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U.S. Activist Takes on Syncrude

Martin Mittelstaedt, Globe and Mail
Syncrude Canada Ltd. has picked an unlikely David-and-Goliath-type battle with a feisty 85-year-old Colorado grandmother over a website she created that portrays the giant energy company in an unflattering light over the environmental costs of the tar sands.

The strange flap over the grandmother, Liz Moore, and her personal Internet protest against Syncrude got nasty in mid-April, when the company’s legal department sent her a letter demanding that she immediately remove photographs she had posted showing how the company extracts oil from the tar sands and reclaims land afterward.

Ms. Moore took the photographs at Syncrude’s sprawling operation in northern Alberta near Fort McMurray last summer during a company-organized tour of the oil sands. The company says it owns the images and won’t allow their reproduction without permission.

…Ms. Moore says that after the tour of the site, she was “frankly appalled” by the huge impact of the oil sands, and she felt compelled to speak out to Americans. She estimated that Syncrude’s annual greenhouse-gas releases of about 10 million tonnes equal the emissions of the coal-fired power plants supplying Chicago with electricity.

“People need to know about this,” she said.

She decided that the way to reach a wider audience was to create an anti-Syncrude website, It began in March and cost her $3,600 (U.S.) to set up. It has been one of the side roads on the information highway, with only about 240 hits. Despite this low profile, the site irked the company, and its legal department demanded that nine of about 73 images be removed.

Now Ms. Moore is complaining she’s being muzzled, an assertion the oil-sands operator denies. Syncrude says it wanted the pictures removed because it owns copyright of photographs taken by tourists.

“We see this as an issue of copyright, accuracy, and quality,” says Alain Moore, Syncrude’s spokesman and no relation to Ms. Moore.
(2 May 2007)
The Denver Post adds:

Though the company may have won the battle by having the photos removed, Moore may win the war because of the publicity the muzzling effort has generated.

Her site had just more than 200 hits before the Globe and Mail published its article Tuesday.

Since then, the site has had 2,100 hits, and Moore has received interview requests from numerous media outlets, including a country-rock radio station, she said.

“I want people to start thinking about it … let people know what’s happening,” said Moore, who said she has been a renewable-energy advocate for 25 years.

She previously worked for the Solar Energy Research Institute, now known as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Liz Moore reports:

There are now 6,017 hits on the website.

The Oil Sands of Canada: The Canada-U.S. Connection

Elizabeth Moore
(May 2007)
Slideshow presentation mentioned in the above article. It criticizes the tar sands industry in Canada and advocates conserving oil. Strange how this mild-mannered website caused Syncrude to over-react as it did, setting up a David-and-Goliath scenario. For more on tar sands, see the EB archive of tar sands articles. -BA

Choke point for oil sands may be water shortage

Martin Mittelstaedt, Globe and Mail
The amount of water available in Northern Alberta isn’t sufficient to accommodate both the needs of burgeoning oil sands development and preserve the Athabasca River, contends a study issued jointly yesterday by the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta.

The study, written in part by Dr. David Schindler, a University of Alberta biologist considered Canada’s top water expert, suggests that the choke point for the province’s oil sands expansion may not be the huge carbon dioxide emissions arising from mining and processing the sticky, bitumen containing tar sands, as is widely assumed, but a lack of water.

Oil sands plants typically use two to four barrels of water to extract a barrel of oil from the tar sands, a resource that has given the Northern Alberta region the world’s largest petroleum reserves but made it a global centre of environmental controversy.

The problem of water availability is expected to become acute in the decades ahead because climate change is likely to cause much more arid conditions, reducing stream flows on the Athabasca River, the source of the industry’s water, to critically low levels during parts of each year.
(11 May 2007)