OTTAWA — Environmental groups say that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government needs to get its facts straight about the oil industry.
A coalition of groups from Canada, the United States and Europe recruited some high-profile scientists and academics as they launched a new “reality” website Thursday.
The online offensive was targeting a government and industry multimillion dollar public relations campaign, described by environmental groups as a cover up.
“There has been a great deal of intentional and sometimes, unintentional misinformation circulating around on the industry and its impacts and the climate impacts ,” said Thomas Homer Dixon, a professor from the University of Waterloo’s Environment Faculty and director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation. “It’s very important that if we’re going to have a full democratic debate about the implications of this industry for Canada and the world that we start from a shared platform of agreed facts.”
A new government website promoted earlier this week by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said that the oilsands industry, which requires massive amounts of energy and water to extract natural deposits of heavy oil buried in sand in western Alberta, had lowered its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent since 1990.
The industry has, in fact, seen its heat-trapping carbon pollution grow by 267 per cent between 1990 and 2011, according to the latest data released by Environment Canada. That pollution is projected to continue its exponential growth over the next decade, putting Canada’s international climate change commitments, agreed to by Harper at international negotiations in 2009, out of reach.
Canadian oilsands producers have reduced emissions per barrel by an estimated 26 per cent over the same time period mainly due to improvements in efficiency, as well as by exporting the heavy oil and moving part of their global warming footprint to processing facilities in the United States. But there has been little improvement in emissions per barrel over the past few years.
The website launch coincides with Harper’s latest trip to the U.S. to promote oilsands expansion and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project. It also follows similar web pages launched by industry lobby groups such as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
“The Harper government and oil industry plans to rapidly expand the oilsands pose serious risks to our environment and our economy.” -Forest Ethics Advocacy

The federal and Alberta governments, in partnership with the oil companies, have launched an improved scientific monitoring plan to track local impacts of oilsands development, and they have also pledged to deliver new regulations this year to address the industry’s carbon pollution.
The new website, sponsored by a network that includes partners such as Greenpeace, Quebec-based Équiterre and Toronto-based Environmental Defence, also highlights recent warnings that Canada’s dependence on the oil industry could lead to billions of dollars in stranded assets and punishing debt burdens.
It suggests that the only way the oilsands industry can thrive is if global policies fail to adequately crack down on the heat-trapping pollution that contributes to global warming. Scientists say that humans must dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mainly produced from burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, in order to avoid serious impacts to ecosystems and the economy.
“I think it’s really important to note that the Harper government and oil industry plans to rapidly expand the oilsands pose serious risks to our environment and our economy,” said Tzeporah Berman, a spokeswoman for Forest Ethics Advocacy. “Their attempts to hide the real impacts from the Canadian public, from U.S and European decision-makers are reprehensible and will be seen as one of the largest attempted cover-ups in Canadian history.”
The groups said all of the facts on their website, including details about impacts on human rights, land, wildlife, air and water, include references to sources following a review by a committee of experts.
They plan to distribute their material to thousands of politicians in Canada, the U.S. and Europe in the coming days.…