As more Americans are waking up to the environmental implications of oil exploration in environmentally sensitive areas, a coalition of environmental groups has commissioned a top-notch advertising campaign against the Alberta tarsands entitled “Rethink Alberta“.
One of the main points it makes is that Alberta oilsands oil production emits three times the greenhouse gasses that it takes to produce a conventional barrel of oil.
Reactions in the blogosphere to the campaign, which is only a few days old, has been swift and typically derogatory. The oil industry has been paying writers and bloggers for years to pounce on posts and articles that in any way may mention the environmental failings of the oil industry – with the latest effort by BP being laughable at best, and thoughtless at worst.
Even mass media organizations have been piling on the campaign, with this piece from the Edmonton Journal being a good example. It contains hard facts about the environmental realities in Alberta as a true journalistic piece should, but does a lot of editorializing about the campaign that is likely motivated by the paper’s proximity to the offending parties.
Is it really stretching credibility to compare the Alberta oilsands to the BP disaster? I don’t think so. When I was in grade school and we were taught about the tar sands, we were taught at the same time that it was both economically not feasible to mine the tar sands and environmentally irresponsible. While the realities of the world have changed to make it economically feasible, there is no denying that it is environmentally irresponsible to continue to mine the tarsands.
While the carbon recovery programs planned for the tarsands are laudable, they would have been more so, and more trustworthy, had they been planned for ten or twenty years ago, when the tarsands were first being converted to a large-scale operation. Also, think about how the terminology has changed. It is only in the past decade that they have been called “oilsands” instead of “tar sands”, which is a decidedly less pleasant term. That’s no accident; it is the result of a PR campaign on the part of the oil companies that was arguably far more well-executed than anything an environmental group could pay for.
Will I rethink going to Alberta in the wake of this campaign? Frankly as an environmentalist, it had already crossed my mind that there were better provinces to visit in Canada first. They’re kind of preaching to the choir with me. However, I do believe that the campaign is necessary and well done in that it will teach previously unaware Americans about where their oil is coming from and how much, environmentally, it costs to produce.