Industry PR fiasco continues

March 21st, 2011
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I wasn’t in the Great Republic  more than 12 hours when I was, unfortunately, reminded of my industry’s dismal PR record.  U.S.A. Today, arguably the country’s largest circulation daily at around two million, had an editorial on the oil sands.

The editorial itself was essentially favourable, or at least balanced. It mentions that the Keystone pipeline expansion would provide significant additional oil from “a secure ally and neighbour” (us). Regarding pipeline safety, it correctly assesses this risk as minuscule, but talks about some of the environmental concerns associated with the oil sands, including “surface mining … which scars the landscape and produces more greenhouse gases”, etc., etc. The article finishes with the astute comment that Canadian producers are more than willing to sell the oil somewhere else, notably to China. Fair enough.

The editorial refers to “tar sands deposits” and “dirty oil” from Canada. That’s in a “favourable” piece. The editors, however, felt the need to print a contrary view on the same page. Whereas the editorial itself was measured in its tone, the contrarian  – a Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation – is any thing but.

Referring off the top to “Big Oil”, he repeatedly uses the term “tar sludge”, and underscores what he calls the “reckless and destructive tar sands operations”. This is followed by a reference to “toxic lakes” and greenhouse gas stats that are almost certainly false. He further states that the spill of just over 19,000 barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River caused “health problems for 58% of nearby residents”. No source was cited for this very precise figure.

But one can’t fault the man. He’s a professional environmentalist! The fault, rather, lies with the oil and gas industry for (as always) not representing itself sufficiently. For example, each member of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) pays $1 million for its representation; and for what? An editorial in a national U.S. daily that WANTS to be positive is brutally fact-challenged.

Has CAPP met with the editorial boards of all the major U.S. dailies? I doubt it. That would cost a small fraction of the millions CAPP takes in from its members. Who are Keystone’s PR people? Doesn’t look like they’ve had much traction in the lower 48 either!

What results can be expected if the industry doesn’t even want to represent itself? I wrote the same thing in the context of Ezra Levant’s championing the oil sands. If I could point to one positive, it’s the fact that the industry’s PR is so bad, it has only one direction to go! On the other hand, I’ve thought that before …

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By John Weissenberger
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