Skip to main content

A protester sits in front of a Canadian flag as she is doused in molasses during an anti-Alberta-oil-sands protest on Parliament Hill on Sept. 8, 2010.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Environmental groups are demanding that Alberta's Premier apologize for misleading Canadians over his province's environmental record on the oil sands.

The increased pressure comes as Ed Stelmach and other premiers prepare to meet with one of the most powerful officials in the Obama government, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on the oil sands issue Wednesday night.

"Frankly, the level of trust of government and industry claims regarding the environmental performance of the tar sands is very low," Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

The conference call was held in advance of a meeting between Ms. Pelosi and environmental NGOs on Thursday. Her visit is attracting a lot of attention, pitting environmentalists against industry and governments over the impact on climate and habitat of oil sands production.

A strong environmentalist, Ms. Pelosi is also here to talk about energy security. Wednesday evening, she is to have dinner with Mr. Stelmach as well as Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Quebec's Jean Charest.

Mr. Smith, meanwhile, said one of the reasons for the conference call was "particularly galling" comments by Mr. Stelmach in which he said he will reason with Ms. Pelosi about the "environmental improvements" being made in the oil sands.

The environmentalist accused the Premier of misleading the public, pointing to a recent study that "caught out" the government on its suggestion pollution in the Athabaska River is natural and not caused by oil-sands production.

Toxic levels of mercury, arsenic, lead and other pollutants have been found in the river, Mr. Smith said. Some were found at levels that exceeded Canadian and Albertan guidelines for the health of aquatic life.

"So for misleading the public, for choosing PR over effective environmental enforcement and for ignoring the best available science, we think that Premier Stelmach owes Canadians an apology."

There is also concern with the possible approval of a new cross-border pipeline called Keystone XL. Liz Barratt-Brown, senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council, warned that it threatens the drinking water of over two million Americans.

There are concerns, too, with oil spills after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the more recent Enbridge pipeline leak in Michigan. Ms. Barrat-Brown cautioned that U.S. dependence on "tar sands oil" will have detrimental impact for both countries for years to come.

Outside, meanwhile, protesters opted to send a message to the Conservative government and Ms. Pelosi through agit-prop. In a demonstration organized by the Rainforest Action Network and LUSH Cosmetics, a model draped in the Maple Leaf was doused in molasses as others waved placards decrying "dirty oil" and declaring Parliament Hill a "global warming crime scene."

Interact with The Globe