Enbridge Spin Doctor Snarls about “Dirty Oil” Essay

by Franke James

Was it the seven thousand, four hundred & fifty-four* letters sent to Prime Minister Harper and MPs (asking what Harper is afraid of)

Or the article in the New York Times? Activist Artist vs. Pipeline
Or the piece in Fort McMurray Today? Anti-Gateway comic gathering steam

Somehow I landed on the radar of Doug Ford, who decided it was his job to educate me — and my readers. (We’re not talking about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s brother, Doug Ford.) This Doug Ford is the Head of Communica whose clients include Enbridge, Exxon Mobil, Encana, Shell Canada and Kinder Morgan. (Read his case study on the multi-faceted communications work they do for Enbridge Northern Gateway.)

A “somebody” in the Oil and Gas industry
However, when Doug dropped by my site and left lengthy comments about the pipeline and oil sands pollution, he didn’t mention that he worked for the oil industry. But his testy comments made me curious… using his name and email address I quickly discovered that he’s a “somebody” in the oil and gas industry, with 25 years under his belt and extensive regulatory experience. He’s been an expert witness at National Energy Board hearings, and also in Quebec with respect to “pipeline consultation thresholds and practices”.

Maybe because he’s a “somebody”, Doug Ford was a little peeved that I didn’t post his comment immediately. So he posted another…

“Interesting that my comments weren’t posted – presumably because they countered “the mythology and mindless adherence to environmental arguments” against Northern Gateway, against Alberta, against the Oil Sands… against the government. By many of the people, who have never visited Alberta, never visited the oil sands, never acknowledge the existence of a crude oil pipeline running through BC for 60 years and the shipment of crude oil by tanker from Vancouver for 50 (oops -inconvenient truth). And of course – by people who never drive a car, never fly, never turn down the benefits of equalization which accrues primarily off the back of Albertans.”

He sounded a wee bit angry, so I sent him a quick email to reassure him…

From: Franke James Date: Wed, Jun 20, 2012 at 2:03 PM Subject: My response and an invitation To: Doug Ford, Principal and Senior Consultant, Doug, Nice to meet you. Don't worry -- your comments will be posted. Just working on my response. BTW, I'm writing an article on oil and the question of sustainability for a prominent magazine. Considering your clients, I think you may be interested in connecting me with some people. Yesterday I interviewed an executive with a major oil company. Cheers, Franke, Franke James, MFA, Bothered By My Green Conscience

Within 2 minutes he’d sent back a very civil reply:

On Wed, Jun 20, 2012 at 2:05 PM, Doug Ford wrote: Thanks Franke. While I enjoyed the article - I obviously see the issues through a different prism. Doug

I breathed a small sigh of relief. We were making progress…

Toxic Politics is Poisoning Canada

Anyone who has been paying attention to environmental issues in Canada knows that things have gotten downright toxic between the Harper Government, the oil industry, environmentalists, First Nations and even local communities. Our once peaceful country is rife with anger and resentment. We are no longer a nation at peace. Canada is in conflict. The government is waging war on the environment.

As I wrestled with ‘what to do about Doug’ I thought of a recent interview I had with the Agents of Peace. During the interview they asked me, “Is there a connection between the environment and peace?” You can listen to the clips, but the nub of it is that…

…to solve the conflict, I suggested we need to have everybody at the table to work out the problems of how to develop the oil sands in a way that is respectful of the environment and human rights.

Shared Power is the Key

Six months ago — as tensions rose across Canada with Minister Joe Oliver calling environmentalists “radicals” for opposing the Northern Gateway Pipeline, I tried to imagine a solution.

How can we develop our natural resources in a way that is respectful of the environment and all of the stakeholders? The “radical” idea I came up with is an Oil Stewardship Council (OSC) which would be based on the Forest Stewardship Council. (FSC helped to bring an end to the War in the Woods!) It would be a member-based, third-party audited certification system which would have four groups: oil industry, environmental, First Nations and local communities. The government is not involved in the FSC, and would not be involved in the OSC (which might make them a bit peeved, but I did raise the issue with Joe Oliver in March and he hasn’t shown any interest).

Two aspects of FSC which I was most impressed with are 1) how they make decisions, and 2) how they audit.

They make decisions by consensus. That means they share power equally. No group has more power than the other.

The other savvy fact is that their auditing system does not rely on “trust”. Each group has their own auditors to make sure that the other guys are doing it right.

So, I’m throwing this idea open for discussion. The seed came from a project I worked on in the Fall of 2010. The Forest Stewardship Council Canada asked me to write a “personal” story about the FSC system. I traveled to the Boreal Forest, interviewed people from Tembec, First Nations, local communities and eNGOs (WWF and Greenpeace). I created an illustrated essay, and an animated video called “Who cares about the Forest?” It was published in the Spring of 2011. It has been very popular, and is currently being translated into Swedish.

The fact is — we all use oil and will for some time to come. I personally buy green energy from Bullfrog Power, and we don’t own a car — but the reality is that everyone in North America uses oil daily because so much of our modern society is (still) dependant on oil. So what can we do to ensure that the extraction is truly respectful of the environment and human rights?

I’ll be exploring the concept of an OSC in an article for Corporate Knights Magazine. (now published in Sept 2012) Which is why I’m interviewing executives in the oil industry — as well as environmentalists, First Nations and local communities. The article will explore these questions:

  • Is a multi-stakeholder consensus-based oil certification system possible?
  • What would it take to bring stakeholders from the oil industry to the table with environment, Aboriginal groups and local communities?
  • Can you imagine any oil company sharing power equally with environmentalists, First Nations and local communities? (Tembec and many other Forest products companies share power using the consensus-decision-making model of the FSC.)
  • Can an extractive industry be “respectful” of the environment, human rights, Aboriginal rights and worker’s rights?
  • I called Antony Marcil, former CEO of Forest Stewardship Council Canada to ask him what he thought of the idea of an Oil Stewardship Council. He wrote to me….

    “We have forest and marine stewardship councils with standards and certifications agreed to by all stakeholders. Why not an Oil Stewardship Council with environmental and social standards that could be the basis of independently certified crude oil?”

    “FSC and MSC are not perfect but they work. So, why not an OSC? Forestry is an extractive industry that overcame a history of abusive practices by adopting Forest Stewardship Council Standards. The fishing industry followed with the Marine Stewardship Council. Shouldn’t the oil industry follow suit? It wouldn’t be easy but is there a better solution on the horizon?”

    ‘Dirty Oil’ is a black-eye that Alberta wants to fix
    Even the Alberta Government recognizes they have problems. In their 2011 report Shaping Alberta’s Future they wrote,

    Being in the spotlight can be uncomfortable at times. Albertans are proud stewards of the beautiful landscapes that draw visitors from around the world... Even as we acknowledge that the environmental performance of our energy sector must improve dramatically, we are disturbed by the damage done to our reputation as “dirty oil from Alberta tar sands” grabs headlines in respected publications, well known companies announce boycotts and environmental groups launch anti-Alberta campaigns.

    The Alberta report recognizes that fossil fuels are on the way out… “At the same time, we must plan for the eventuality that oil sands production will almost certainly be displaced at some point in the future by lower cost and/or lower-emission alternatives. We may have heavy oil to sell, but few or no profitable markets wishing to buy.”

    But will they miss the clean tech boom shift because of their love affair with the oil sands? Ed Whittingham, Executive Director, Pembina Institute thinks that is a definite risk.

    All of Canada is watching Alberta…

    Franke James photo taken in Jasper National ParkYou don’t need to live in the province to be concerned and speak up.

    And yes, Doug I have visited Alberta many times…

    …ever since I was a teenager hitchhiking through the Western provinces. (see my “Rock” photo from Jasper)

    Not to shock you, but…

    I’ve even slept with an oil rig worker!

    (Yes, when I first met my husband-to-be, he was a roughneck worker on the oil rigs.)

    Can Ford’s comments be a springboard?

    Can Doug Ford’s critical comments — considering he’s the Principal and Senior Consultant of a communications firm working for Enbridge Northern Gateway — be a breakthrough? To be honest when I first read them I wanted to jump in and correct all the inaccuracies, false statements, and wrong-headed assumptions. (My essay took five months to create and all of the quotes and statistics are thoroughly documented with links to my sources.)

    But as I stepped back I realized, Doug Ford is just doing his job –- defending the interests of Enbridge Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan, and his other “Big Oil” clients. 

    Funny thing though –- I think his clients would be much better served if he acknowledged the facts:

    1. Pipelines are not, as Doug claims, “99.9%” safe: In the last month a “million litres of oil has spilled in Alberta” forcing Premier Redford to look harder at a safety review of it 377,000 kilometres of pipeline. 

    2. Pipeline spills are not “rare” events:
    Stephen Hume in the Vancouver Sun notes that in the past six years, Alberta’s pipelines have spilled a whopping 28 million litres of oil. And in the period from 1990 to 2005 there were more than 16,000 pipeline spills, euphemistically called “releases” by the industry.

    3. Enbridge is responsible for the “Spill from Hell” Diluted Bitumen Poisoned air. Sunken gunk. A clean-up nightmare. What we’re learning from the oil sands ‘DilBit’ dump into the Kalamazoo River. “This was no ordinary crude — it was the first ever major spill into water of diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands.”

    4. Aging pipelines present real risks.
    “Farmers and ranchers are bearing the cost of aging, unsafe pipelines. Changes to the NEB Act under the passing of Bill C38 removes the responsibility and costs for unsafe pipelines from the multi-billion dollar companies and lets them off scott free. Pipeline companies don’t face fines and criminal charges but landowners forced to have a pipeline on their property now directly face the criminal code if they forget to call the company.”

    5. The pollution in the Athabasca River is a high profile concern.
    Read the government’s own “secret” report on oil sands pollution in the Athabasca River area. (And note how even they are worried about the effects on downstream communities and wildlife.)

    6. Government emails admit that many species are at risk from the Gateway Pipeline: Endangered populations of woodland caribou, along with rare types of birds and frogs, are among a list of at least 15 species that face threats from the potential construction of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, reveals newly released government records.

    7. More tankers equals more risk
    The Northern Gateway is designed to transport far more crude than we’ve been led to believe. Robyn Allan, former president of ICBC, says that the pipeline could carry 60 per cent more than now proposed, resulting in hundreds more tankers off BC’s coast.

    8. This is the Start of a Massive Pipeline Building Boom
    The Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipelines are just the start of a massive pipeline building boom to export crude oil from the tar sands, to Asia and throughout North America. To get an idea of the scale, take a look at the pipeline map below. It shows more than 10,000 miles of pipelines are planned, “which will send an additional 3.1 million barrels a day of Alberta’s oil to export markets, at a cost to build of almost $40 billion.”

    Calling for Leaders in the Oil Industry

    As we can see from the pipeline boom map, Alberta has big dreams to distribute its oil to Asia and throughout North America. But that big plan is at risk. Canada is seething with anger. People’s rights are being disrespected. There is a dangerous “us versus them” mentality which pervades the current Conservative government.

    “The Harper government has secret memos that call First Nations who oppose these developments ‘adversaries’. What other racial group gets dismissed like that?” asked Chief Jackie Thomas of Saik’uz First Nation. “That’s racism pure and simple, and the government has an obligation not to treat us that way under Canadian and International law. We’ve faced government racism against our people for generations and now the government is threatening us with oil spills that could doom us as a people. We are asking the United Nations to call Canada onto the carpet for its discrimination against us.”

    Scientists and Environmentalists are just as angry as First Nations. Scientific facts about air and water pollution are being silenced (or not even collected) to protect “oil profits”. Valuable science research is being cancelled because it is yielding data contrary to the government’s wishes. Environmental charities are being attacked for “doing things contrary to government policy”.

    At the end of the day, “power” is really the issue.

    Most of these disagreements over resource development could be solved if there was mutual respect. And by mutual respect, I don’t mean lip service. I mean sharing power equally. The Harper Government has changed the rules in favour of oil and gas development. Unfortunately that use of top-down power to exert control and repress voices is strangling our democracy. His use of power to quell dissenting voices and suppress scientific information is making enemies from coast-to-coast.

    The oil industry should be afraid of Harper. It would be much better served by doing the right thing – irrespective of the government’s carte blanche for resource development. I’d like to call on the “Doug Ford’s” and others in the oil industry to do something remarkable. Step forward. Show us some leadership.

    September 2012 update: My article in Corporate Knights is now published online and their magazine: Ending the Battle over Bitumen

    * Note: the letter count is being updated continuously. When Doug Ford first made his comments on June 20/12, the letter tally was at 6,872.


    Enbridge Spin Doctor Snarls about “Dirty Oil” copyright 2012 Franke James
    Writing, illustrations and photos by Franke James

  • What’s Harper afraid of? [illustrated essay]
  • What’s Harper afraid of? [animated video]
  • NY Times: Activist Artist vs. Pipeline
  • Fort McMurray: Anti-Gateway comic gathering steam
  • Doug Ford’s comments
  • Forest Stewardship Canada: Who cares about the Forest?
  • Report: Shaping Alberta’s Future
  • Alberta risks missing clean tech boom, Ed Whittingham argues
  • Spate of oil spills pushes Alberta to look harder at pipeline safety
  • Vancouver Sun: Pipeline spills are not the exception in Alberta, they are an oily reality
  • Spill from Hell: Diluted Bitumen
  • Farmers and ranchers are bearing the cost of aging, unsafe pipelines.
  • Environment Canada’s secret report on Oil Sands Pollution
  • Endangered caribou, birds and frogs among animals threatened by Enbridge pipeline: documents
  • Gateway Designed to Pump Far More Crude than Advertised
  • Environmentalists: Blackout Speakout Campaign
  • Canada’s War on the Environment
  • Inside Climate News Pipeline Boom
  • First Nations File UN Complaint That Harper Govt Racism on Pipelines…
  • Scientists protest federal cuts to water research: Academics, researchers send letters to PM
  • Ex-Fisheries directors urge Harper to reverse freshwater-research cuts
  • Harper attacks charities for “doing things contrary to government policy”

    September 2012 update: My article in Corporate Knights is now published online and their magazine: Ending the Battle over Bitumen

    106 Responses: 6 Comments and 100 Tweets

    • DeepGreenDesign says:

      Another good report, thanks!

      If Enbridge says there pipelines are 99.9% safe, why will they not publish their design data for the Northern Gateway pipeline?

      MTBF: Mean Time Between Failure: is an engineering calculation used to evaluate the quality or reliability of a complex engineering system. Another term: 6 Sigma is used to describe “99.99966%” safety: This means if Enbridge built 1,000,000 pipelines, only 3.4 of them would ever produce 1 leak.

      If one takes the lifetime operation of Northern Gateway ( 50 years? I am not sure ) and it never leaks once, then Doug Ford is honest. Seeing as the Kalamazoo pipeline leaked Tarsands, you should ask him to show you the math he uses for his marketing. I am sure Doug is a mathematician, first, right?

    • Garry Cornel says:

      An excellent piece! Your call for sweet reason is rare and refreshing. An O.S.C. is just what is needed. PMSH is unlikely to be supportive, (Neither would Benito Mussolini have been) but Premier Redford seems more likely to go for a cooperative solution as you are suggesting.

    • Paul Richard says:

      What a great post Franke! Always a pleasure to read you. I’ll share your posting on FB – it should be of interest to my students.

      And I’ll look forward to your Corporate Knights article. Please keep up the good work, there are no doubt more people that read you and appreciate your writings than you know!

    • Christine says:

      Franke, if the Harper regime had known what it would unleash when it put the brakes on your European art tour last summer, I bet they would have thought twice. These days, I’m sure they wish you were over there, instead of stirring up the nasty tar sands nest over here, educating/alerting people to what’s really going on in Alberta and with our federal govt. Nice response to a (yet another) PR push by the industry!

    • Great post. I like the way you handled Ford.

    • Malcolm Querney says:

      Hi Franke,

      Great post, and marvellous idea about an O.S.C. model.

      Involving multiple stakeholders to build consensus is exactly what Canada needs. Hopefully, this would stave off this unfortunate climate we now find ourselves in, of polarized positions, where many (people from various backgrounds) feel threatened, and the facts are getting obfuscated, by cheap marketing and lobbying from special interests.

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