to be two against one). I could almost have felt sorry for Mr. Nikiforuk if he hadn’t started out by suggesting that oil was either “The Devil’s tears” or “The Devil’s Excrement.” With imagery like that, you know that objectivity has already gone out the window. Ethical Oil provides some desperately needed perspective.

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