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Alberta road show defends tarsands

Toronto Star | Rob Ferguson - September 20th 2010

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Under attack from North American environmental groups over its tarsands, Alberta launched a charm offensive Monday extolling the economic benefits to Ontarians of extracting oil from the western soil.

"This is big business for Ontario," said Iris Evans, Alberta's minister of international and intergovernmental relations — and one of three ministers to hold a news conference.

Ontario's machinery and metal fabrication sectors are key suppliers of companies working in the oilsands and the Alberta government wants workers to greet growing anti-oil sentiment with the rejoinder that "you're attacking my livelihood," said Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert.

"This will not be the last time we will be spreading the message across the country," added Liepert, whose government also bought ads in newspapers Monday pointing out that Alberta companies have signed millions of dollars in contracts with firms throughout Canada.

The trio of ministers acknowledged the environmental "challenges" in extracting oil from the tarsands and said the province is looking to Ontario industries for help, particularly in water treatment for tailings ponds.

"Water and waste water treatment are something that we're very interested in," said Environment Minister Rob Renner, who will meet with some water technology companies in London on Tuesday.

"We will do even better meeting those challenges with tomorrow's technology," he added.

Environmental groups, particularly in the oil-hungry United States, have stepped up their attacks on the oilsands in recent months, buying ads and putting up billboards to point out environmental damage and greenhouse gas emissions.

Alberta exports 1.4 million barrels of oil daily, and a proposed new pipeline from Alberta to Texas is the subject of debate. A delegation of Canadian First Nations leaders is in Washington for meetings with the White House this week to raise concerns about the environmental toll of oilsands development, such as deformed fish in Lake Athabasca. Alberta has denied there is any contamination to communities downstream from the oilsands.

In July, a coalition of Canadian and American environmental groups called Corporate Ethics International launched a multimedia campaign including YouTube ads called "Rethink Alberta." It urges tourists to think twice about visiting the province's famous mountains and lakes by juxtaposing them with pictures of oilsands development.

"Alberta is spending millions to brand itself as an environmentally friendly destination for tourists, when in fact we think it's the most environmentally unfriendly place in North America because of the tarsands," executive director Michael Marx of CEI said at the time.

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