Ethical Oil?: The Canadian oil industry and the Israel connection

on 12 Comments

Last month I discovered a piece on Feministing about a recent Canadian ad campaign for Ethical Oil. According to Ethical Oil’s website, the group:

Encourages people, businesses and governments to choose Ethical Oil from Canada, its oil sands and other liberal democracies. Unlike Conflict Oil from some of the world’s most politically oppressive and environmentally reckless regimes, Ethical Oil is the “Fair Trade” choice in oil. Countries that produce Ethical Oil protect the rights of women, workers, indigenous peoples and other minorities including gays and lesbians. Conflict Oil regimes, by contrast, oppress their citizens and operate in secret with no accountability to voters, the press or independent judiciaries.

The group’s now infamous ad, which can be seen here, speaks of the abuse women endure in Saudi Arabia, and paints Canada’s environmentally disastrous tar sands as the only alternative. But intelligent women aren’t falling for it. 

As one blogger puts it:

“I am a feminist and I am an environmentalist. I don’t really appreciate being asked to compromise one to support the other….If Ethical Oil was truly interested in women’s rights, they’d be campaign for fuel efficiency standards. Instead they’re using the condition of Saudi women as a disgusting gateway to destroying the planet and encouraging an environmental disaster.” 

The ad currently runs on Oprah’s OWN network. Upon discovering this, the exceptionally thorough environmentalist and writer Emma Pullman did some investigative work and found the following, which she then included in an open letter to Ms. Winfrey (the article also does an amazing job of unraveling the absurd logic Ethical Oil operates by): 

According to Deep Climate, Ethical Oil isn’t the low budget grassroots organization it purports to be. Its principals are some of the rising stars of the conservative movement in Canada, and one is a lawyer for tar sands firms.

Here’s the back story: Ezra Levant turned “ethical oil” into a meme late last year. Almost overnight, pro-industry and government officials, keen to sell the filthy oil to a skeptical public, picked up the term and ran with it.  After the Conservative election victory in May, Conservative government spokesperson (and former American Enterprise Institute intern) Alykhan Velshi took over at the helm of the blog. The blog is registered to Levant, who also has strong links to the Conservatives.

And, here’s another thing that just doesn’t add up for me. How is it that a former advisor to Environment Minister John Baird, and communications director for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, would find himself taking an “unpaid” job as a blogger?

Thanks to the folks over at Deep Climate, it makes a lot more sense. is connected to the obscure Ethical Oil Institute. Though there is scant reference to them online, according to their notice of incorporation, the institute was registered on March 9, 2011 to an Edmonton address, 12220 Stony Plain Road, Edmonton AB T5N 3Y4.  

That just so happens to be the address of the law firm McLennan Ross. McLennan Ross makes bathtubs full of money doing work for tar sands firms.

The two members of the Ethical Oil Institute’s board of directors are Ezra Levant and McLellan Ross partner Thomas Ross. Thomas Ross is one of ten lead partners in McLellan Ross’s initiative, a “slick new oilsands cross-selling strategy” and marketing campaign.

But it gets better. Pullman mentioned that Alykhan Velshi also contributes to the group. In fact, Ethical Oil openly states this, saying the site “began as a blog created by Alykhan Velshi.” More than simply an “intern for the American Enterprise Institute,” Velshi was also head of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, where he co-founded the Center for Law and Counterterrorism. He is an open supporter of Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive war, does not believe the Geneva Conventions should apply to those captured in the War on Terror, and advocates the creation of a special National Security Court to try terrorism suspects.

More importantly, Velshi is an open and unabashed Zionist, working for Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney as his Director of Communications and Parliamentary Affairs. You might recall that Kenney made the news in 2009 as he was embroiled in a battle with Canadian Arab Federation president Khaled Mouammar in which Kenney and Velshi were able to successfully defund CAF after comments Mouammar made criticizing Kenney’s support for Operation Cast Lead. According to Velshi, Mouammar was “anti-Semetic.” See here for the full story. 

And there’s more. Writing for the Huffington Post, Velshi criticized the Saudi government’s attempt to get Ethical Oil’s ad off the air, explaining: 

I have also alerted Foreign Minister John Baird and Dean Allison, Chairman of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, about the incident in writing, calling on the Harper government and the parliamentary committee to investigate a foreign dictatorship trying to censor what Canadians can and cannot see on their televisions.

While in a free, open, and democratic society, we can have vigorous disagreements about energy policy and the role Canada’s oil sands should play in the energy supply mix, when a foreign dictatorship like Saudi Arabia tries to censor one side of that debate, we all need to stand as one in defending our rights as Canadians. That means that all of us — including oil sands critics like Greenpeace — need to condemn this brazen act of domestic political interference by a blood-soaked, conflict oil-fueled foreign dictatorship.

Wait, what? Need I remind you, this is the same man who played an instrumental role in successfully banning British PM and outspoken Israel critic George Galloway from entering Canada. From wiki

Velshi told the media that the Canadian government would not reverse this decision, stating that Galloway had expressed sympathy for the Taliban cause in Afghanistan and describing him as an “infandous street-corner Cromwell who actually brags about giving ‘financial support’ to Hamas, a terrorist organisation banned in Canada.[33] The decision to ban Galloway was supported by the Canadian Jewish CongressB’nai Brith Canada and the far-right Jewish Defence League of Canada, which took credit for initiating the action.[34] It was subsequently noted that Velshi had begun preparing media lines regarding Galloway several days before the ban was announced.[32]

The Canadian border police would not let Galloway into the country based on instructions from Velshi. Now tell me again, what did he say about free speech and debate? 

I guess Velshi has no sense of irony. Either that, or he’s just a hypocrite. A neoconservative Zionist taking talking points from the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Birth Canada, which act as in part as agents of Israel to insulate its “blood-soaked” apartheid regime from Western criticism has the gall to talk about other countries meddling in Canadian affairs. What exactly is his angle here? 

In truth, Ethical Oil is guilty of myriad hasbara-esque techniques, among them greenwashing, pinkwashing, and the old familiar but-look-at-those-evil-Arabs-over-THERE excuse by comparison, except this time they’re in the service of Canada rather than Israel. But these obfuscations don’t work for Israel, and they shouldn’t work for Canada either.

This post originally appeared on Maggie Sager’s blog Resisting Occupation.

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12 Responses

  1. Dan Crowther
    October 31, 2011, 10:44 am

    “Conflict Oil regimes, by contrast, oppress their citizens and operate in secret with no accountability to voters, the press or independent judiciaries.”

    Hmmmm, kind of sounds like the American “regime.”

  2. MRW
    October 31, 2011, 11:30 am

    Ezra Levant is woefully uninformed about the Alberta Oil Sands and the history of Canada’s Energy Policy, even though he thinks he’s their great Calgary champion. He is obstreperous and crude (so am I, but I’m not representing a group).

    That said, this business that Alberta’s Oil Sands are “Canada’s environmentally disastrous tar sands” is high-grade nonsense. I am the only person you know who’s bothered to read the 438-page 14-month study by the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel: Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada’s Oil Sands Industry, December 2010, written by seven scientists checking into the claims against the Oil Sands that it was harming the environment and making the indigenous people sick. And that includes Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Robert Redford, David Suzuki (and his entire group) and I suspect, the entire province of Alberta, and possibly most of Canada. I am the only person you know who actually contacted some of the scientists to verify information in it. When I told one of the scientists that I read this 400+ page tome, he said, “You’re probably one of three who did.”

    I am not in the mood to go into chapter and verse here. It’s Monday and I have things to do. But to put this in a broad perspective, Canada’s global CO2 count is 1.8%. (The US is around 18.x%.) The Oil Sands produces about .07% for about 22% of the US entire consumption of oil. (Check out what Saudi Arabia produces: 1.44%…and it’s at least 1/5 the size of Canada.) It is produced mainly in situ, meaning underground, via recycled steam. The province of Alberta is the only place in North America—yes, including the US—that has draconian reclamation laws in place requiring producers to return the land to the same or better condition, or face fines and jail. (They have to save everything they dig up and replace it.) One barrel of their concentrated crude when it reaches the refinery equals three barrels of Saudi sweet crude. And how you can tell that the critics haven’t bothered to do Homework 101 on this, or physically investigate what they are talking about, is that they still call it the Tar Sands. This gush from deep within the bowels of that earth is Mother Nature’s biggest Oil Spill. It’s what the Florida coast would look like if the BP spill was still destroying the beach coast. They’re cleaning it up.

    Ezra Levant is a rabid, pernicious piece of business who should be shut up. He’s using this to advance his anti-Muslim sentiment. You ought to see the other crap he puts out.

    • MRW
      October 31, 2011, 11:38 am

      P.S. The Province of Quebec just signed some huge multi-multo-billion dollar deal to mine and produce heavy rare earths across the entire northern part of the Province so that we Americans can have hybrid cars and clean energy (wind turbines, solar, military instruments, lasers, etc). Wait until they find out the amount of radioactive waste that is going to poison the arctic waters as a result. That’s going to be an interesting argument. Instead of dealing with our consumption problem, we poison every other country except our own (why McKibbens is so anti-pipeline in the US) to feed our addiction. Well, there ain’t no more horrific environmental disaster than what it takes to produce the makings of clean energy machines. Take a look:

    • patm
      October 31, 2011, 1:31 pm

      MRW, I was hoping to cut and paste the “Findings in Brief” of the RSC Expert Panel Report: “Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada’s Oil Sands Industry,” Dec. 2010, but the pdf doesn’t allow this. It is however easily found at the above url and in my opinion contains far too many ‘ifs’, as in all will be well if…..
      Others seem to agree.

      Here’s The Pembina Institute’s initial response, released Dec. 15, 2010
      Media contact: Simon Dyer, Jennifer Grant EDMONTON, AB — Simon Dyer, policy director and Jennifer Grant, oilsands director of the Pembina Institute made the following statements in response to the release of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel findings on Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada’s Oilsands Industry:

      “Today the scientists of the Royal Society of Canada confirmed that there are many serious gaps in the environmental assessment, regulation and monitoring of Canada’s oilsands industry,” said Simon Dyer.

      “To date Governments’ attempts to address the deficiencies highlighted by the Royal Society panel have been ineffective, with a much greater emphasis on expanding oilsands development rather than on ensuring the environment and Canadians are protected,” said Jennifer Grant.

      “The Alberta and Federal governments have already approved a doubling of oilsands developments. All new approvals should be halted until the shortcomings are addressed and independent monitoring systems and environmental limits are put in place,” said Simon Dyer.


      “Impacts of Canada’s oil-sands operations ‘exaggerated’. Report rebuts cancer claims and recommends changes to oversight and monitoring.” Article by Hannah Hoag.

      A panel of top Canadian scientists has scrutinized research on the health and environmental effects of oil-sands development in northern Alberta, and found exaggerated claims for its impact on health. It has also identified weakness in monitoring and inadequate evidence to support some remediation technologies now in place. The panel, convened by the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), finds fault with the media and environmental groups but most of its criticism focuses on the industry-funded body responsible for monitoring oil-sands and the Alberta and federal governments.

      The report, released today, rebuts the claim made by John O’Connor, a local physician and afterwards, by environmental groups such as ForestEthics, that the elevated cancer rates seen in the northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan are due to exposure to oil-sands contaminants from industrial activity further up the Athabasca River.

      The RSC review was commissioned in October 2009 to cast an independent eye on some of the controversial health and environmental statements made about the industry. The panel reviewed hundreds of studies, including many peer-reviewed papers.

      “Contaminant exposures cannot explain the excess cancer rate,” says Steve Hrudey, an emeritus professor in environmental health research at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and the panel’s chair. “We don’t question the numbers of cancer cases but the air-quality data and the water-quality monitoring data don’t support that.”

      The panel assessed the operation and reclamation of tailings ponds that hold mining debris, environmental regulatory performance, and the feasibility of reclamation. They also looked at the impacts of oil-sands development on regional water supply, water quality and ground-water quantity; local air quality; and levels of greenhouse-gas emissions.

      Tailings grow

      The number and size of tailings ponds, which contain sand, silt, clay, minerals and chemicals left over from bitumen extraction, continue to grow in the region and currently cover about 130 square kilometres. Recent studies found that the high levels of naphthenic acids seen in some pond effluent can halt fish reproduction, says Glen Van Der Kraak, a fish toxicologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario and a panel member.

      A lot depends on tailing ponds being cleaned by the industry, says Van Der Kraak. “Industry needs to demonstrate this will be a viable long-term option.”

      Oil-sands operators are also required by law to return the land they disturb to its original state, whether meadows, wetlands or forests, before development. But such land reclamation is not keeping pace with development, the panel writes. More than 600 square kilometres of land have been disturbed by oil-sands mining in the region.

      “Land reclamation is a huge issue because of the land area disturbed and the intensity of the disturbance,” says Anne Naeth, a restoration ecologist at the University of Alberta and a panel member. “There’s a high potential for successful reclamation, and interesting work on the development of peat lands and bogs.”

      To date, only 1 square kilometre has been reclaimed and certified by the Alberta provincial government. According to the panel, another 70 square kilometres have been reclaimed, but not certified. Land reclamation can be a decades-long process for forest ecosystems, but even after land has been restored, a company may delay the certification process because if it passes, the company loses access to the land. Backing the warnings of others, including the auditor general of Alberta, the report says that the public could end up footing the bill for reclamation because companies have not posted enough financial security.

      Requiring attention

      The panel recommends the industry-funded Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program raise the standards of its biological monitoring programs and make its data accessible to the public.

      The report also criticizes the environmental-impact assessment process. International practices are not being implemented, nor are the impacts being quantified, says panel member André Plourde, an economist at the University of Alberta. Both the federal and provincial governments need to review guidelines promoted by international agencies, such as the World Bank, and industrial associations.

      Alberta’s environment minister Rob Renner said in a statement that the report “raises a number of issues that require attention — some of which are already being addressed”. The actions that the provincial government has already taken include developing a better understanding of the cumulative impacts of development over the region and updating reclamation criteria, standards and reporting requirements, he said.

      The 400-page RSC report is the most comprehensive evaluation of tar-sands science and regulation to date. It is the first in a series on the environmental and health impacts of Canada’s oil-sands operations expected to be released over the next few months. Two other panels — one federal and one provincial — have been convened to assess RAMP and its results, which have been questioned. The federal environment agency, Environment Canada, will release its report on 16 December.

      CORRECTED: An earlier version of this story implied that the panel had reviewed hundreds of peer-reviewed papers. While the panel did look at hundreds of studies, only some of those were peer reviewed.”

    • libra
      October 31, 2011, 2:46 pm

      MRW: “One barrel of their concentrated crude when it reaches the refinery equals three barrels of Saudi sweet crude.”

      I’m afraid you lost me here MRW. You make the stuff sound like Campbell’s concentrated soup. The reality is, as hydrocarbons go, it’s more carbon than hydrogen. So it takes a lot of energy to turn the “heavy” bitumen-like substance into “lighter” liquid gasoline to put into your car. You’ve got to add those hydrogen bonds somehow. That’s just basic chemistry, you don’t need to read 400-pages of anything to understand that.

      At a push, you can do something similar with coal but that doesn’t make it “sweeter” than Saudi crude either, whether economically or environmentally.

  3. James
    October 31, 2011, 12:56 pm
    there is nothing ethical about extracting oil out of tar sands.. the canadian oil industry with the buffoon harper are looking for any way they can to put the proper packaging on a pack of deception…

  4. Avi_G.
    October 31, 2011, 2:17 pm

    This is begging for a Photoshop edit.

    I’ll post something later on this evening.

  5. DICKERSON3870
    October 31, 2011, 6:05 pm

    RE: “I guess Velshi has no sense of irony. Either that, or he’s just a hypocrite.” ~ Maggie Sager

    Compartmentalization is a process of separating parts of the self from awareness of other parts and behaving as if one had separate sets of values. An example might be an honest person who cheats on their income tax return and keeps their two value systems distinct and unintegrated while remaining unconscious of the cognitive dissonance.
    Denial is the refusal to accept reality and to act as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist. It is considered one of the most primitive of the defense mechanisms because it is characteristic of very early childhood development.
    Repression is the blocking of unacceptable impulses from consciousness.
    Projection is the attribution of one’s undesired impulses onto another. Thus, an angry spouse accuses their partner of hostility.
    Rationalization is the cognitive reframing of ones perceptions to protect the ego in the face of changing realities. Thus, the promotion one wished fervently for and didn’t get becomes “a dead end job for brown nosers and yes men”.

  6. patm
    October 31, 2011, 7:59 pm

    Nice bit of investigative reporting, Maggie Sager, thanks.

    • RoHa
      October 31, 2011, 8:54 pm

      Investigative reporting? I didn’t think anyone did that these days. Just regurgitating the press release seems to be the norm.

      Well done, Maggie Sager.

      • James
        October 31, 2011, 9:53 pm

        maggie, thanks for this very informative article.. i hope you can continue to help educate us canucks that are stuck with 4 more years of this insidious rot..

  7. annie
    November 2, 2011, 2:56 am

    amazing post and reporting. it has taken me a while to get around to it but it is a must read. sorry for canada..we’re used to this here.

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