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.