Robert Redford helping anti-pipeline cause, says TransCanada head

The head of TransCanada told a business conference in Lake Louise that environmentalists are gaining momentum in the public relations fight over pipelines.

Russell Girling says even his mother questions pipeline safety

Russ Girling, president and CEO of TransCanada Corp., addresses the company's annual meeting in Calgary on Friday. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The head of TransCanada told a business conference in Lake Louise that environmentalists are gaining momentum in the public relations fight over pipelines.

TransCanada wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline to transport Alberta oil to the U.S. Gulf coast, but has been facing passionate and vocal opposition from environmentalist and aboriginal groups both north and south of the border.

With high-profile celebrities like Robert Redford questioning the pipeline, some say the message is definitely getting through.

"They've done a very good job," said TransCanada president and CEO Russell Girling.

"It gets into the living room, with celebrity Robert Redford, for example, who my mother loves. My mother calls me up and says, 'Russ, are you going to blow up the planet?'"

Many opponents of the pipeline are young and savvy when it comes to social media. YouTube spoofs targeting Girling and the pipeline have gone viral over the past few months, with more than 50 million views.

However, some criticized a video by NextGen Climate Action for going too far in attacking Girling.

The video, funded by hedge-fund billionaire and President Barack Obama supporter Tom Steyer, was yanked from the airwaves before its first appearance. 

Other videos like Keystone Horror, a parody of the 1979 film The Amityville Horror, are also helping promote the anti-Keystone cause to a diverse range of people. 

With no shortage of vocal celebrity opponents — including the Dalai Lama, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kyra Sedgwick, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore  — it's unlikely the momentum driving anti-Keystone messaging will slow down anytime soon.

Girling says he already gets about 20 to 30 calls to his office every day from people who oppose the pipeline.

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