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Worst-Case Scenario for Oil Sands Industry Has Come to Life, Leaked Document Shows

Industry consultants said anti-tar sands push could become 'the most significant environmental campaign of the decade' if activists were left unopposed.

Dec 5, 2013
Keystone XL oil pipeline protest

As environmentalists began ratcheting up pressure against Canada's tar sands three years ago, one of the world's biggest strategic consulting firms was tapped to help the North American oil industry figure out how to handle the mounting activism. The resulting document, published online by WikiLeaks, offers another window into how oil and gas companies have been scrambling to deal with unrelenting opposition to their growth plans.

The document identifies nearly two-dozen environmental organizations leading the anti-oil sands movement and puts them into four categories: radicals, idealists, realists and opportunists—with how-to's for managing each. It also reveals that the worst-case scenario presented to industry about the movement's growing influence seems to have come to life.

The December 2010 presentation by Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, a global intelligence firm based in Texas, mostly advised oil sands companies to ignore or limit reaction to the then-burgeoning tar sands opposition movement because "activists lack influence in politics." But there was a buried warning for industry under one scenario: Letting the movement grow unopposed may bring about "the most significant environmental campaign of the decade."

"This worst-case scenario is exactly what has happened," partly because opposition to tar sands development has expanded beyond nonprofit groups to include individual activists concerned about climate change, said Mark Floegel, a senior investigator for Greenpeace. "The more people in America see Superstorm Sandys or tornadoes in Chicago, the more they are waking up and joining the fight."

 

Since the presentation was prepared, civil disobedience and protests against the tar sands have sprung up from coast to coast. The movement has helped delay President Obama's decision on the Keystone XL pipeline—designed to funnel Canada's landlocked oil sands crude to refineries on the Gulf Coast—and has held up another contentious pipeline in Canada, the Northern Gateway to the Pacific Coast.

The Power Point document, titled "Oil Sands Market Campaigns," was recently made public by WikiLeaks, part of a larger release of hacked files from Stratfor, whose clients include the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry lobby. It appears to have been created for Calgary-based petroleum giant Suncor Energy, Canada's largest oil sands producer.

The company told InsideClimate News that it did not hire Stratfor and never saw such a presentation. Suncor is mentioned 11 times in the document's 35 pages and all of Stratfor's advice seems to be directed at the energy company. For example, one slide says, "Campaign ends quickly with a resolution along the lines Suncor had wanted." In several emails released by WikiLeaks, Stratfor employees discuss a $14,890 payment Suncor owes the company for two completed projects, though no details were provided.

The presentation is the latest in a series of revelations that suggest energy companies—which for most of their history seemed unfazed by activists—have been looking for ways to dilute environmentalists' growing influence.

Earlier this year, TransCanada, the Canadian energy company behind the Keystone XL, briefed Nebraska law enforcement authorities on how to prosecute demonstrators protesting the 1,200-mile project. In 2011, Range Resources, an oil and gas company, allegedly hired combat veterans with experience in psychological warfare to squash opposition of natural gas drilling.

"The Stratfor presentation isn't a complete surprise," said Scott Parkin, a senior campaigner for the Rainforest Action Network and volunteer organizer for Rising Tide North America, both grassroots environmental groups. "As opposition has grown, coal, oil and gas companies are all starting to put more money into responding—from surveillance to protection to public relations."

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