The kid with the YouTube rant is young and approachable. He’s an actor sporting a black leather jacket, strolling through a West Coast forest and talking about pipelines.
“The environment. The economy,” he intones. “People think you have to have one or the other. But do you? So many things to think about.”
And then, he tells us how we might want to think about those things. How we don’t have to worry about pipeline spills, since pipelines are monitored 24/7 “by trained experts.” Tankers, too, shouldn’t cause sleepless nights, since they’re equipped with “state of the art navigation systems,” steered by “well-trained local pilots” and escorted by tugs.
“As a British Columbian, we want to make sure that we’re protecting our beautiful environment. But here’s the thing. Canadian pipelines have a 99.9-per-cent safety record.”
The YouTube video has all the hallmarks of a campaign orchestrated by big-money oil companies, with slick graphics and accompanying social media accounts and slick websites translated into Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese.
Except, if Bruce Lounds is to be believed, it’s not.
Mr. Lounds is one of the people behind British Columbians for International Prosperity, a new organization that calls itself “an independent group of concerned citizens looking to promote practical resource development.”
Or, as Mr. Lounds puts it: “The organization doesn’t want to promote the old rape and pillage.” It does want to support pipelines, mines and ports whose backers have done extensive reviews to mitigate environmental impacts.
But to environmentalists, there’s a lot about BC4IP, as the group calls itself, that doesn’t pass the smell test. For one, Mr. Lounds spent decades in the oil industry. Records dug up by Emma Pullman, a Vancouver environmentalist, show that Mr. Lounds has worked in the oil sands and held senior roles with ConocoPhillips Canada and BP PLC. He also served as president of the Canadian Heavy Oil Association.
“I’m highly skeptical of it being a citizens group, to say the least,” said Ms. Pullman. “I think there’s a high likelihood that it’s connected to industry. … It looks like there’s money there.”
That skepticism hasn’t been helped by Mr. Lounds, who would not identify any of the group’s other leaders, or say how many members it has or how much it spent on the online media campaign – which has included buying the YouTube advertising that drew Ms. Pullman to the videos in the first place.
But Mr. Lounds is adamant the group has received no backing from any of the projects he is supporting: Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline, the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, the Taseko Mines Ltd. Prosperity project and the expansion of the Port of Vancouver.
“I just have an overwhelming concern and I’m not alone,” he said. “I’m not a front for the oil industry.”
Enbridge said it wasn’t aware of Mr. Lounds’s work, although it wasn’t complaining.
“There are many supporters of the Northern Gateway pipeline and we are pleased to see this more formal group come together,” spokesman Todd Nogier said.
As for the cost of all that shiny online material, and the actors and production company hired to assemble it? “We got a cheap one,” Mr. Lounds said. There were some donations, he says, although he won’t say who from. And, he adds, “I’ve done fairly well over the years.”
Mr. Lounds was born in Toronto and moved to Alberta in 1968. He has been in B.C. since 2001, and has property in North Vancouver and on the Sunshine Coast. He decided to launch the group amid a heated West Coast public dialogue that, he argues, “almost seems to be dominated by people who say don’t do anything. … Where do the jobs come from?”
Mr. Lounds is part of a small group battling back – although most have ties to the resource industry. Cary Pinkowski is another. The chief executive of Astur Gold Corp. recently wrote a Vancouver Sun opinion piece arguing: “Creating the conditions for good, well-paying jobs should be the goal of all of us.”
In an e-mail, Mr. Pinkowski said he is eager to fight environmentalists. “People are very tired of hearing about ocean water rising by six metres or the earth warming,” he wrote. “The environmental movement has turned into an almost religious crusade where we are not allowed to challenge any of their statements.”
Those who oppose new oil developments, meanwhile, have pointed to a recent spate of spills and fouled rivers – and say they’re being unfairly criticized by their new opponents.
“They claim a monopoly on facts and they invoke a fictional enemy who opposes all development,” said Eric Swanson, a campaigner with the Victoria-based Dogwood Initiative.