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Big oil's charm offensive turns critics off

Image credit: Enbridge Inc.

The Integrity First program is about “sharing best practices and applying advanced technology throughout the industry." It's not just another public relations effort, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, [CEPA] President and CEO Brenda Kenny says. But Wilderness Committee campaigner Ben West calls the oil lobbying organization's effort "laughable."

“It's just insulting to the intelligence of the Canadian people. I hope they didn't spend too much money on this because I think they’re launching an effort that will just fall flat on its face," West told the The Vancouver Observer.

“There’s just nothing of substance in there. Even the framing of it, 'Integrity First', what does that even mean? I would question the integrity of what they’re saying.”

But Kenny told Postmedia News that “This is absolutely not a PR exercise.”  She said she hoped those who react with cynicism about the announcement will be proven to be inaccurate in their views. 

CEPA members averaged three “significant” spills per year between 2002-2011, she said. “Three incidents are three too many. CEPA Integrity First will help us to reach zero incidents.”

The announcement came on the heels of the launch of a major CEPA ad campaign in the Globe and Mail and other papers.

West said he believes CEPA initiated the campaign  because the pipeline industry is in such a tough spot right now.

“It’s amazing how many of these spills have taken place recently," he said.

Professor George Hoberg, who specializes in environmental and natural resource policy and governance at the University of British Columbia, said that high profile accidents in recent years likely prompted this latest campaign.  

“It’s not at all surprising that pipeline companies are trying to improve their public image,” Hoberg said.

The voice of Canadian Oil

CEPA calls itself the “voice of Canadian oil and gas pipeline companies.”  It’s an advocacy organization with a mandate to promote and protect the interests of its members on public policy matters, according to the Centre for Energy’s website.

CEPA’s policy initiatives have included “advocacy for regulatory change with respect to five pieces of federal legislation that directly affect the pipeline industry (both federally and provincially).” Those pieces of legislation include the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Species at Risk Act, Migratory Birds and Convention Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act.

CEPA’s announcement comes after one of their members, Enbridge Inc., launched its own newspaper ads this week claiming that the company has a “99.999 per cent” perfect pipeline safety record. 

But last month, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board condemned Enbridge’s response to a major spill that unleashed millions of litres of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in July 2010. Its final report denounced Enbridge’s “pervasive organizational failures” and “organizational deficiencies.” The board condemned Enbridge's response to the Kalamazoo spill, comparing it to the slapstick inefficiency of the Keystone Cops.

The NTSB report prompted Canada’s National Energy Board to inspect the Enbridge's control room in Edmonton this week.

“Recent pipeline incidents have raised concerns about pipeline integrity,” Kenny writes in the lobbying group's newspaper advertisements. “Canadian pipeline operators have a strong track record for pipeline safety borne out of continuous improvements and deployment of technology. Recent events have demonstrated, though, that we need to do more to reduce the frequency and impact of pipeline events.”

Staff lawyer at the West Coast Environmental Law Association Josh Paterson said that even if there is sincere effort behind CEPA’s campaign, he doesn't think it will influence communities concerned about the risks associated with Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline

“Oil pipeline companies can hit the talk radio shows all day long and fill the papers with ads, but they can’t change the hard reality that people in this province are not opening up their communities to oil supertankers and pipelines.”

“When you don’t want oil spills to threaten your community, an industry education campaign coming on behalf of the very companies that cause these spills won’t change people’s minds,” he said.


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