Game launched by anti-oil sands activists
Fight goes online where players spray oil at leaders; producers urged to act
BY GARY PARK FOR GREENING OF OIL
The gap between environmentalists and the oil sands industry is turning into a gulf, with activists introducing an online video game called Tar Nation.
Characterizing the development of northern Alberta’s bitumen resources as a crime against nature, the game targets government support for oil sands development by allowing players to spray oil at Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff, leader of the opposition Liberal party.
The game ends by allowing participants to e-mail a pre-written protest to the two leaders.
The game, available at www.tarnation.ca, Facebook and online gaming sites, is the creation of the Polaris Institute, a left-leaning think tank.
A Polaris spokesman described the “tar sands” industry as Canada’s fastest growing source of carbon emissions that “perpetuates our dependence on dirty fossil fuels and prevents us from making the urgent and necessary transition to renewable energy sources and a clean energy economy.”
Whatever response the game attracts, it’s another wedge been driven between two solitudes that provoked varied comments at a late March oil sands summit in Calgary.
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Industry leaders need to pay attention
Two of Canada’s dominant oil sands producers put themselves on the clean-up wagon, but a former chief executive officer at Shell Canada suggested the industry is not yet taking the environmental attacks seriously and urged industry leaders to get serious about seeking common ground with their opponents.
Suncor Energy’s Rick George and Cenovus’s Brian Ferguson acknowledged the importance of improving their environmental performance and spreading the word on their efforts.
While insisting he is “not defensive,” George was critical of what he called the uninformed debate about the oil sands.
He said Suncor has made progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and is working on a new mining technique to better manage the toxic sludge from the bitumen extraction process that now ends up in tailings ponds.
“I understand that stakeholders want to see continuous improvement,” George said. “That’s our job and we take the responsibility very seriously.”
Ferguson said Cenovus, which concentrates on steam-injection to remove bitumen, said his company’s solvent technology has the potential to lower carbon emissions and production costs by lowering the ratio of steam to oil.
“There’s tremendous opportunity here for technological advance,” he said.
Jackie Forrest, an analyst at IHS CERA, said technology can overcome many of the environmental hurdles, especially if Canada and the United States join forces to advance those efforts.
She said there is a “middle ground where you can get energy security and work together on the environmental aspects.”
Oil sands producers have not done a good job, says Mather
Clive Mather, who retired as Shell Canada’s chief executive officer in 2007 after guiding the company to its initial oil sands mining project, told an Edmonton group of business and community leaders that the oil sands sector faces a challenge that “is not life-threatening, but it could be.”
He said “we have not done a good job in the oil sands, either in environmental performance or in communication and we’ve got big problems.”
Conceding he was not likely to win industry friends with his remarks, Mather said political, regulatory and industry leaders currently lack the credibility to restore the industry’s reputation on their own unless they are willing to involve groups they often detest—such as Greenpeace.
“These guys matter because at the moment they’re the one telling the story,” he said. “And we’ve got to engage with them to neutralize them and get the mass of the world back on (the industry's) side.”
Mather said the industry must start by eliminating tailings ponds and decreasing both its use of water and its greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenpeace plans to keep the pressure on
David Emerson is a former Canadian government cabinet minister and chairman of the Alberta Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy, which is mapping the province’s economic future over the next 30 years.
He told the same audience that the industry’s priorities must be to tackle the “brand terrorism” that oil sands’ critics are engaged in.
While the industry debates the value of extending an olive branch, environmental officials argue the Alberta government’s regulations are too slack, companies are not transparent and not enough is being done to measure the full impact of projects.
Simon Dyer, oil sands director at the Alberta-based Pembina Institute, said there is no desire by industry and government to explore solutions and improvements, while Greenpeace’s Mike Hudema said his organization is likely to follow up the actions it has already taken to disrupt operations.
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