Neil Young's anti-oilsands comments draw fire from industry

The oil industry is speaking out about negative comments made by rock star Neil Young during his benefit tour to help an Alberta First Nation.

Petroleum producers says rock star's rhetoric is uninformed and divisive

Singer Neil Young has faced criticism over his comments that compared the landscape around the oilsands to that of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

The oil industry is speaking out about negative comments made by rock star Neil Young during his benefit tour to help an Alberta First Nation.

"Mr. Young may represent that rock stars don't need oil, but we would represent that Canadians very much do need oil," said David Collyer of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

He said the industry is proud of the positive relationships it has built with First Nations across Canada.

"Certainly from time to time there are barriers to effective collaboration and engagement between industry and First Nations — we recognize that and we acknowledge it," said Collyer. 

He said those differences relate to education, culture, unresolved land claims and views regarding economic benefits and opportunities.

"However, what Mr. Young and his colleagues fail to acknowledge is that in many causes, and in the face of those challenges, we've had many significant successes," said Collyer, pointing to jobs, contracts, cultural programs and infrastructure development.

He said oilsands companies contract with aboriginal organizations for up to $1.8 billion a year for goods and services.

Neil Young speaks in Winnipeg

Young also had a news conference Thursday in Winnipeg, the second stop on his Honour the Treaties tour to help raise money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) in its fight against Shell Canada's Jackpine mine.

Neil Young speaks to the media in Winnipeg accompanied by members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)
“My job is to bring light to the situation through my celebrity. Aside from that, I am not nearly as qualified to speak as these other folks are,” said Young.

“I think when you make a deal, you’ve got to stick to the deal that you have made. If you are going to change the deal, you have got to talk to the people you made a deal with and change it.”

The oilsands development received the go-ahead from Ottawa in December despite the environment minister's view that it's "likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects."

Shell Canada’s Stephanie Sterling, the vice-president of commercial strategy and business development for heavy oil, declined to comment specifically on the Athabasca Chipewyan’s legal challenge.

But she did say relationships with aboriginal communities are in general quite positive.

"We want them to share in the benefits in the communities that we operate in," said Sterling.

But Eriel Deranger, ACFN member and communications co-ordinator, said it's time for First Nations to sit down at the table with government to work on policies affecting them.

David Schindler, a University of Alberta biologist who was also at the Winnipeg press conference, said meeting with government officials is important because the consultations done by oil companies with First Nations are a sham.

Latest shot at Keystone pipeline

Young's latest shot at the energy industry was aimed at the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

He told a news conference ahead of his Winnipeg concert tonight that the pipeline makes no sense since the oilsands bitumen would be sent to China — a country he says is one of the dirtiest in the world.​

Collyer said the singer has every democratic right to be "wrong," but his rhetoric is uninformed and divisive.

"Speaking on behalf of the thousands of people who work in this industry and have a great deal of pride in what they do and how they do it, we find the misrepresentations made throughout the tour quite irresponsible," he said.

Collyer said there needs to be a balanced discussion about the oilsands.

"I would suggest that Mr. Young does not at all have a good understanding of what science is being done," he said.

But in Winnipeg on Thursday, Young didn't dispute he wasn't an authority on the matter, instead saying he was hoping simply to bring light to the situation.

“As far as me not knowing what I am talking about, everyone knows that that’s obvious,” he said, drawing a laugh from the crowd. “Couldn’t be more obvious.”

Industry leaders said there is some damage being done by Young's comments. They say he is driving a wedge between industry and aboriginal groups.

Top oil executives in Calgary hope to sit down with Young to talk about the oilsands when he comes to town. His concert in Calgary on Sunday is sold out.

With files from The Canadian Press


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