Tyee Special Report: In America’s Capital, a Fierce Fight over Oil Sands


From TheTyee.ca – Match 14, 2011

by Geoff Dembicki

In the hallways and offices of America’s capital city, a
war is being quietly waged out of view of most Canadians and Americans.

The outcome will decide North America’s energy future and its impact on the planet’s climate.

The tactics are all the high pressure
persuasion and hard-ball politicking that tens of millions of dollars
can buy — many of those dollars contributed by Canadian taxpayers.

The war pits America’s largest
environmental groups against some of the world’s wealthiest corporations
and their “allies” in the Canadian and Albertan governments.

The battle line divides two viscerally
opposed camps: Those arguing that North America’s deepening dependence
on Alberta’s oil sands industry represents a pragmatic solution to
looming energy crises, and those who say relying on oil sands crude
marks an irreversible step closer to climate change catastrophe.

The prize, at end of the day, will be votes cast by politicians.

Will Washington’s legislators pass laws
that have the effect of opening the oil sands spigots wider, assuring
that Alberta’s bitumen crude increasingly, and permanently, flows into
the U.S. market?

Or will they legislate against high carbon
emissions fuel sources as a measure to reduce climate change? That could
severely constrict the flow of oil sands’ output into the U.S., dashing
the profit dreams of corporations — and some Canadian officials — who
have already bet hugely on providing bitumen-derived crude for American

The Tyee goes to the story

With so much on the line, there has been
surprisingly scant coverage of how this battle is being waged and by
whom. Until now. Beginning today, The Tyee is publishing The War for the
Oil Sands in Washington, an in-depth, multi-part series that begins
with three stories this week and many more in the coming weeks.

The reporting comes out of months of research capped by a week spent
in Washington late in February, during which I interviewed oil sands
lobbyists, environmental advocates and the congressional insiders either
side hopes to influence.

What I found was an intense lobbying
campaign being waged by each camp, both battling for the sympathies of
Congress and the White House administration. The odds are clearly in
favour of the oil sands coalition, which holds enormous political
influence and has won major legislative victories on several fronts. But
the green coalition, especially with Barack Obama in power, has more
clout than its limited resources might suggest. 

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About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.