Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Oil industry is no villain: executives

CEOs call celebrity allegations 'sensational' and 'unfounded'

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TransCanada CEO Russ Girling (left) and Cenovus Energy CEO Brian Ferguson at a panel discussion in Toronto on Wednesday.

CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

TransCanada CEO Russ Girling (left) and Cenovus Energy CEO Brian Ferguson at a panel discussion in Toronto on Wednesday.

TORONTO -- Canadians are being misled about the oilsands by critics and celebrities making "sensational" and "unfounded" allegations, the chief executives of two of Canada's biggest energy companies said Wednesday.

"Like a character in a Hollywood movie, oil has been cast as a villain," Cenovus Energy president and chief executive Brian Ferguson said during a panel discussion at the Canadian Club of Toronto.

"In Hollywood, the land of make-believe, everything is black and white, good and evil. It makes for a very compelling story, but the real world does not work that way."

While he didn't address recent comments by Canadian rock icon Neil Young directly, Ferguson did refer to other celebrities who "have been trash-talking oil," adding "when it comes to energy, Hollywood stereotypes are unhelpful and, in many instances, simply dead wrong."

"These accusations are absolutely baseless, yet they make front-page headlines," said Ferguson. "Canadians should be outraged by these accusations."

'These accusations are absolutely baseless, yet they make front-page headlines'

-- Cenovus Energy president Brian Ferguson

Young held a pre-concert news conference in Toronto on the weekend in which he attacked the Harper government and Alberta's oilsands, comparing a Fort McMurray industrial site he'd visited to the atomic-bomb devastation of Hiroshima, Japan.

Young said he was "embarrassed" by a Canadian government "trading integrity for money" and accused politicians of breaking treaties with a First Nation and plundering natural resources.

He reaffirmed his criticism Monday after a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper shot back that Canada's natural resources sector was a fundamental part of the economy.

Both Ferguson and TransCanada CEO Russ Girling said the oilsands were being developed responsibly, with First Nations not only benefiting from revenue sharing but also from training and jobs.

Girling -- whose company is still awaiting U.S. government approval to build the US$5.4-billion northern portion of its Keystone XL pipeline years after first applying for a permit -- said projects are being put at risk by delays by allegations based in "fantasy and not reality," which are putting Canada at risk of being left behind in a competitive global market.

"We've been through a more than five-year process with Keystone XL and it's been riddled with misinformation and that misinformation has resulted in a delay that I think has been detrimental to both the environment, the economy and the public interest," Girling said after the event.

"This is about getting the facts out before our world gets turned on us by those that are out ahead of us, creating that misinformation."

He said TransCanada was committed to Keystone, but had had discussions with its customers about putting in rail terminals if the pipeline isn't built.

Canada's foreign minister, John Baird, was in Washington on Wednesday, pushing for a prompt decision on Keystone. He said the Obama administration shouldn't drag out the approval process any longer.

Several politicians also criticized Young's comments Wednesday, saying they were insensitive and misleading.

"His comparison of Fort McMurray to Hiroshima is as inaccurate as it is insulting to victims and I think really undercuts his credibility," Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who is in India for a trade mission, said in a conference call from Mumbai.

"I just think it's regrettable that he's using his fame to advance policies that actually will hurt the very people he claims he wants to help."

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall called the comparison ignorant of the facts, and, in Ottawa, Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay said he disagreed with the rock star's comments, but noted Young was entitled to his opinions.

"He can keep on rocking in a free world," MacKay said.

Young and actor-director Robert Redford lead a list of celebrities, such as Daryl Hannah, critical of Keystone and the oilsands. In 2010, Canadian-born producer-director James Cameron criticized the oilsands as a "black eye" and a "dead-end paradigm."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2014 A8

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