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Big Oil Just Can't Take a (Tar Sands) Joke

Posted: 08/16/2013 1:02 pm

DeSmog Canada recently revealed Andy Cobb and Mike Damanskis -- two political satirists in the spotlight for their ongoing spoofery of the Alberta tar sands project -- had an Indiegogo fundraising promotional video for their upcoming "vacation" to the Alberta tar sands ordered removed fromYouTube  due to an alleged copyright violation.

I say alleged because under U.S. legal precedent (YouTube is a U.S. company), it's very difficult to successfully claim copyright infringement in cases of parody and/or satire. But that doesn't seem to be keeping Travel Alberta, the province's tourism bureau, from trying.

"The original inspiration for our project is that industry PR around the tar sands seems like a cross between a travel ad and oil company ad, inviting us to 'come to Alberta' and see for ourselves," Mike Damanskis told DeSmog.

For this complaint, Travel Alberta is being represented by Dentons, a firm formed with the merger of international law firm Salans LLP, Canadian law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, and international law firm SNR Denton in March 2013.

Under-explored thus far in the saga: the relationship between Dentons and Big Oil.

DeSmog investigation has revealed Dentons is a major corporate firm representing Big Oil in all facets of its operations, from upstream, to midstream to downstream. Further, the attorney-of-record issuing the complaint, Jordan R.M. Deering, has acted as counsel to BP Canada. Fraser Milner Casgrain also formerly lobbied on behalf of Big Oil and also represented climate change denier Tim Ball in court.

Representing ExxonMobil Tar Sands Project, Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline

Dentons has "made the case" for many oil and gas industry clients and works closely both with tar sands producers and also pipeline companies bringing the product to market.

One of Dentons' major clients for the past year and a half has been Enbridge, concerning the company's controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline set to carry tar sands crude from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia at Kitimat. From there, diluted bitumen ("dilbit") will be shipped to predominantly Asian export markets. Northern Gateway, by and large, is Canada's version of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and has encountered fierce resistance.

Dentons explains of its legal role for Northern Gateway on its website as 

"advising on all aspects of the proposed dual pipeline...and the marine terminal at Kitimat...Counselling the client during environmental assessments and National Energy Board proceedings and providing advice with respect to negotiations with aboriginal groups and governments, shipping and navigation reviews, commercial structuring, finance and construction."

dues-paying member of the Alberta Chamber of Resources and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canada's largest oil and gas lobby, Dentons also enjoys another powerful client: ExxonMobil.

Exxon is the subject of Cobb and Damanskis' first tar sands-centric satire, which pokes fun at Exxon's massive Pegasus tar sands Pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, and which aired on primetime on The Rachel Maddow Show.

After being denied a water permit by the Alberta government in May 2008 for its Kearl tar sands project, Imperial Oil -- 69.6% owned by ExxonMobil -- claimed the delay would cost the corporation.

"The effect for my client is profound," said the company's lawyer Munaf Mohamed, of Fraser, Milner Casgrain LLP. "It took nine months to get this piece of paper. What is significant to the sting of the lash? If we can't commit the [permit] now, [the project] gets pushed out a year or more."

Production of 110,000 barrels per day of tar sands officially began for the Kearl Oil Sands Project in April 2013. Imperial and Exxon have big plans in the months and years ahead for the Project.

"Kearl is a historic development for Imperial," Rich Kruger, Imperial Oil chairman and CEO, stated in a press release. "Kearl is the largest project we've ever undertaken and the beginning of a period of substantial growth for the company that will see us double production to more than 600,000 barrels per day by about 2020."

Deering's Clientele, Dentons' Lobbying Record, Climate Change Denial

According to her biographical sketch on the Dentons website, Jordan R.M. Deering served as "Counsel to BP Canada in connection with its US$1.67 billion agreement to sell its Canadian natural gas liquids business to Plains Midstream Canada."

Fraser Milner Casgrain itself has lobbied on behalf of Syncrude CanadaNexenEnbridge,ExxonMobil, and BP according to Canada's federal lobby registry.

Court records also show Fraser Milner Casgrain represented climate change denier Timothy Ball in his high-profile defamation case against University of Lethbridge Professor Dan Johnson and The Calgary Herald.

Cobb and Damanskis React


Cobb and Damanskis told DeSmog they're not exactly shocked about the connections between Dentons, the Alberta government, and Big Oil.

"I'm not sure 'surprised' is the term I would use to describe my reaction, there's not much these guys can do that will surprise us," said Cobb. "Given the breadth and magnitude of BS that the industry has kicked up to obscure their activities, it's hard to know what would be surprising. These sorts of shenanigans seem more expected than unusual."

Damanskis, in the meantime, has filed a counterclaim with YouTube, a process that takes 10-14 days for review.

"We haven't broken any laws, so this really just comes down to intimidation," Damanskis said. "They want to silence us the same way they're trying to silence public comment on pipeline hearings."

"They obviously must feel like we pose a threat to them if they're trying to silence us before we even get to Alberta. We don't even have a product to release yet and at this point we're just two guys with an idea that could change public discussion about the tar sands."

Regardless of the apparent muzzling efforts, Cobb says the duo won't be fleeing the scene any time soon and that they feel emboldened by the fall-out.

"We're going to continue to produce video and develop the documentary. We're not afraid of them, and we're just getting started on the topic," he explained. "A little intimidation won't affect our plans and we will publicize our campaign far and wide."

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Loading Slideshow...
  • Syncrude Upgrader and Oil Sands

    The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the oil sands consumes far more oil and energy than conventional oil and produces almost twice as much carbon. Each barrel of oil requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water from the neighboring Athabasca River. About 90% of this is returned as toxic tailings into the vast unlined tailings ponds that dot the landscape. Syncrude alone dumps 500,000 tons of toxic tailings into just one of their tailings ponds everyday.

  • Boreal Forest and Coast Mountains / Atlin Lake, British Columbia | 2001

    This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the Boreal region. On the border of the Yukon and Southeast Alaska, the western flank of these mountains descends into Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Far from the oil sands, the greatest remaining coastal temperate and marine ecosystem is imminently threatened by the proposal to build a 750-mile pipeline to pump 550,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude to the coast. Once there, it would be shipped through some of the most treacherous waters, virtually assuring an ecological disaster at some point in the future.

  • Tailings Pond in Winter, Abstract #2 / Alberta Tar Sands | 2010

    Even in the extreme cold of the winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.

  • Aspen and Spruce | Northern Alberta | 2001

    Photographed in late autumn in softly falling snow, a solitary spruce is set against a sea of aspen. The Boreal Forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's Boreal Forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.

  • Tar Sands at Night #1 | Alberta Oil Sands | 2010

    Twenty four hours a day the oil sands eats into the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet's greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forests and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast they can be seen from outer space.

  • Dry Tailings #2 | Alberta Tar Sands | 2010

    In an effort to deal with the problem of tailings ponds, Suncor is experimenting with dry tailings technology. This has the potential to limit, or eliminate, the need for vast tailings ponds in the future and lessen this aspect of the oil sands' impact.

  • Tailings Pond Abstract #2 | Alberta Tar Sands / 2010

    So large are the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds that they can be seen from space. It has been estimated by Natural Resources Canada that the industry to date has produced enough toxic waste to fill a canal 32 feet deep by 65 feet wide from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, and on to Ottawa, a distance of over 2,000 miles. In this image, the sky is reflected in the toxic and oily waste of a tailings pond.

  • Confluence of Carcajou River and Mackenzie River | Mackenzie Valley, NWT | 2005

    The Caracajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it joins the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea. This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the world, will be directly impacted by the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project.

  • Black Cliff | Alberta Oil Sands | 2005

    Oil sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately 12-15 meters high. Giant shovels dig the oil sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks, which have a 400-ton capacity.

  • Oil Sands Upgrader in Winter| Alberta Oil Sands | 2010

    The Alberta oil sands are Canada's single largest source of carbon. They produce about as much annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires more water and uses almost twice as much energy as the production of conventional oil. Particularly visible in winter, vast plumes of toxic pollution fill the skies. The oil sands are so large they create their own weather systems.

  • Boreal Forest and Wetland | Athabasca Delta Northern Alberta | 2010

    Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta oil sands, the Athabasca Delta is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North America's four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands. It is threatened both by the massive water consumption of the tar sands and its toxic tailings ponds.

  • Tar Pit #3

    This network of roads reminded me of a claw or tentacles. It represents for me the way in which the tentacles of the tar sands reach out and wreak havoc and destruction. Proposed pipelines to American Midwest, Mackenzie Valley, and through the Great Bear Rainforest will bring new threats to these regions while the pipelines fuel new markets and ensure the proposed five fold expansion of the oil sands.

  • <strong>NEXT -----> Craziest Pictures of the oilsands</strong>

  • Syncrude's Mildred Lake Upgrader, part of The Syncrude Project complex for oil sands processing, is pictured Monday, March 8, 2006 in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • The Syncrude oil sands extraction facility is reflected in a lake reclaimed from an old mine near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada on October 22, 2009.

  • A disused mining machine on display in front of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta on October 22, 2009.

  • Tailings pond in winter.

  • Syncrude upgrader.

  • Dry tailings.

  • The Suncor oilsands operation uses trucks that are 3 stories tall, weigh one million pounds, and cost 7 million dollars each.

  • Oilsands at night.

  • A tailings pond.

  • Black Cliff in the Alberta oilsands.

  • Oilsands upgrader in winter.

  • Oilsands extraction.

  • Oil sits on the surface at a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mining operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. Photographer:

  • A large oil refinery along the Athabasca River in Alberta's Oilsands. Fort McMurray, Alberta.

  • Oils mixes with water at a tailings pond at a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands mining operation near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013.

  • Fort McMurray is in the heart of the world's biggest single oil deposit - the Athabasca Oil Sands, and the oil is extracted by surface mining and refined in the region. The oil production is at the heart of the economy.

  • In this Aug. 5, 2005 file photo, the Syncrude upgrader spreads out towards the horizon at the company's oil sands project in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • This Tuesday, July 10, 2012 aerial photo shows a Nexen oil sands facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

  • This Sept. 19, 2011 aerial photo shows an oilsands tailings pond at a mine facility near Fort McMurray, in Alberta, Canada.

  • The Syncrude extraction facility in the northern Alberta oil sand fields is reflected in the pool of water being recycled for re-use.

  • A night view of the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta Province, Canada on October 22, 2009.

  • Aerial view of a lake and forests in the vicinity of oil sands extraction facilities near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada on October 23, 2009.

  • Workers use heavy machinery in the tailings pond at the Syncrude oil sands extraction facility near the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta , Canada on October 25, 2009.

  • Fort McMurray is in the heart of the world's biggest single oil deposit - the Athabasca Oil Sands, and the oil is extracted by surface mining and refined in the region. The oil production is at the heart of the economy.

  • A large oil refinery in Alberta's Oilsands project. Fort McMurray, Alberta.

  • Next: Alberta Oil Spills

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    A bitumen leak was reported at a Canadian Natural Resources oilsands operation in the weapons range part of the RCAF base in June 2013.

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    Company officials said the leak - at what it calls its Primrose operation - was caused by faulty machinery at one of the wells, affected an area of approximately 13.5 hectares and released as much as 3,200 litres of bitumen each day.

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    Preliminary tallies put the death toll from the leak at 16 birds, seven small mammals and 38 amphibians. Dozen were rescued and taken to an Edmonton centre for rehabilitation.

  • CFB Cold Lake

    As of early August 2013, more than 1.1 million litres of bitumen had been pulled from marshlands, bushes and waterways.

  • CFB Cold Lake, CNRL

    Although CNRL could not say when the leak may finally be stopped, it estimates it will likely cost more than $40 million to clean up.

  • <em>Click through for other recent spill in Alberta</em>

  • Plains Midstream

    Little Buffalo band member Melina Laboucan-Massimo scoops up July 13, 2012 what appears to oil from the pond shoreline near the site of a 4.5 million-litre Plains Midstream pipeline leak detected April 29, 2011. Photos taken at the site and released by Greenpeace of Alberta's second-worst pipeline spill suggest at least part of the site remains heavily contaminated despite company suggestions that the cleanup is complete.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A boat passes by a boom stretching out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    Debris pushes up against a boom as it stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

  • Plains Midstream Canada

    A boom stretches out to contain a pipeline leak on the Gleniffer reservoir near Innisfail, Alta., Tuesday, June 12, 2012. Plains Midstream Canada says one of their non-functioning pipelines leaked between 1,000-3,000 barrels of sour crude near Sundre, Alberta, on June 7 and flowed downstream in the Red Deer river to the reservoir.

 

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