Demonized oil sands industry risks death sentence if it climbs into bed with its fiercest detractors – by Peter Foster (National Post – December 6, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Does oil sands industry really want to sit down and negotiate its own death sentence?

Machiavelli is credited with the insight that you should keep your friends close but your enemies closer. However, the suggestion that the oil sands industry might deal with its public perception problems by climbing into bed with its fiercest detractors is, depending on your perspective, either blatantly self-interested or suicidal.

The industry has been the subject of a global campaign of demonization, disinformation and intimidation, executed by a wide range of interlinked environmental non-governmental organizations, ENGOs. That campaign has been based on false or grossly exaggerated allegations of toxicity, sickness and environmental destruction, in particular regarding the significance of the oil sands for global warming. And it has been highly effective.

Its greatest success has been in pressuring President Obama to hold up approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. It has also stirred alarm about the construction of new – or “looped” – pipelines through B.C. to the West Coast, using genuine aboriginal discontents about treaty issues to make them partners in opposing development. It also stands against movement of oil sands oil to the East, and is behind EU initiatives to ban diluted bitumen.

None of this is to say that there are not very genuine environmental issues of pipeline and tanker safety, but rational examination has been polluted by hysteria, and attempts to unclog the regulatory system have been met with lawsuits and bogus claims of silencing dissent.

Some are now proposing that rather than counter misinformation, the industry should legitimize it by sitting down with its ENGO tormentors. Even more bizarre is the suggestion that the industry might use the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, CBFA, as a model.

The CBFA was signed in 2010 following ENGO campaigns that disrupted markets for Canadian wood and paper. The forest industry had already been forced into ENGO “certification” campaigns, thus effectively ceding regulatory powers to non-elected radicals. The CBFA embedded activists at the heart of Canadian forestry policy while excluding not merely governments but local and aboriginal communities.

Certainly the response of both governments and industry to the ENGO assault on the oil sands has at times looked shambolic. A bewildering proliferation of monitoring agencies and industry technology initiatives – plus a reflexive tendency by the industry to apologize and say it will “try harder” — merely appears to confirm that the existing systems are inadequate.

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