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A clever hoax

Late this evening, an email arrived in my inbox that looked rather believable. The text of the email stated that: has expanded efforts to identify the Canadian oil industry as the world’s most ethical by calling on the federal government to ban companies active in conflict oil regions from operating in Canada.

I jumped the gun and tweeted it, but I have since confirmed with both Director Alykhan Velshi and with Ethical Oil author Ezra Levant that the press release is a fake. I’ll be interested to find out who’s behind it.

As a hoax, I expect it will be effective. It raises an important question which I have raised since the launch of the much-talked-about ad campaign – What does “Ethical Oil” say about companies, including many prominent Canadian companies, which choose to operate in these “conflict oil” regions?

Many of the companies operating in the oilsands also have operations in regions featured in the Ethical Oil campaign. Among others, Shell has a long history in Nigeria and, along with Total, recently committed to shut down operations in Iran, Suncor has operations in Libya acquired via the PetroCanada merger, and Nexen has operations in Yemen. Exxon-Mobil, Conoco-Phillips, Marathon, CNRL, and almost any major oil company you can name operate in these regions. The only major E&P company operating in the oilsands region that I can think of which doesn’t operate in “conflict oil” regions is Cenovus.

So, I guess it’s in Alykhan Velshi and Ezra Levant’s court now to respond – how does the Ethical Oil test treat companies operating in conflict oil regions? I’ll be interested to hear what they have to say.



12 responses to “A clever hoax”

  1. Robert McClelland

    I wonder if it even occurred to Levant and the rest of the Tar Party that their propaganda would be hijacked by the left.

  2. tono-bungay

    Clearly if this definition of ethics is to be a basis for trade decisions we have to stop trading with unethical countries. Since most of the stories of the lack of ethics is unrelated to oil production (or you might have to analyze the relative ethics of bitumen and conventional) it seems to be entire countries or ethnicities that are unethical.

    If we ever were to have rules in place to act upon these ethics, we would need a clear definition of what constitutes an unethical country. The prime examples that are given of conflict oil are Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Two countries not involved in any significant armed conflict that I am aware of. And I’m not making a judgment on whether they ought to be, but the US and Canada are both involved in active combat and that does not seem to indicate conflict for the the purpose of defining conflict oil.

    If conflict is not a good predictor of the nationalities to shun, what is? Skin colour and religion seem to be good predictors, many of the arguments generalize about Arab countries or Africa, to which you must add the political leanings of elected governments – Venezuela is on the naughty list but not Colombia. Even NAFTA partner Mexico is on the hook for “endemic human rights abuses and corruption”. In his book and web site, Levant denigrates countries with a single adjective, making it difficult to write objective rules to take multilateral trade action for the moral betterment of the world.

  3. Brian

    The “clever hoax” is this whole “ethical oil” campaign.

  4. Joel Wood

    I haven’t really followed the debate very closely, or read Levant’s book, so I maybe totally offbase here. Isn’t the argument that Canadian sourced oil is [more] ethical than many other sources, e.g., Venezuelan, Saudi, etc.? Not that the companies extracting it are themselves ethical?

    I still think you raise a valid point Andrew, but I guess I am a bit confused. Maybe I should move the book up my reading list.


  5. Duncan KInney

    Max Fawcett blogged about Suncor’s continued involvement in Syria more than three weeks ago.

  6. Joseph Caouette

    Perhaps they upgrade the conflict oil into ethical oil by injecting hot air into the resource—it’s comparable to SAGD, in a way.

    I think you and the hoaxers raise a very important point, and one that reveals some of the serious problems with using the “ethical oil” lens on the oilsands. A nakedly insincere rhetorical bait-and-switch tactic is never a good model for healthy, open debate.

    But what particularly troubles me is how Levant and Velshi use the suffering and oppression of real people in Iran, Libya et al. as a rhetorical sledgehammer to shut down debate of Canadian environmental practices. One might reasonably assume that these people need more help than Cenovus, Suncor and their brethren. Certainly, the donations Velshi solicits on his website might better serve real charitable work towards the disenfranchised and dispossessed, as opposed to buying billboards for successful, lucrative businesses. I know Shell has a marketing department. Do they need charity just because they’re losing a PR battle with environmental groups?

  7. David MacLean

    Joel, that’s right. The premise is that companies operating in Canada operate ethically.

  8. August 5 Edmonton Headlines – the edmontonian: awesome since 2009

    […] Propaganda war! And, as a follow to that propaganda, how does the “ethical” line fly if the oil companies also operate in the bad, terrible, unethical places? […]

  9. Alastair

    Joel, I think since we can’t discuss the ethics or morality of oil itself, only how to get it and how we use it, one has to ask what aspect of “ethical oil” is itself ethical?

    If we condemn oil from sources in conflict regions or repressive societies as unethical, then perhaps we should also condemn the companies that operate in and enable those repressive societies.

    We can’t say “it’s unethical to take oil from Sudan, but it is ethical to be a company extracting oil there and paying the Sudanese government.”

  10. Joel Wood

    I agree with you Alastair about not being able to judge oil itself. What I have seen of the debate has suggested that the ethical oil argument is very subjective. i should probably read the book prior to judging it though.

  11. Fort McMurray Mayor Melissa Blake’s on Ethical Oil

    […] conversation brings to the forefront another set of issues related to my post last night: how do the groups and people portrayed in the Ethical Oil ad campaign feel about it? I read a blog […]

  12. The Institute | Deep Climate

    […] of the issue as a choice between “ethical oil” and “conflict oil” has been duly noted elsewhere. After all, pretty much every important player in the oil sands has operated in the Middle East or […]

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