Friday, October 1, 2010

TOUCHDOWN – THE OILSANDS AVERTS A TITANIC DISASTER

This week's perspective from Joe Chidley:

You might expect a visit from the man who made Avatar—a 3D movie extravaganza that did not exactly depict the mining industry in a favourable light—to have some pretty damning things to say upon visiting Alberta’s oilsands, one of the world’s largest strip-mining projects. But somehow, the “tar” sands averted disaster when blockbuster director James Cameron visited northern Alberta at the invitation of First Nations activists in Fort Chipewyan. His first stop, however, was a meeting with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Cenovus and Syncrude (two huge oil-sands producers) and Alberta’s environment minister, along with a tour of a reclaimed Syncrude mine site. Cameron came away telling the petro companies “you have a good story to tell,” and displaying an interest in the complexities of mining and environmental management that suggested he took the industry and its efforts seriously—and wasn’t just there to, ahem, tar and feather Big Oil. Tagging along (and tweeting), the National Post’s ever-astute Kevin Libin noted that the director spent a lot of time talking about “the best ways to make the oil sands more palatable to the public, something he seemed keen to do.” Cameron, of course, still voiced concerns about the industry and its environmental impact. But for the oilsands even that measured response is a clear win. By opening up their operations—carefully, of course—the industry managed to defuse a potentially explosive situation rather than escalate it. And in the end, Cameron’s visit made the oilsands’ environmental record seem more a subject for grown-up debate and techno wonks than for moral condemnation. The lesson here: Even if you’re facing your toughest critics, when you really believe you have nothing to hide—don’t hide it.

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