TransCanada turns up the heat in pipeline PR war

Images of nature and kids on bikes in parks in ads promoting the pipeline flood the airwaves as provinces demand environmental assessment

Between the the images of rippling water and children on bikes, a voice-over assures TV audiences that TransCanada cares about the communities through which it wants to pipe tar sands oil. 

The Calgary-based pipeline giant’s new ad campaign appeared in heavy nightly rotation just as the premiers of Ontario and Quebec threw the company for a loop, laying down seven conditions TransCanada must meet if it wants to build its $12 billion Energy East pipeline.

The preems are demanding an environmental assessment weighing Energy East’s greenhouse gas emissions. GHGs aren’t a consideration of the National Energy Board, which will ultimately determine the fate of the proposal to pump 1.1 million barrels of crude per day from Alberta to tanker ports in Quebec and New Brunswick. 

Though according to Council of Canadians climate justice campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue, Energy East would unleash climate pollution equivalent to adding 7 million cars to our roads. 

Another condition of Ontario and Quebec approval: the company will have to consult First Nations and ensure that the project is “socially accepted” by communities along the route, a serious hurdle since polling has shown that Quebecers oppose Energy East.

Internal documents obtained by Greenpeace last week reveal the energy company is priming for a PR fight, armed with a bag full of dirty tricks: TransCanada’s hired the world’s largest public relations firm, Edelman, to fake grassroots support (aka astroturfing) and smear environmental opponents. According to the documents, Edelman planned to dig up dirt on the Council of Canadians, the David Suzuki Foundation, Quebec’s Équiterre and others to “add layers of difficulty for our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources.”

Council of Canadians’ Maude Barlow calls the move “desperate,” and it may well be. A whopping $33 billion of the corporation’s planned pipeline projects are now entangled in political quagmires here in Ontario and Quebec as well as south of the border. Last week, its Keystone XL pipeline was voted down, at least for now, by the U.S. Senate.

Update: After a flurry of negative press around its PR strategy, TransCanada has turfed Edelman. In a press release issued Wednesday November 26, Edelman said “attention has moved away from the merits of TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline project.  As a result, and in the best interests of the project, Edelman and TransCanada have mutually agreed not to extend Edelman’s contract beyond its current term.”  The contract is up at the end of December. 

Adds Edelman: “We stand by our strategy. It was both ethical and moral, and any suggestion to the contrary is untrue.” | @ecoholicnation

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