The slippery reach of Big Oil's PR machine

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers seems to be everywhere these days, selling the idea that the rapid development of the tar sands without federal emissions regulations constitutes a "balanced" approach.
 
The group represents big oil companies operating in Canada, so there's no shortage of money to spend to try and shape the debate about Canada's energy and environmental policies.
 
Here are 4 recent examples of how CAPP goes about its business — the environment be damned.
 

1. Snag favourable coverage in Canadian newspapers

CAPP made a board pitch to Postmedia Network's board of directors last year to create an "Energy Channel Sponsorship," so newspapers in the Postmedia chain (which includes the National Post, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Calgary Herald and Vancouver Sun, among others) "amplify our energy mandate."
 
You see, Albertans "may be acutely aware of this fact, the rest of the country often fails to grasp the fundamental role the energy sector plays in building and sustaining economic prosperity. Postmedia and CAPP will bring energy to the forefront of our national conversation. Together, we will engage executives, the business community and the Canadian public to underscore the ways in which the energy sector powers Canada." 
 
These special "joint venture" packages, filled with "topics to be directed by CAPP and written by Postmedia," would include one 8-page Special Report in Ottawa Citizen and National Post, according to the pitch.
 
In a statement, Postmedia Network's vice president of communications Phyllise Gelfand said CAPP delivered the sales presentation a year ago, but the company does not share the full details of any client campaign.
 

"Theirs is an innovative marketing program across our brands and platforms which adheres to clear labelling guidelines. The program includes sponsorship of the FP Energy channel on our websites. These are topical issues, covered across all media — including ours. CAPP is communicating with Canadians through an innovative advertising program, on our platforms. CAPP has no control over editorial opinion or coverage."

 

2. Reach schoolchildren with CAPP-funded curriculum

CAPP is funding "Energy IQ" teaching materials that are currently being distributed to schools across the country by Canadian Geographic magazine. The materials includes a giant floor-sized map to map out pipeline routes. Absent from the map are the locations of the safety incidents involving pipelines, even though they've doubled over the past decade.

In the words of a group of high-school students in Vancouver, the stuff is "propaganda." The open letter from the students, drafted to keep the CAPP-funded materials out of their school, starts off with this opener: "We’re young, not stupid. Keep big oil out of our schools." 

3. Develop a special relationship with a TV personality with a megaphone

Rex Murphy delivers regular rants against environments and pumps up the virtues of Big Oil from his perch at CBC's The National. Murphy is also a go-to guy for the oil sector as a favourite keynote speaker to trash-talk the environmental movement.

Since 2009, Murphy has been spotted or booked at the podium as a keynote speaker not one, not twice, but at least 25 times, including a luncheon this week co-sponsored by CAPP.

Other sponsors for Murphy's paid speaking gigs include: Enbridge; TransCanada; SunCor; the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers; Halliburton; First Energy Capital; Pipeline Contractors Association of Canada; the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum; Canadian Natural Resources Corp.; Esso; Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips, BP; and Chevron.

4. Help write government policy

Internal records from the Alberta government, released recently under the provincial freedom of information law, show how close CAPP works with government officials to neuter and push off proposed rules regarding capping greenhouse gas emissions (kudos CBC).

You see, "higher stringency requirements" would "impact production and revenue," so they "should not be fast-tracked," according to CAPP.

This snapshot into behind-the-scence negotiations between industry and government looks familiar to people in Ottawa. In 2012, CAPP recommended the Conservative government pack a series of laws to weaken environmental rules into the omnibus bill, instead of multiple pieces of legislation. The Conservative ran with suggestions, and buried them in a massive budget implementation bill.

Photo: peterblanchard. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.