Oil sands proponents get a PR boost – by Nathan Vanderklippe (Globe and Mail – February 22, 2012)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

CALGARY— “Dirty” is a tough label to bear. It’s simple, descriptive and evocative. It sticks.

At least it has for Canada’s oil sands sector, which has been tarred with the “dirty” brush for the products it wrests from beneath the forest of northeastern Alberta.

The industry has struggled mightily to burnish its image with TV commercials and glossy magazine ads. So it was with open arms that it greeted a new scientific report showing that burning billions of barrels of oil sands crude actually has a modest climate impact.

The report, co-authored by respected climate scientist Andrew Weaver and published in the journal Nature, shows that, when it comes to global warming, the oil sands are far from the world’s chief villain – and is being seized upon by Canada’s top industrial political leaders as proof that the oil sands aren’t as dirty as some have made them out to be.

“Hopefully, this will put to rest some of the wild exaggerations and misstatements from too many people who ought to know better,” said Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who plans to incorporate the report’s headline numbers into future speeches.

According to modelling done by Dr. Weaver, if the world burns all of the 170 billion barrels of oil sands reserves, global temperatures would rise by 0.03 degrees Celsius – far less than the nearly one degree of warming induced by burning the world’s coal reserves.

That report comes at a critical time for an industry whose expansion plans are reliant, in part, on new pipelines like Keystone XL and Northern Gateway. Those projects have come under fire for their role in enabling expansion in what critics have called a “carbon bomb.”

Now, oil sands proponents are seizing upon Dr. Weaver’s work to make the case that the oil sands carbon bomb is a modest one. Having new data come from a leading scientist has been manna for government leaders who have struggled with credibility issues as they sought, in recent years, to make similar points.

“It’s important that we have someone that’s independent,” said Diana McQueen, Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Water. “It’s not us having to say it.”

And the new data come as industry and government continue to lose the battle for hearts and minds over the oil sands. Calgary pollster Bruce Cameron points to the “speck” of social media work generated by TransCanada Corp. in the Keystone XL debate, compared to the avalanche of opposition conversation.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/oil-sands-proponents-get-a-pr-boost/article2345543/