Full Disclosure

May 23, 2012

By Matt Palmer

Last week I posted a link to my blog (Where is the Truth?) on the Huffington Post article “Shocking New Oil Propaganda Plan to Fool Americans”. My question was simple enough “Why would oil companies fund anti-wind campaigns?” The point of my question was simple: because we do not burn oil for electricity there is no immediate economic threat to oil companies that I can see. From a business case of publicly owned oil companies, of which some invest in wind and other alternatives (i.e. Shell, Statoil, Total, Suncor), it would be public relations suicide, and in some cases going against their own interests.

If there are oil companies giving money to these campaigns, it should not be hard to find out, as most are publicly traded, and financial statements are available. If there evidence is there, then it is fair game to call them out. Accusing the “oil industry” of being evil is as irresponsible as accusing all environmentalists of being “extremists or terrorists”.

This is not to say that there are not individuals within the oil industry giving money to anti-wind campaigns, but that is a different issue. It is also within their right to do so, as long as it is legal, in a democratic society. I think my question was honest and fair. If someone has an answer to why oil companies would fund anti-wind and who they are, we would all benefit from knowing that.

As a result of posting that question, which no one really bothered to address on the Huffington post comment section, other than point to the Koch Brothers (a privately held company), I had a bunch of posts from one entity (someone going by the name Publicola who has no public profile) clearly questioning my motives, and ties I, or anyone associated with Intentional Media, might have to Transcanada’s Keystone XL project or other oil companies.

The answers I posted did not seem to satisfy Publicola. Fair enough, I can’t control that. But as this project progresses it is important that my intentions and connections are clear.

In 2004, I was part of a company called Pay Dirt Pictures. With my partners I co-produced and directed a two-hour documentary on the Alberta Oil Sands called “Pay Dirt”. The first hour of the program detailed the history of the resource up to 1996. That show still plays every day at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Fort McMurray.

The second hour of the documentary examined many of the issues and challenges facing the development of the oil sands including geopolitical, local infrastructure stresses, Aboriginal issues, technology, and environmental including global warming, and reclamation of tailings ponds and mine sites. The intent was to present a balanced story looking at the positives and negatives, asking hard questions of the audience.

“Pay Dirt” was well received and anyone I have ever heard from comments on the success of balancing the story. The Globe and Mail wrote: a superb piece of journalism, covering the topic with more flair and depth than most newspaper or magazine stories have managed. That was great praise for our production team including our writer Giller and Governor General award nominee Fred Stenson.

Funding for the production came from three main sources: Alberta Government Film Production Fund, the Federal Tax Credit (CAVCO), and from the oil industry. Those funders included: Syncrude, CNRL, Shell, Petro-Canada, Enbridge, Transcanada, and Bantrel. Our Advisory Committee helped to ensure that the content presented was accurate and fair, but the companies had no say in the final editorial presentation. We had additional advice and input from The Pembina Institute and Canada West Foundation.

“Unintended Consequences” began three years ago as an inquiry into how oil sands may or may not fit into the global energy picture. Over the three years of research the story continues to evolve. A key thematic thread examines global energy using systems thinking and how that may be critical in creating innovative and sustainable choices for the future. The story will examine the externalities of the energy systems we need to transition from a high carbon to low carbon society. The overall objective is to inspire critical thinking about energy issues.

Publicola asked if I, or anyone attached to Intentional Media, has ties to Transcanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project or other oil companies. I do know people at lots of oil and gas companies including CEO’s. I met some though my work on “Pay Dirt”, as a Director on the Tv series “The Rig”, through networking events, sports, neighbors, my kids school, and family. I live in Calgary, it would be virtually impossible not to know people in oil and gas.

Other than my connections on “Pay Dirt”, I have not received work or payment from oil and gas companies. In 2006, I began production on a feature documentary about a Calgary elementary school connecting with an orphanage in Litein, Kenya. I was able to start that project thanks to a $10,000 donation by then CEO of CNRL Allan Markin, through the Mary Tidlund Foundation.

When I began developing “Unintended Consequences” with my former business partner, Petros Danabassis (no longer attached to the project), we did reach out to the oil sands companies for financing. In December of 2009, we met with CAPP. They were supportive of the intent of the project. After almost two years, CAPP declined to participate financially. That was October of 2011.

At one point, George Gosbee (CEO of AltaCorp Capital) was part of the project, attached as an Executive Producer and Head of the Advisory Committee. George has been a moral supporter of mine since “Pay Dirt”. He went with us to seven or eight meetings. His new company launched in 2011, and, as of January 2012, due to time constraints he has stepped away from the project for the time being.

In addition, we have developed relationships with the University of Calgary Institute of Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, The University of Waterloo Institute of Sustainable Environment, The Canada West Foundation, and the International Institute of Green Technology. We are pursuing more relationships with universities in the US, and one in Brazil so far. The universities will allow us access to faculty and research, and provide representatives for the Advisory Committee.

So to this point, I financed this project through Intentional Media, and my own money and time. I have no personal or corporate connections at this time to Keystone XL or its promotion. Last fall, I ran a crowdfunding campaign for the project on Indiegogo. $9,000 was raised and that money is in a bank account, and will not be used until the project is financed.

The goal is to raise money from various sources. We will be looking for support not just from oil companies, but wind and solar companies, the nuclear industry, or any other interested individuals or corporations that are interested in seeing a more complex discussion of the energy future from a systems perspective.

Content and editorial advice for “Unintended Consequences” will come through an Advisory Committee made up of a diverse group including: academics, scientists, environmentalists, First Nations, public policy experts, economists, energy industry, and general public. The Committee and the Producers will be guided by editorial guidelines adapted from PBS editorial guidelines.

The intent of the question I posed on the Huffington Post article, was not to disagree that there may be a well funded campaign against wind, but to point out that accusing the oil industry of being behind it was unfair and likely inaccurate. If emotions and ideology continue to dominate the discussion of our energy future, the likelihood of finding reasonable and pragmatic solutions will be challenging, if not impossible.

There will be people who feel that accepting money from energy industry (oil, gas, nuclear, wind, solar, environmental groups) taints the project. I disagree. As long as it is done transparently, and the companies contribute willingly, with the only oversight to ensure that the story is accurate and fair, then it is possible. Every documentary takes money from different sources, and that money potentially influences approach and story. A CBC or NFB funded documentary is different from one funded by Fox or Sun News, but they all have a perspective. In the end, I have to answer to the audience. If the story lacks authenticity, accuracy, and credibility, then no one will watch it.

About Unintended Consequences Documentary Project

I'm Producing and directing a multi-platform documentary project on global energy called "Unintended Consequences".
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4 Responses to Full Disclosure

  1. Mark Wolfe says:

    I think the answer to your question is related to the answer I got recently when posing a question to some Calgary-based oil patch CEOs about renewables: not until 2050 at the earliest.

    There is stunning group-think and solidarity around this delay action, and I think the answer to that is renewables starts to tell a different story about who we are in the 21st century and what kinds of changes appear inevitable — inevitable enough that companies like Deloitte publish thoughtware on why every company is an energy company (whether it believes it or not), etc.

    Not big on (real) communication to begin with — which is why a goodly portion of the world is raging against the hydrocarbon machine — oil companies don’t like this new story much because it’s not *their* narrative.

    But there is more than enough room for a “transition” discourse — you know, the energy transition well under way in several European jurisdictions? Instead, you hear hydrocarbon people talk about how we can’t be subsidizing renewable energy (despite the levels of subsidy the oil industry continues to receive that can only be described as majestic), or that renewable materials production is toxic (tell that to people with contaminated groundwater from fracing).

    The result is policy remains patchwork at best, and in the meantime, this tacit agreement to delay the discussion gets entrenched. Delaying even discussion may not sound as bad as a lobbying against wind or other alternate sources of energy (which I seriously doubt the oil industry is backing directly — it’ll be the few industry ninnies behind scenes who deny climate change and have influence; never heard of NASA I guess). But choking the discourse is infinitely more insidious — not just because it betrays naked self-interest, but because delaying discussion is basically unconscionable because it’s completely unnecessary.

    As for accepting oil money, knock yourself out — just don’t bend over in the process.

    • Thanks Mark. Great response. Delaying the conversation and move forward towards a new energy system is not going to help any of us, and hence my objective of working to engage a thoughtful and critical “transition discourse” as you called it. I don’t intend to bend over one bit in pursuing funding, and you might be surprised to know that the companies that have been serious about being involved would not participate if I did. Having oil companies and energy companies involved in the story is a way to get them engaged in this process and discussion, and I know some will accuse me of being naive in thinking that, but I believe it is a more constructive process than what is currently taking place. When we made ‘Pay Dirt” the oil companies did not stop us from shooting the tailings ponds or talking about them, but they did not like it. They were cooperative through the whole process. So I do believe it is possible to create a complex and honest narrative with their participation, in fact it is essential.

      As far as impacts from energy production, it is important we all understand everything has impacts from fracking to toxicity of some materials used in the alternative energy industry. The question is how do we deal with the impacts? Can we find solutions? Every choice will have a benefit and a trade off.

  2. As a resident living within an industrial wind project, I am not happy, and find Industrial wind turbines extremely disruptive to my life as well as wonder what are the long term impacts from the sleep deprivation, constant ear ticking, headaches etc. I am experiencing. When the project was in the “works”, I studied the issue long and carefully and found that the claims made by the wind industry were never supported by the data. They don’t provide sufficient electrical generation to replace the need for fossil fuels nor do they reduce the amount of GHG’s because of their intermittent nature which requires fossil fuel back-up. What I found to be the most amazing thing that has happened in my investigations was the vilifying of people like myself as being narrow-minded, non-progressive, jealous, uneducated, the moral equivalent of a holocaust denier or just plain old NIMBY. Yet because the wind industry was able to portray themselves as clean & green, their assertions were never questioned as biased information despite the fact their end goal was money. I would suggest Matt in your quest to engage in the discussion about “energy” to always follow the money. Vivian Krause, whom I’m sure you are aware of, has done extensive work on this wrt the environmental organizations. It is truly amazing! and has made me realize that people are no longer the focus of policy anymore. I wish you the best in your endeavours in developing your documentary. CBC BTW on Feb. 7th will be airing on Doc Zone called Windrush!

    • Thank you Colette for your reply. Firstly, it saddens me to hear about your struggles. It especially is troubling to hear when people are vilified when they question things. I know about Vivian Krause and she does interesting research. Thank you for the good wishes, it has been a long journey trying to get this made! I will be looking for Windrush when it airs. I also wish you well in your journey.

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