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OpEd: Attacking oilsands a ‘dirty trick’

Attacking oilsands





OpEd: Attacking oilsands a `dirty trick`

Canada far ahead of other oil-exporting nations on social and environmental fronts

DECEMBER 8, 2011

As environmental activists attack Canada’s climate-change position at the United Nations talks in Durban, South Africa, I can’t stand idly by while false allegations continue to be made about one of Canada’s most innovative and important industries: the oilsands.

Canadian oil is no “dirtier” than any other oil. When the full life cycle is calculated, oil from the Canadian oilsands emits between 18 per cent higher and eight per cent lower green-house gases compared with other sources of crude oil.

I am very much in favour of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels by adopting technologies that use less of them: building a better battery to have cost-effective electric vehicles, for example.

Yet I find a degree of hypocrisy among activists who paint oil companies as environmental criminals while many of these same critics go about driving, flying, and otherwise enjoying the benefits of living in a society that depends on oil for over one-third of its energy.

Greenpeace takes an aerial picture of a Canadian oilsands mining operation and falsely suggests this is the way it will always look. Greenpeace fails to tell the public that the mine is a temporary disturbance, and that – by law – oilsands companies are required to return the site to a thriving ecosystem, with native trees and shrubs and lakes. I’ve travelled to some of these restored sites and they’re beautiful. More than 300 wood bison roam on one such reclaimed site, where the herd is managed by the Fort McKay First Nation.

In some areas, the oil lies well below the surface and here the Canadian oilsands industry is using in situ (in place) drilling. By injecting steam to release the oil from the sand, the oil can be extracted with minimal disturbance to the surface environment.

Canadian oil producers must meet some of the toughest environmental and social standards on the planet. Compared to the six largest oil exporters (Nigeria, Kuwait, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Saudi Arabia), Canada is far ahead on leading social and environmental indicators:

- The World Health Organization has just said Canada has some of the cleanest air in the world.

- Canada far outranks the top six oil exporters in terms of the country’s water quality and water impacts on ecosystems, according to Yale and Columbia universities.

- According to the International Labour Organization, Canada has one of the highest female labour participation rates in the world.

- In its 2010 Freedom in the World report, Freedom House ranks Canada among the most free and democratic countries anywhere.

- Canada is one of the least corrupt countries on Earth based on Transparency International’s 2010 assessment.

It’s no wonder Canada had the highest reputation of any country in the Reputation Institute’s 2011 report measuring the perception of countries worldwide.

Anti-oilsands activist groups like Greenpeace, which I helped found, live in a dream world where they hope to replace fossil fuels, nuclear and hydro energy – by far the majority of the world’s energy supply – with unreliable, intermittent and expensive wind and solar power.

But the world needs oil now and we’ll need it for the foreseeable future – so it matters greatly where that oil comes from. If any oil is to be labelled “dirty,” shouldn’t it be the oil coming from dictatorial regimes in Russia and the Middle East rather than friendly and democratic Canada?

Canadians can be very proud that the oil-sands industry operates within the framework of a free, stable, democratic, and wealthy society with world-class health, social and environmental standards.

An adviser to industry and government, Dr. Patrick Moore is a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace and chair and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver. His new book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist, is available at and

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