“Energy War Room” rising above controversy

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By Bruce Lantz

An organization devoted to battling misinformation promoted by opponents of the oil and gas industry is getting rave reviews.

Rising above controversy that plagued it soon after its formation by the Alberta government in 2019, the Canadian Energy Centre Limited (CEC) has now become a force recognized by those who appreciate the work of the energy sector.

“The work of the Canadian Energy Centre is invaluable, not just to Alberta but to the entire country,” said Canadians for Affordable Energy president Dan McTeague in a statement. “I have used the CEC’s material many times. The CEC is in the business of helping Canadians understand the value and importance of the energy industry, and they do it very well.”

Also called the “Energy War Room”, the CEC resulted from a campaign promise by United Conservative Party leader (and eventually Alberta premier) Jason Kenney during the 2019 Alberta provincial election. When he founded the UCP, Kenney promised to engage in “national and international advocacy” including a “rapid response war room in government to quickly and effectively rebut every lie told by the green left about our world-class energy industry”. The CEC’s mandate, backed by a C$30-million annual budget provided by the provincial government and, some say, industry, therefore is to highlight achievements in Alberta’s oil and gas sector and refute misinformation about the industry, actions appreciated by oil and gas producers. It has highlighted how the industry is on the cutting edge of environmental innovation, creates opportunities for First Nations, and showcases Canada’s ability to help to lower global emissions with its abundant and responsibly-produced resources.

“The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) continues to be supportive of the Canadian Energy Centre filling a much-needed space in the conversation about energy today,” CAPP president and CEO Tim McMillan said in a statement. “Albertans and Canadians need more facts, more research and more balanced information about Canada’s energy industry to help make better-informed decisions about our country’s economic future.”

But the CEC has had its share of problems, in 2020 CEC chief Tom Olsen, a former veteran political journalist and unsuccessful UCP candidate, had to apologize for the tone of tweets against the New York Times on the company’s official CEC Twitter account and ordered them deleted. The Times had carried an article alleging that the Alberta oil sands was one of the world’s dirtiest oil reserves and was losing significant investment. The CEC tweets in response said the Times has a “dodgy” track record, is “routinely accused of bias” and is “not the most dependable source. At about the same time, the CEC social media manager apologized for retweeting “factually incorrect information” about how clean Teck Frontier’s oil would be compared to other North American oil streams.

Lately, the CEC in March 2021 launched a website and petition against the Netflix animated children’s movie Bigfoot Family, accusing it of spreading “misinformation” about the oil and gas industry to the “youngest, most vulnerable and impressionable” viewers in scenes such as one showing oil being extracted by blowing up a valley using glowing red bombs. The controversy – also known as ‘Bigfootgate’ – received provincial, national and international media attention.

The CEC was established in tandem with the launch of the Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaign led by a forensic accountant and former chair of Calgary Economic Development, Steve Allan. This was prompted in part by the work of Alberta researcher Vivian Krause, who spent a decade examining foreign funding of Canadian environmental non-profit organizations determined to destroy the province’s oil industry. The $3.5-million study, whose 657 pages of findings were released on Oct. 21, found that while foreign money was involved in environmental campaigns against the expansion of Alberta’s oil sands, no one broke the law. The report found that of the $1.3 billion foreign donors gave to Canadian environmental campaigns between 2003 and 2019, $54.1 million was spent on anti-Alberta resource development activity.

“The Canadian Energy Centre recognizes and applauds the immense amount of work put in by Steve Allan and the commission to issue a report of this breadth and scope,” said CEO Tim Olsen. “The report’s findings, including the extensive use of foreign funds against Canadian oil and gas, and the level of sophistication and co-ordination of those committed to land-locking Canada’s energy sector are alarming but not surprising.”

Allan said he was pleased to see the commission refer to some of the CEC’s work in the report, but he added that the CEC was disappointed that the commission did not contact them “to gain better insight into the work of the CEC to build wide-ranging support through increasingly effective advocacy campaigns directed at target audiences in the rest of Canada, the U.S. and across the globe.”

The CEC has emphasized the energy sector’s value, stressing that it contributes about $219 billion annually, more than 10% of the gross domestic product, to the Canadian national economy. At the same time, oil sands producers cut greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 22% from 2011 to 2019, and spent more than $15 billion with Indigenous-owned businesses since 2012, including a record $2.4 billion in 2019. Overall, Canada is only responsible for less than 1.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a Statistics Canada report, a number cited often by the CEC in refuting allegations and demands by environmentalists.

“The Canadian Energy Centre continues to be a strong advocate for the importance of Indigenous opportunity in the energy sector to help pull our people out of poverty and provide more purpose in their lives,” said Dale Swampy, president of the National Coalition of Chiefs, in a statement. “We look forward to leveraging the combined work of the Centre, industry, government and other organizations to develop an urgent new strategy to rebrand the energy sector in the eyes of the world.”

Olsen said the accolades show that the CEC has overcome its initial “growing pains” and is now able to focus on being an “essential organization” by other advocates and associations working to protect Canada’s economic future.

“We will continue to tell a complete story of Canada’s new energy mix, including great work by the traditional oil and gas sector to reduce emissions, efforts to build a new hydrogen economy, and work to develop low-emission geothermal energy, small modular reactors and renewables,” he said.

“We are committed to uniting with our allies to tell Canada’s responsible energy story and how it is key to forging a Canadian solution to the global climate challenge.”

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