The Shady PR War Unleashed Against Environmentalists Who Oppose Keystone Pipeline

With possible Canadian oil sand pipeline profits estimated to be in the $100 billion range, it’s no surprise how low backers will go to smear opponents to win approval. A cache of secret documents prepared in May by Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm, for pipeline developer TransCanada, more than confirms the no-holds-barred mentality the oil industry will use to exploit one of the continent’s dirtiest energy sources. The documents concern the so-called Energy East pipeline, which would carry oil sands production to eastern Canada; the Keystone XL pipeline would take the same oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“We also recommend continuing to emphasize the term 'natural resources' when possible, instead of oil sands which is perceived negatively,” said a lenghty May 2014 strategic plan, in a passage that typfied the double-speak Edelman is unfurling.

Its multiprong campaign also includes demonizing opponents, cultivating local reporters along the pipeline path, creating front groups to exaggerate support and posting online “dark content” to create an outsized clamour asserting that the climate change-accelerating project is as warm, fuzzy and clean as a newborn's blanket.

“These documents show that the pipeline company is planning to adopt the deceitful tactics employed by the oil industry in the U.S. to attack environmental advocates,” said Travis Nichols of Greenpeace USA, one of Edelman’s and TransCanada’s targets.

“The documents, written between May and August 2014, lay out a strategy to, 'Add layers of difficulty for our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources’ by recruiting third parties to do and say things ‘when TransCanada can’t,’” Nichols wrote, quoting the documents. “They identify over 40 Edelman staff people and 9 TransCanada staff people who will work on the campaign, which is led from Edelman’s DC office. The advertising and pro-Energy East advocacy website described in the documents have already been launched.”

This is the same playbook created by one of America’s most notorious corporate lobbyists, Richard Berman, who was secretly taped in June at a Colorado meeting for the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” segment of the oil and gas industry, where he described how it was necessary to demonize, belittle, mock, personally attack, and smear opponents in what is an endless publicity battle for corporate profit-making.

What’s especially intriguing in the Edelman documents is that they list many of the very strong anti-Keystone arguments being used by opponents in the United States and Canada—including those heard in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate debate. It similarly lists the pro-pipeline script, which centers on “the four agreed-upon campaign platforms of Safety; Environmental Stewardship; Economic Benefits and Jobs; and National (or Strategic) Interest.”    

Here are the nine anti-pipeline arguments cited by Edelman it says (pages 28-to-29) are seriously threatening and must be neutralized with pro-corporate spin:

  • “The marine terminal at Cacouna will be a threat to the survival of the beluga [whale] in the St. Lawrence River.”
  • “The risk of spills is great; the number of pipeline leaks has tripled over the last 10 years.”
  • “In the event of a leak or spill, the clean water supply could be seriously compromised.”
  • “Oil from oil sands is more toxic, therefore, more difficult to clean in the event of a spill.”
  • “Quebec will profit very little from the project, as jobs created will be essentially for the construction period; there will not be gas reductions at the gas pumps as it won’t reduce our dependence on foreign oil, particularly as Quebec refineries aren’t equipped for processing the heavy Western oil.”
  • “The project would seriously contribute to a worsening climate crisis, since the exploitation of the oil sands represent the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. They estimate that the project would generate additional greenhouse gas emission of between 30 and 32 million tons per year—thart’s to say the equivalent of having 7 million more cars on our roads.”
  • “The project threatens considerable amounts of arable land, something that’s been on the decline for a few years now in Quebec.”
  • “TransCanada is not a company for which safety is a priority.”
  • “TransCanada’s control center is in Calgary and will have issues insuring the pipeline’s safety in Quebec.”

Many of these are the same arguments made by U.S. pipeline opponents—just swap the references to locations, local ecosystems and economics.

Edelman will host daily conference calls to monitor and then rebut any news report whenever these anti-pipeline arguments are made, the document said on page 28. That response includes having a “zero-tolerance policy” for what it deems to be “misinformation in the media.” The TransCanada PR team said it would seek to respond to any negative press within an hour of seeing the coverage, primarily by having selected spokespeople call reporters and editors.

“Environmentalists have been clear on why we oppose the Energy East pipeline,” said Greenpeace USA’s Nichols. “We believe that the threat posed by this pipeline is an unnecessary one because we have better options available to us to meet our energy needs.

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