Cenovus CEO Brian Ferguson’s battle with rock stars and price differentials – by Yadullah Hussain (National Post – January 17, 2014)

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

Brian Ferguson is fed up with critics of the oil sands. Like his peers, the 56-year-old chief executive officer of Cenovus Energy Inc. has generally kept a relatively low profile over the years, more comfortable discussing technological innovations in the oil sands rather than taking on music and film celebrities with far greater name-recognition.

But the industry’s low-key strategy has emboldened opponents to paint the oil sands in the worst possible light, leaving oil executives to seethe privately at the insults, but maintain a congenial dialogue with their worst critics, at least in public. Mr. Ferguson says his company is looking to reach out to a broader audience to counter popular but false perceptions about the oil sands.

“I think there is a desire to better understand what is really happening,” told the Financial Post. “There are lot of sensational comments that are made which are not based in fact, and are factually incorrect.”

Mr. Ferguson admits that the industry could have done a better job of defending the oil sands in the past five years, but that might change. Mr. Ferguson has been at the helm of Cenovus since it was spun off from Encana Corp. in 2009. The company is seen as a new breed of Canadian oil sands developers that have moved away from open pit mines, giant trucks and shovels and tailings ponds, and the 30-year oil veteran could emerge as the new face of the modern oil sands as he takes on the rich and more-famous.

And like Neil Young, rock star and now the most famous Canadian to oppose the oil sands who began his vitriolic Honour The Treaty tour in Toronto, Mr. Ferguson and fellow industry executive Russ Girling of TranCanada Corp. brought their message to Canada’s largest city at an event on Wednesday.

“Over the next decade, oil sands production in Canada is expected to double. And that has our critics screaming. They want you to believe the planet is doomed if oil sands production continues,” Mr. Ferguson told an audience of Bay Street executives. “
They say new oil pipelines must be stopped at all costs. They call it ‘dirty oil,’ ‘the most destructive project on earth.’ These accusations are absolutely baseless. Yet they make front page headlines… Canadians should be outraged by these allegations. It is time that we started thinking critically about this subject.”

Cenovus’s own polls show 65% of Canadians believe the oil sands are being developed in a responsible way, although a recent poll by Nanos Research revealed that Canadian support for TransCanada Corp.’s Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL project was dropping.

For the original version of this article, click here: http://business.financialpost.com/2014/01/16/cenovus-ceo-brian-fergusons-battle-with-rock-stars-and-price-differentials/?__lsa=1635-4e4c