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Trees are good but oil is better
Energy-hungry public turning its back on nature

Claudia Cattaneo,
Financial Post
Published: Wednesday, June 11, 2008

SURVEY GAUGES OILSANDS ATTITUDES: Generally speaking, do you think that future development of the oilsands is a good thing or bad thing?Flieshman-Hillard Oilsands Survey, Andrew Barr, National Post

A year ago, the federal Cabinet would have bellyached for a while before giving its blessing to an oilsands project such as Kearl, owned by Imperial Oil Ltd and its parent, Exxon Mobil Corp, facing a high-profile assault from the green lobby

But oil then was at US$60 a barrel, gasoline sold for around a buck a litre and climate change was front and centre in a still-robust economy

With oil prices now more than double year-ago levels, outrage over the high cost of gasoline in a slumping economy part of the daily news diet, rising food prices blamed on high energy costs, and greater public awareness about the tightness of global oil supplies, the recent behind-the-scenes federal government approval of permits to allow the continuation of Kearl, an $8-billion project delayed by court challenges from four green organizations, seemed like the right thing to do

What's increasingly apparent is that the national mood is changing in favour of the continuation of oilsands development, despite an expanding effort by the green lobby to derail projects because of their environmental impact, confirming once again that the environment tends to take a back seat when its protection hits the pocketbook

According to a poll of 500 Canadians and 500 Americans conducted in May and June for its clients by the Calgary and Dallas offices of U S-based Fleishman-Hillard International Communications, 75% of Canadians and 68% of Americans said future development of the oil-sands is "a good thing

The poll also found:

-A high level of awareness of the oilsands in both countries, with 67% of Canadians and 47% of Americans saying they were somewhat to very aware of the deposits in Northern Alberta

-When asked how important the oilsands are to the overall security of the North American energy supply, 83% of Americans and 73% of Canadians said it is very important

-Among those who believe that oilsands development is a bad thing, only 43% in Canada and 31% in the United States said it should be stopped even if it means paying more for oil and gas

-Canadians have greater concern about the impact of oilsands development on the environment than about security of oil supplies, while Americans are more concerned about the oilsands as a secure supply of oil than about their environmental impact

Linda Smith, Fleishman-Hillard executive vice-president, said she was surprised by how much Canadians and Americans are aware of and support oilsands development given the prominence of the environmental agenda in the media

A survey on Canadian attitudes toward the oil-and-gas industry conducted recently by Ipsos Reid for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers came to similar conclusions

While CAPP is still interpreting the extensive survey, conducted in February and March for its members, vice-president Brian Maynard said, "Opposition to the industry wasn't as high as I was expecting

Mr Maynard said even based on anecdotal evidence in the past couple of months, there has been a noticeable spurt in interest in the oilsands as an answer to tight oil supplies, while environmental concerns have been softening

The public-opinion results are encouraging for the oil industry, which recently stepped up its efforts to communicate why oilsands development is needed, whether through advertising campaigns (the approach taken by Total SA), or meetings in the community (as done by ConocoPhillips)

What's also apparent is that the green community's efforts to paint the oilsands as an undesirable source of dirty oil aren't hitting the mark with an increasingly energy-sophisticated public

ccattaneo@nationalpost.com  

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