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Column: No, Imperial Oil isn’t hiding important climate documents – Canadian Energy Network


On January 8th The Intercept, an activist news site, published an article shaming Imperial Oil for supposedly hiding its information about climate change for decades. This re-hashing of old arguments initially used to target ExxonMobil is making its rounds again on the internet as anti-hydrocarbon groups continue their assault on oil and gas companies.

The idea that ExxonMobil or Imperial Oil were hiding documents was recently debunked last month by Energy In Depth which reported in December that the group behind the original publishing of these “cherry-picked” documents has a notorious past of being less-than-transparent.

Energy In Depth noted that anti-hydrocarbon activist Kert Davies of the Climate Investigations Center (CIC) is trying to create a scandal by releasing cherry-picked documents from Imperial Oil’s publicly available archive.

Previously the CIC has been slammed by a non-profit group for “using dishonest and potentially unlawful business practices and wasting tax dollars to engage in its investigations.”

These attacks come from a long line of anti-hydrocarbon activists participating in the #ExxonKnew campaign to litigate against the energy company (although relatively unsuccessfully). This release of already publicly available documents on Imperial Oil was a partnership between the well-known anti-hydrocarbon activist group DeSmog Blog and the CIC.

The posted documents include more than 300 pages of company reports, a letter to the Canadian government, and development plans, mostly from the 1980s and 1990s and found in the Imperial Oil archive at The Glenbow Archives, the largest non-governmental archival repository in Canada. All of this material has been publicly accessible for years, first at the Glenbow Library and then at the Taylor Family Digital Library at the University of Calgary.

These groups know Imperial Oil was transparent and made these documents publicly available years ago. They have accessed them several times for various reasons. For example, in late 2015, DeSmog looked at the archive . Furthermore, the astro-turf climate change news organization InsideClimate News used these documents for reporting in 2016 . In another twist, Energy In Depth reports that the Imperial documents were used by a Rockefeller-funded campaign that tried to lay the tracks for climate liability lawsuits. Notably, West Coast Environmental Law, a group from B.C. that has been accused of receiving foreign funding to target Canada’s oil and gas industry is also pursuing climate liability suits.

In addition to previous complaints around transparency, the CIC is even facing a complaint from D.C.-based free market organization FreedomWorks, which argues that the center misrepresents itself to federal agencies to obtain documents through FOIA requests without paying for them. The CIC “is brazenly asking federal taxpayers to repeatedly foot their bill so they can engage in fishing expeditions into the annals of government records for the purpose of attacking the private entities they are averse to,” according to a lawyer representing FreedomWorks, adding “Climate Investigations Center appears to be nothing more than a well-funded attack website that advances the agenda of its unknown financial backers.”

Beyond the shadowy workings of the Climate Investigations Center, the main crux of their objective in publishing these documents was to show that oil and gas companies had knowledge of climate change and its effects long before the public did. This accusation misrepresents the treasure trove of work done by government agencies and scientists well before the 1970’s. In his New York Times series Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change Nathaniel Rich comments that “[a] common boogeyman today is the fossil-fuel industry,” but during the time when “everybody knew,” oil companies “including Exxon and Shell, made good-faith efforts to understand the scope of the crisis and grapple with possible solutions.”

The rumor that oil companies knew about climate change before the rest of the world is simply false. The accusation that they stood by and did nothing is also wrong. This is another in a long line of US-funded groups that continue to slander and attack Canadian hydrocarbon producers.

These companies are taking revolutionary steps to reign in their emissions and decrease their environmental impact. This is only truer with Imperial Oil.

For an oil and gas company that is supposedly bent on misrepresenting the truth about climate change, they are a leader in tackling emissions in Canada. Since 2013, Imperial has reduced emissions intensity in its oil sands operations by over 20% with another goal of 10% below 2016 levels.

There is more to come as Imperial has invested billions over the last 20 years to research and develop new technology to reduce its impacts on the environment.

Recently, Imperial concluded their trials on a new cyclic solvent technology that is estimated to reduce emissions up to 90% in their Cold Lake operations. They have also invested hundreds of millions in their enhanced bitumen recovery technology trial which has the potential to reduce steam usage by 90% and emissions by 60%.

Instead of these anti-hydrocarbon groups attempting to ‘re-publish’ documents that have long been publicly available and suggesting they were deliberately hidden or misrepresented, they should be celebrating the advances the oil and gas industry has made. New technology and research are consistently being put to use so that producers like Imperial can continue to provide reliable energy, while being environmentally conscious.



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