Dear Canada: More Alberta ‘energy war room’ propaganda is headed your way

“When America chooses Canadian oil, it helps provide reliable, responsible, and affordable energy that is committed to environmental excellence.” – Canadian Energy Centre advertisement

The Canadian Energy Centre, aka the “Alberta energy war room,” spreads pro-oil and gas propaganda. The Centre’s website is full of cheery fluff about oil and gas. News broke last week that the Centre spent $22 million on advertising campaigns in Canada, the US, Europe, and the UK to promote the wonders of Alberta hydrocarbons. A fair guess is that it will do so again this year.

Albertans can’t say for sure because the Centre was created as a private corporation owned by the Alberta government, with three cabinet ministers comprising its board of directors, making it impervious to freedom of information requests. Funding comes from monies collected through the province’s industrial emitter carbon tax, called TIER, not government’s general revenues.

Former United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney proposed it in 2019 as a “rapid response” to oil and gas “misinformation” on social media and in news reporting. The enterprise has always felt counter-intuitive. Can’t Big Oil fund its own propaganda? What about peak oil demand, which the International Energy Agency says will likely happen by 2030? Is the middle of the climate crisis really a good time for a provincial government to be pimping oil and gas?

The Centre never publishes outright fabrications. But, to an energy journalist familiar with most of the stories on its site, the jiggery pokery with context, and even basic evidence, is alarming. Canadians should believe the energy war room about as much as they should trust door-to-door sales people. Make no mistake, the Centre is peddling propaganda. 

For example, the Alberta oil and gas industry is not committed to environmental excellence. Nor is it “ethical,” as Alberta’s tired old narrative claims. You can find the receipts for my argument in Energi Media’s Unethical Oil investigative series. Part 1: Alberta’s Shameful Secret and Part 2: Alberta’s Orphan Well Crisis. Part 3 about the oil sands is well underway and should be published in late September or early October.

If you live outside Alberta (or Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s other two oil-producing provinces), why should you care? There are plenty of reasons, but let’s focus on two.

Dash and Dine, Oil and Gas Style

Source: Feb. 28, 2018 presentation by Robert Wadsworth, Alberta Energy Regulator.

The first is that the Alberta oil and gas industry’s environmental liabilities (e.g. orphan wells, oil sands tailings ponds, etc.) total somewhere in the postal code of $300 billion. I argued in Unethical Oil Part 2 that the industry has no intention of paying that bill. No oil company CEO has ever said this bit out loud, but we can infer from decades of past behaviour and where companies are telling investors they plan to allocate future capital (dividends, share buybacks, cost reductions, emissions mitigation) that cleaning up their mess is not high on their agenda.

If the companies refuse to (or can’t because oil consumption and revenue are declining beginning in the 2030s) clean up the mess, there is almost no security set aside to pay for it. The next wallet in line belongs to the taxpayer. Alberta alone can’t possibly pay the tab. That leaves Canada on the hook.

To be clear, if you don’t live in Alberta, I mean your wallet. How do you feel about oil companies raping and pillaging the environment for a hundred years, then sending Canadian taxpayers a portion of the clean up bill?

Climate Change and Canada’s GHG emissions

The second reason is climate change. The oil and gas industry makes up 26 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Despite extravagant claims by industry and the Alberta government, oil and gas emissions are not falling. Since the oil sands makes up three-quarters of Alberta oil production, let’s start there.

Alberta accounts for 12% of Canada’s population, but 38% of its emissions. Source: Government of Canada, Greenhouse Gas National Inventory.

The average emissions-intensity of a barrel of Alberta oil sands crude is 68 kg CO2e per barrel, about twice the North American average. Some oil sands crude is incredibly dirty at 140 kg CO2e per barrel. Emission-intensity has fallen over the past two decades, but absolute emissions have risen because output has risen. This is why the oil sands consistently account for 11 per cent of all of Canada’s GHGs. 

Pathways Alliance, the oil sands trade association, says the sector aspires to be net-zero by 2050. What they rarely mention is that the six member companies of the Alliance are asking Canadian taxpayers to foot $50 billion of the $75 billion cost. 


A search of the Centre’s website reveals no mention of this inconvenient fact. But it does turn up plenty of posts with titles like this one: “Revenues from Alberta oil and gas can end up in provinces that look down on the industry.” They’re talking about you, BC, Ontario, and Quebec.

Please keep that in mind the next time you see a social media, TV, or newspaper advertisement paid for by the Canadian Energy Centre. 

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