Big Oil’s Man in the Senate

Alberta Conservative Senator Doug Black worries that Canadians are illiterate when it comes to energy and he’s on a mission to educate them.

If we don’t address the issues facing us now,” he warns, “the prosperity my generation enjoyed will not be enjoyed by the next generation.”

Black is a rarity in the Senate, one of only three senators who were elected by voters in Alberta and then appointed to the Senate by Stephen Harper. Given the discredit that august body has fallen into, though, he may not hold that seat for long.

During the first half of 2015, Black travelled from coast to coast in his quest to educate Canadians about “the development of our energy resources and to discuss ways in which Canada can responsibly maximize its energy resources to benefit all Canadians.”

But it’s an odd crusade. Instead of meeting Canadians where they mostly congregate, in malls, union halls, church basements and community centres, he’s meeting them in posh hotels like the Vancouver Four Seasons, Toronto’s One King West, Edmonton Westin, Montreal Hyatt Regency and Ottawa’s Shaw Centre.

'Grassroots’ Canada Action Carries Deep Ties to Conservative Party, Oil and Gas Industry

Our messages are not resonating,” Natural Resource Minister Greg Rickford told a room full of oil and gas executives in a luxury Rocky Mountain resort last fall. “You are fighting an uphill battle for public confidence.”

Rickford, who attended the meeting at the request of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), encouraged the executives to do more to spread the oil industry’s message to the Canadian public.

Much of the debate over energy is characterized by myth or emotion,” he said, suggesting scientists and campaigners critical of development in the Alberta oilsands were “crowding out the real facts.”

Rickford made no mention of Canada’s international climate commitments, but he did deride concerns about pollution from the oilsands — the country’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Rickford’s advice, released to Greenpeace via an Access to Information request, marked the beginning of a decisive shift in industry’s public relations campaigns.

Facing the Simple but Hard Truths of the Alberta Oilsands

This is a guest post by Tzeporah Berman, Adjunct Professor York University Faculty of Environmental Studies and longtime environmental advocate. A shorter version of this piece originally appeared on the Toronto Star.

The debate over energy, oilsands and pipelines in Canada is at best dysfunctional and at worst a twisted game that is making public relations professionals and consultants on all sides enormous amounts of money.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information routinely show our own government hiding scientific reports or meeting secretly to craft PR strategies with the companies they are supposed to regulate, while millions of dollars are spent on ads trying to convince Canadians that the oilsands are like peanut butter and that without them our hospitals will close. *(See change notice at end of article.)

On the other side we march, we rally and we point fingers creating a narrative of exclusion and moral high-ground while acting as though a low carbon transition is going to be a walk in the park.


Shooting the Messenger: Tracing Canada’s Anti-Enviro Movement

Vivian Krause

When former environment minister Jim Prentice held his introductory lunch with U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson in November 2009, Prentice described to Jacobson how he had been shocked during a visit to Norway to find heated opposition to the Alberta oilsands during a public debate over state-owned StatOil ASA’s investment there.

This information was contained in a cable from Jacobson, which was obtained by WikiLeaks and posted by a Norwegian paper.

Prentice was clearly feeling the heat from a global campaign by environmental organizations to frame oilsands oil as “dirty” because of its energy-intensive extraction, which make for Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The public sentiment in Norway shocked him and has heightened his awareness of the negative consequences to Canada’s historically ‘green’ standing on the world stage,” the cable reported.

Tracing the 'Endless War' on Environmentalists Back to the War in the Woods

No one admits to recording Richard Berman’s address to a room full of energy executives in Colorado Springs in June 2014, but it’s an eye-opener.

One unnamed industry executive recorded Berman’s remarks and was offended by them. He provided a copy of the recording and the meeting agenda to the New York Times. DeSmog picked up the story the following day.

If the oil and gas industry is going to prevent environmental opponents from slowing down its efforts to drill in more places, it must be prepared to use dirty tricks, Berman told the executives, whose companies specialize in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

At least four companies with Canadian fracking operations were in Berman’s audience — Devon Energy, Encana Oil and Gas, Ensign Energy Services and Newalta.

Fear and anger have to be part of the campaign,” he said. “You got to get people fearful of what’s on the table” (what they might lose if environmentalists win) “and then you got to get people angry over the fact they are being misled” (by environmental groups).

Like Canada's Harper Government, Obama Administration Muzzling Its Scientists

In recent years, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come under fire for disallowing scientists working for the Canadian government to speak directly to the press

An article published in August by The New Republic said “Harper's antagonism toward climate-change experts in his government may sound familiar to Americans,” pointing to similar deeds done by the George W. Bush Administration. That article also said that “Bush's replacement,” President Barack Obama, “has reversed course” in this area.

Society for Professional Journalists, the largest trade association for professional journalists in the U.S., disagrees with this conclusion. 

In a December 1 letter written to Gina McCarthy, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the society chided the Obama administration for its methods of responding to journalists' queries to speak to EPA-associated scientists. 

“We write to urge you again to clarify that members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the twenty other EPA science advisory committees have the right and are encouraged to speak to the public and the press about any scientific issues, including those before these committees, in a personal capacity without prior authorization from the agency,” said the letter.

“We urge you…to ensure that EPA advisory committee members are encouraged share their expertise and opinions with those who would benefit from it.”

Digging Deeper into Vivian Krause’s Disingenuous Anti-Environment Witch Hunt

vivian krause environmental charities

Canadians are inundated with ads from Enbridge, Cenovus, Kinder Morgan, Shell and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

But we’re also targeted by a more insidious type of PR brought into the spotlight by the New York Times scoop on a speech Richard Berman gave to the Western Energy Alliance.

In that speech, Berman told the group’s members — mostly oil and gas companies — they had to be prepared to “win ugly” in an “endless war” against environmentalists. 

We are now finding out we are also subjected to secretly funded propaganda from groups like the “Environmental Policy Alliance” (whose self-conciously chosen initials are EPA, the same as the U.S. government’s Environment Protection Agency), or the more obviously biased “Big Green Radicals.”

Edelman and TransCanada Part Ways After Leaked Documents Expose Aggressive PR Attack on Energy East Pipeline Opponents

Russ Girling TransCanada

Last week internal documents from Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, were leaked to Greenpeace, exposing an aggressive strategy to target opponents of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline.

The release of the documents brought TransCanada under fire for using dirty public relations tricks to manipulate public opinion and divide communities on the issue of the company’s 4,600 km Energy East pipeline that will carry 1.1 million barrels a day of Alberta oilsands crude to one small refinery and to export facilities on the east coast.

Today a press release from Edelman confirms the firm is parting ways with TransCanada after “attention…moved away from the merits of TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline project.”

According to the release, “Edelman and TransCanada have mutually agreed not to extend Edelman’s contract beyond its current term,” which completes at the end of December.

The release also states the communications strategy Edelman devised was meant to “drive an active public discussion that gives Canadians reason to affirmatively support the project.”

Vivian Krause and Richard Berman’s Oil Industry Playbook

vivian krause, richard berman

He had no idea he was being taped.

So when influential Washington, DC, political consultant Richard Berman talked about strategy and tactics to the oil and gas industry’s Western Energy Alliance in Colorado Springs this past June, he didn’t mince words.  

This is an endless war,” Berman said.

The secret tape was published in the New York Times a few weeks ago, released by a displeased oil industry executive, on condition of anonymity.

As he urged industry reps to employ tactics like digging up embarrassing tidbits about environmentalists and liberal celebrities, Berman also made one emphatic point:

People always ask me one question all the time, ‘How do I know that I won't be found out as a supporter of what you're doing?’ We run all of this stuff through non-profit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity. People don't know who supports us. We've been doing this for 20-something years in this regard.”

The Western Energy Alliance, at whose June meeting Berman laid out his cold-blooded strategy, describes membership as “an investment in the future of the independent oil and gas community in the West.” Its members throughout the U.S. and Canada “share and support our commitment to improve business conditions, expand opportunities and move the industry forward.” 

Former NDP Comms Director Key Strategist on Edelman Energy East Astroturf Strategy


TransCanada has bought some unlikely support for the company’s public relations astroturf offensive aimed at winning support for the Energy East pipeline.

As first reported by Ricochet, Erin Jacobson, the recent director of communications for the NDP, Canada’s official opposition party, will be helping advise TransCanada on developing the astroturf campaign, bringing her expertise in Canadian public affairs and developing digital political campaigns.

As revealed in documents obtained by Greenpeace (reported Monday on DeSmogBlog), TransCanada hired Edelman, the world’s largest PR company, to create a “grassroots advocacy” campaign to help push the oilsands crude pipeline through the eastern provinces to New Brunswick.

A document prepared by Edelman for TransCanada, titled “Grassroots Advocacy Vision Document,” dated May 15, 2014, lists Jacobson as “Canadian program lead,” and explains that she “will join the Energy East team to provide Canadian-specific advocacy counsel.”


Subscribe to PR