12/07/2012 04:19 EST | Updated 02/06/2013 05:12 EST

Oil Is Reason Behind U.S. Funding Of Canadian Environmental Conservation

An oil pump operates in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain, at sunset Monday Oct. 29, 2012. The price of oil fell below $86 a barrel Monday as a gargantuan storm headed for the heavily populated U.S. East Coast, where energy consumption was likely to drop as many businesses closed and transportation ground to a halt. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

Heads up, Canada! Our one and only big energy customer, the United States, isn't going to need Canadian oil any more. That's the implication of the International Energy Agency's latest predictions. The U.S. will be the world's largest oil producer by 2020 and a net oil exporter by 2030. Some say this could happen a lot sooner.

At the same time that the U.S. is fast becoming an energy exporter, American charitable foundations are restricting Canadian fossil fuel development with conservation initiatives that put huge areas of land off-limits to natural resources development. Whether it is their intention or not, large conservation areas are de facto trade barriers that would restrict Canada's marine access to global energy markets — on all three coasts — and maintain the U.S. monopoly on Canadian exports, keeping Canada over a barrel and on the sidelines of the global energy market.

For the Canadians on the front lines of environmental conservation initiatives, it's all about saving the bears, caribou, salmon and so forth. But for the U.S. foundations that fund these initiatives, this is about oil.

The largest environmental initiatives in Canada are the Great Bear Rainforest on the north coast of B.C., the Canadian Boreal Initiative and the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative. In all three, the big funder is an American foundation.

Since the late 1990s the San Francisco-based William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, both created by the founders of tech giant Hewlett-Packard, have paid $90 million US to First Nations and environmental groups, tax returns show.

Hewlett's Western Conservation strategy, co-funded by the Wilburforce Foundation and others, aims to protect iconic species such as grizzly, lynx, beaver and bighorn. But there's more to it than that. This initiative aims to restrict fossil fuel development on 85 million acres in the U.S., Alberta, B.C. and Yukon. In essence, they want eight parks, each the size of Switzerland.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, created by the founder of Sun Oil has put at least $57 million into the Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI). Co-funded by Pew, the Hewlett foundation and the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, the CBI aims to restrict roads, hydro, forestry, mining and energy development on 1.2 billion acres of northern Canada. That's 40 per cent of Canada!

Federal and provincial governments have pledged to put off limits nearly 600 million acres of northern Canada, an area a third larger than Alaska and California combined. Under former premier Jean Charest, Quebec agreed to restrictions over an area the size of Texas, with strict restrictions on an area double the size of all U.S. national parks, combined.

Pew's arctic initiative, Ocean's North, aims to restrict offshore oil and gas drilling but what we hear about most is protecting the belugas, polar bears and the people of the north.


The same U.S. foundations that fund conservation in Canada also fund American groups working towards energy security, including a foundation called Securing America's Future Energy. The name says it all.

American foundations aim to reduce fossil fuel dependence to stop global warming and strengthen U.S. national, energy and economic security. That's clear. What's unclear is whether they fund conservation initiatives in Canada, in part, to foster U.S. energy security.

To address climate change, lead American foundations fund grassroots campaigns that bring about a "massive shift in investment capital" towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. This strategy is described in Design to Win, the touchstone paper of the Presidential Climate Project which aims to create the climate legacy of U.S. President Barack Obama.

The main funder of the Presidential Climate Project is the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), the same foundation that is behind-the-scenes on the campaign to block the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and ban oil tanker traffic — but only on the strategic coast of British Columbia and in the Canadian arctic. Never mind the dozens of tankers that import oil to the U.S. on a daily basis, the Rockefeller Brothers are only against the tankers that would export Canadian oil to Asia.


The Rockefeller Brothers have powerful connections in Vancouver. The founder and long-time chair of the U.S. Presidential Climate Action Project was the late Ray Anderson. One of many positions that he held was as a long-time director of the David Suzuki Foundation.

RBF's point person for both the Presidential Climate Action Project and the campaign against pipelines and tanker traffic is the same person: Michael Northrop.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, now leading the charge to block expansion of oil tanker traffic, met with Northrop in 2010, at taxpayers' expense, at the Rockefeller Brothers' offices in New York. Robertson says that his meeting with Northrop had nothing to do with its anti-oil tanker campaign.

Since the late 1990s, environmental organizations (ENGOs) in Canada have received at least 2,000 grants for a total of $425 million US from 40 American foundations, according to my analysis of U.S. tax returns.

Almost all of the U.S. foundations that fund Canadian ENGOs are members of the San Francisco-based Consultative Group for Biological Diversity (CGBD), an umbrella organization created in 1987 by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), an agency of the U.S. State Department. CGBD members have more than $50 billion US in assets. They granted a total of $3.2 billion US in 2010; they can't be out-spent.


The CGBD's focus on Canadian oil is no coincidence. Back in 2000, the CGBD had a pivotal meeting in Vancouver with a focus on energy and "Northern North America" (read: Canada). A CGBD report on that 2000 meeting says that its focus on B.C. goes back to "an historic CGBD briefing" in the early 1990s.

"Local hosts, the Endswell and Vancouver Foundations, threw a rollicking party for the region's environmental workers and visiting funders at the Web Café" (at the Vancouver aquarium), says another CGDB document on that same meeting.

In 2002, the CGBD held its annual meeting in Yoho National Park, near Field, B.C. The focus was "interrelationships of global warming, energy extraction and large-scale landscape protection." Keynote speakers were David Suzuki and David Schindler of the University of Alberta.

Some U.S. grants are unusually large. For example, in 2003 the Rockefeller Brothers Fund granted $1 million US to First Nations on the B.C. coast. Of all 2,500 grants for $227 million US made by the Rockefeller Brothers since 2003, that was the third largest, according to my analysis of data from the U.S. Foundation Center.

In terms of earning and keeping a social license to operate, dialogue with front-line environmental and aboriginal groups is important but not enough. There's an elephant in the room. Government and industry need to deal directly with the deep-pocketed foundations that write the big cheques.

(Edited for length from an original article published in The Financial Post)