Canada's Prime Minister Installs Tar Sands Exec as "Clean Energy" Envoy to US

The Harper Government just sent a clear signal of the real agenda for the so-called “clean energy dialogue” with US government.

Under intense questioning from opposition politicians, Ottawa finally fessed up that former tar sands executive Charlie Fisher will represent Canada in these high level negotiations with Obama Administration.

Long-time observers of Canada’s already pathetic record on climate change were understandably apoplectic.

Appointing Charlie Fischer sends a clear signal that this is about promoting the tar sands, period,” said Stephen Hazell, executive director of Sierra Club Canada.

The government of Canada seems to be coming at this whole clean energy dialogue from the perspective of how can they get special exemptions for the tar sands industry so that, when a cap-and-trade system is implemented, the tar sands aren’t affected.”

Until last December, Fisher was the president and chief executive officer of Calgary-based oil giant Nexen, which has a huge stake in the continued expansion in the Alberta tar sands.

Just last December they ponyed up an additional $735-million in a property that has about 2 billion barrels of extractable crude locked up in tarry bitumen. The company also owns 7% of tar sands giant Syncrude.

If Fisher’s recent leadership of a major oil sands player is not enough to completely compromise his involvement in “clean energy” negotiations with the US, he also had (and may still have) a hefty personal stake in the tar sands.

As of December, Fischer owned over 500,000 common shares in Nexen, then worth about $9.5 million, as well as options on three million more shares. Since he is no longer required to report these trades, the public no longer knows what his personal involvement is.

Oh yeah, he was also a registered lobbyist up until January of this year.

In one of the better straight lines in modern Canadian political history, the Harper government deadpanned: “Every step will be taken to ensure the integrity of the working groups are maintained.”

The Harper and Alberta governments have been as subtle as a sledgehammer in their efforts to exempt the tar sands from the long-overdue cap and trade and green economy legislation now moving through the US Congress.

Desmog readers will recall a tirade on this very subject when President Obama came through Canada’s capital. Just last week, the Alberta government revealed they are blowing $500,000 a year on Washington-based lobbyists to ensure “the right information gets to the policy-makers and the decision-makers.”

The carpet they are trying to sweep the tar sands under is the fiction that carbon capture and storage will make it all ok.

Secret documents revealed last year showed that both the Canadian and Alberta governments were advised the significant carbon capture at the tar sands is virtually impossible. The market has also widely rejected the notion. Just last week, almost half of the companies vying for a $2 billion pot of taxpayers money to actually build carbon capture pilot projects in Alberta pulled their bids.

The new lobbying money for carbon capture comes in spite of a massive $4.7 billion deficit just posted by the Alberta government – the largest in the province’s history and more than three times bigger than what was projected even last week. Oil revenues have tanked yet again at the predictable end of the latest boom and bust cycle.

The pathological dependence of successive Alberta governments on oil royalties was just slammed in a recent report from the University of Calgary.

Apparently both Alberta and the Harper government have a serious learning disability regarding the tar sands. For all their ham-handed attempts to get a pass for the dirtiest oil in the world, the US has clearly signaled that carbon pricing is coming and that the US will be leading the way toward a greener economy.

The sooner we get on that train, the better for the battered Canadian economy.


David Sands of the Government of Alberta, here.

Mr. Anderson you certainly bring a lot of energy to your writing. While we can’t agree with most of your assertions, we certainly applaud you and desmogblog for promoting the discussion.

If any of your readers want a quick (12 mins, I think) look at what we are doing to address environmental impacts of oil sands development, we’ve got a new video. Real people, real pictures, no script. (“Conversation”) up at this site:


Dave, Dave, Dave. To think you used to make an honest living.

This isn’t a conversation: this is 12 minutes of talking heads - Government of Alberta spokespeople parroting the party line. We could argue the strict definition of the word “script” but you’re straining credulity to suggest that this was not SCRIPTED.

And even if you pick on the actual content, it’s a bit of a concern. I like the opening quote:

“The first 25 years of oil sands development has been about trying to produce a resource and make it competitive on world markets. The next 25 years is going to be about trying to make that resource a lot more sustainable in its development.”

It’s tantamount to saying: We have made no effort whatever in the last quarter century to do anything other than make a profit - but trust us, we’re going to “try” in the next quarter to start taking sustainability seriously.

Even the word “sustainable” is an insult to the intellect. It’s a finite resource. You can’t mine it “sustainably.”

This is pure public relations, propped up on a clumsy effort to concentrate only on uncritical information, and relying 100 per cent on cheerleaders participating in a government sponsored promotions event.

(Full disclosure: I worked with Dave Sands at the Edmonton Sun 25 years ago [Hi Dave, hope you’re well], so I know him to be a reliable, resilient guy with a big heart. I interpret his position on this issue as a tribute to the overwhelming economic clout that the tarsands has in Alberta government circles.)

Lot’s of environmentally aware and astute people who don’t buy into the “we’re all economically doomed unless we let Big Oil do whatever they want”. You do know that there are ethical funds without oil sands projects in their portfolio, right?

The term “oils sands” makes it sound as if there is a mixture of crude oil and sand, and that all that is necessary is to separate that crude oil from the sand.

In reality, the mixture is of bitumen and sand. Not only is separating the two far more difficult, but the bitumen must then be refined just to produce a marketable crude oil, never mind the further refining that needs to be done to produce marketable fuels.

This two-step separation-refining process is what makes the tar sands project so energy, water and CO2 intensive.

This apointment will be perfect. It will let America know exactly who and what they are dealing with in the Harper gov’t. Nice move. Especially if the intent was to put yourself out of the discussion before it starts. How dumb can these guys actually be? Jim Prentice, who’s writing your script and why are you letting them? Hitching your wagon to these horses will not take you to Ottawa.

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