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The Calgary Herald

Oilsands Image Fight Targets US Politicians

Jason Fekete

CALGARY - Alberta has launched a full-court press on U.S. lawmakers -- including camps of the two presidential candidates -- to sell the importance and sustainability of the oilsands before the province is backed into a corner. 0708 04 1

Premier Ed Stelmach met Monday, following his annual Stampede breakfast, with U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins to work on having more American delegations visit Alberta and the oilsands.

The government hopes that targeting U.S. congressmen from both the Democrats and Republicans -- along with its ongoing multimillion-dollar public relations campaign -- will slay what it insists are misconceptions of Alberta's so-called "dirty oil."

"We will continue to work with Gary Mar (Alberta's representative in Washington) in our embassy office to see if we can reach out to the (presidential) candidates specifically," Stelmach told reporters at Calgary's McDougall Centre.

"There's all kinds of information flowing out there, but we want to get the correct information to the decision-makers and settle things down."

A series of campaigns in the U.S. -- including initiatives from Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain -- are threatening to stem the flow of oilsands and derived fuels south of the border.

American decision-makers are increasingly concerned about the environmental toll of extracting the tar-like sands -- which produces about three times as many greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil.

"It's not about selling oil. It's about defending oil," Mar, Alberta's point man in Washington, said Monday in an interview.

The Stelmach government's campaign to defend the oilsands -- the second largest oil reserves on the planet -- is "very broad and very deep," he noted.

While Mar is still considering trying to arrange meetings with Obama and McCain to discuss Alberta's concerns, he said he'll concentrate for now on selling the province's message to their top advisers.

The government also has planned a series of U.S. delegations, including politicians and policy-makers, to visit the northern Alberta oilsands over the next few months.

"No doubt, at this time, it's important to try and convey your message to people who will ultimately have influence on the president of the United States," Mar said. "It will be critical to get in as quickly as you can with the new administration."

Democratic congressmen Tim Mahoney and Rick Boucher, chairman of the house Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, last week toured the oilsands, and declared it "critically important" to the U.S.'s energy future.

The government also has invited a group of Washington-based energy news reporters to the Fort McMurray area for a first-hand look at the resource and briefing on its importance to the North American energy supply.

A delegation of energy advisers to congressmen also is scheduled to visit Alberta in the near future, as is a group of think-tanks, which often craft the policies of U.S. lawmakers.

Those efforts, along with promoting stronger ties with state governments -- which are closely linked to the federal parties -- is part of the Stelmach government's U.S. blitz.

Yet, it will be the American public -- which is already well informed on energy issues -- and not the politicians who ultimately determine which way to go on the oilsands and environment, argued Chris Sands, an expert in Canada-U.S. relations at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.

© The Calgary Herald 2008

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