Canada's Tar Sands Lobbyists Focus on US Democrats
VANCOUVER - As the U.S. election
campaign kicks into overdrive, Canadian politicians and oil executives
are stepping up lobbying efforts to make sure whoever controls the
White House keeps purchasing notoriously dirty oil from the Alberta tar
Executives from Nexen energy, which has major
investments in northern Alberta's heavy oil industry, and Tony Clement,
chair of a Canadian cabinet committee on energy security, met with
Democratic candidate Barack Obama's top energy advisor Jason Grumet
late last week to cement the "energy partnership" during the Democratic
National Convention in Denver, Colorado.
The closed-door meeting comes on the heels of comments made by
Grumet and other Obama officials which sent shivers through board rooms
in Calgary and backhoes in Ft. MacMurray, the epicentres of Canada's
In June, Grumet told reporters, "The amount of energy that you have to
use to get that [tar sands] oil out of the ground is such that it
actually creates a much greater impact on climate change."
"We [Obama's team] are going to support resources... that meet our
long-term obligations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. And I think
it's an open question as to whether or not the Canadian resources are
going to meet those tests," said Grumet, prior to meeting the Canadian
delegation at the DNC.
Currently, Canada is the largest foreign supplier of oil to
the United States, sending more than one million barrels of oil per day
to its southern neighbour, about half of which originates from
Alberta's tar sands.
"Clearly the oil sands is the most high-impact oil available," Simon
Dyer of the Pembina Institute, an environmental watchdog, told IPS.
"The oil sands are three times as greenhouse gas-intensive as regular
oil," said Dyer, adding that roughly three barrels of water are
required to process one barrel of heavy oil.
Tar sands production is set to increase from its current 1.2 million
barrels of oil per day, to some 3.0 million barrels per day by 2018,
most of which is slated for export to the United States.
Tony Clement, the Canadian cabinet minister, told reporters at the DNC
that: 'We [the Conservative government] have to be more aggressive in
representing Canadian values and interests in the American political
Spokespersons for Nexen Energy and Minister Clement's office did not return phone calls from IPS requesting comment.
"The Canadian government is trying to deal through the back room rather
than dealing with the environmental impacts of the oil sands," Simon
Dyer told IPS. "Emissions from the oil sands are going to triple [by
2020] and that's inconsistent with the world's desire to lessen climate
In addition to official political pressure from Canadian cabinet
ministers attempting to force Obama's hand on the tar sands, the oil
industry has hired high-powered lobbyists of its own. Gordon Giffin, a
former U.S. ambassador to Canada, is now a registered lobbyist in
Washington for the energy firm Nexen.
Canadian oil executives attending the Democratic National Convention
issued thinly veiled threats to the Obama campaign, stating that tar
sands oil would be shipped to China if a new administration in
Washington imposed restrictions.
"If you don't like the oil sands oil, what companies will do [in
Canada] is build a bigger pipeline to the west coast and export it to
China and India," stated Nexen Energy's Dwain Lingenfelter, the
company's vice president of government relations and a former deputy
premier of Saskatchewan province.
"If the U.S. didn't want the oil, it'll go into the oil market
anyway. So they have to be very careful about looking at the whole
picture," Lingenfelter, the politician turned oil industry lobbyist,
told the Toronto Star.
As competition for energy resources between China and the
United States intensifies, Lingenfelter's lobbying may sound
convincing, but his analysis shouldn't be taken seriously, according to
the Pembina Institute's Simon Dyer.
"A potential pipeline to Asia [via the Pacific port of Prince Rupert]
would have to cross the territory of 40 First Nations, where land
claims and treaty rights are still hotly contested," said Dyer. "There
is growing opposition to pipelines and growing oil sands opposition
across the country, so those pipelines [to China] are by no means a
While pipeline routes out of Alberta will be a major topic of
controversy for years to come, there is no doubt that Canadian oil is
among the world's most climate unfriendly fuels.
During his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, Obama
promised to end U.S. dependence on Middle East oil within 10 years,
while stating that "government must lead on energy independence".
Environmentalists in Canada and the U.S. contend that
closed-door meetings with oil executives aren't the best way to foster
The current Canadian government, which draws its political and
financial support from petroleum-producing regions in the West, is not
seen as independent from oil interests. In July alone, oil sands
companies held a total of 36 meetings with Canadian ministers and
government officials, according to recently disclosed lobbying reports.
Meanwhile, environmental groups only held seven lobbying
sessions and these were usually with ministerial assistants and other
lower level officials.