Campaign against Alberta oilsands not helping environment, argues researcher

Vivian Krause's work follows money in U.S.-based Tar Sands Campaign. She says the campaign's work does little to help the environment and pushes Canada out of the global oil market.

Vivian Krause says Tar Sands Campaign goal is to push Canada out of the global oil market

This file photo shows an aerial view of an oilsands mine facility near Fort McMurray, Alta. B.C.-based researcher Vivian Krause has written several reports where she details a directed campaign against Alberta oil by U.S. backers. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

A B.C.-based researcher has spent the better part of the last decade investigating the connection between U.S. charitable foundations and the environmental movement in Canada — the anti-oilsands movement in particular.

Vivian Krause has written several reports where she details what she calls a "directed campaign" by U.S. backers against Alberta oil. Krause's views can be controversial, but she says she's not part of any political party, industry or campaign, and works from her own home in Vancouver. She earns a large part of her income from speaking engagements, including a recent set of events in Alberta, sponsored by Canada Action, a group that promotes development of the energy industry.

She says her research suggests the U.S.-based Tar Sands Campaign may have the overall goal of protecting the environment, but its efforts have had no impact on reducing global oil use — and is hurting Canada in the process, she contends.

Krause sat down with the Calgary Eyeopener ahead of her talk Friday night at Mount Royal University in Calgary called The Cause of Oil Price Discounts.

The interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Q. What do you think is behind the Keystone XL pipeline court case in the U.S.?

A. I think it's clear that this is another result of an effort [that's] been running for 10 years now, tens of millions of dollars have gone into a campaign. It's called the Tar Sands Campaign.

Anybody who wants to learn more about it can just Google it. You can go to the website of an organization called Corporate Ethics in San Francisco and they will tell you about the campaign.

I've been following the money on this for eight years. When I first started, it wasn't clear what it was all about, but now it is. The individual who has been running this campaign now for a decade, he says online that from the very beginning, the campaign strategy was to landlock the tarsands so they could not reach international markets where it could get a high price per barrel.

Q. To what end?

A. I think if you were to ask the people involved with this, they would tell you this is about saving the climate. From their point of view, that's their goal. But if you read the strategy paper, they're quick themselves to recognize transportation fuels is just a small part of carbon emissions and Canada is just a minuscule part of global carbon emissions.

My take on it is, we can all agree there is a lot of scope for improvement in how we use oil. We burn 1,000 barrels of oil every second, So, renewable energy, more energy efficiency, getting more kilometres out of every barrel, and energy security, those are the main goals of the funders and I think we can all agree on all of that.

Vivian Krause is a B.C.-based researcher whose work for better part of the last decade has focused on highlighting the connection between U.S. charitable foundations and the environmental movement in Canada. (Vivian Krause/Facebook)

But they have a fourth goal, and that goal is to push Canada out of the global oil market, and that's the one I think we can disagree on because it doesn't help the environment: it just means the oil gets produced by other countries instead of Canada.

Q. From your work, where do you think the money is coming from that funds these campaigns?

A. It's very clear where the money is coming from because it says so on the tax returns. What's happening is there's a group of charitable foundations and they have endowments, the Hewlett Foundation, for example, has $9 billion, so every year they give away about $400 million, just off the interest and investment income.

Those foundations, they put money into intermediary funders, the Tides Foundation in San Francisco and the New Venture Fund in Washington D.C., those are the two main ones. And those intermediaries, they dish out the money to more than 100 groups in Canada and the U.S. and in Europe that are all a part of this effort called the Tar Sands Campaign.

Q. Are there U.S. oil interests or Russian or Middle East oil interests involved in the campaign?

A. To be honest, I don't think so. We need to understand the history of how this campaign evolved and who is funding it. There are a combination of interests here, there's not just one objective. Part of it is environmental, I'm convinced these funders truly, genuinely are concerned about the environmental impacts of oil and I think we all should be.

There is absolutely nothing charitable about bullying Canada out of the global oil market- Vivian Krause

But there is more to it than that. The same group of funders that began this campaign have been trying to achieve energy independence and get the U.S. off of [Middle East] oil. That's what I would call the elephant in the room — the geopolitics of oil.

Q. What do you say to people who say, so what? It's not as if the oil patch is some under-funded group that doesn't have the billions of dollars behind themselves to fight the same cases. This campaign and its funding just levels the playing field.

A. The oil industry is plenty big enough to fight its own battles and I think unfortunately, they underestimated the powerfulness of activism. That, I think, is changing.

But here's the thing: anybody who cares about the environment needs to think about this campaign because this campaign is not helping the environment — we've now got oil going by truck, some 900 trucks are out there trucking around oil on our roads.

And what has happened over the last few years is we're not using any less oil because of this campaign. In fact, because of the oil price war, we're using more oil. People are buying bigger trucks, taking longer vacations, driving more kilometres per year.

So this campaign has had no effect, none, on reducing our use of oil. All it has done is add a whack load of debt onto Alberta, weaken Canada and instead of enabling us to make more of a contribution to addressing to what truly are global challenges. We are able to do less, so how does that help the environment?

Q. What drives you in your work?

A. This fell in my lap, I have a very unusual combination of experience — I know the charitable sector, I worked with United Nations for a decade, I was trained to avoid corruption, which is what actually got me started.

Most of my work has nothing to do with activism, it's about corruption and that's where I saw that this campaign is not charity. There is absolutely nothing charitable about bullying Canada out of the global oil market. Costing Canada hundreds of billions of dollars, that doesn't make the world a better place, that weakens us.

Canada has a role to play in the world and we can do the most when we are at our strongest and at our best. And right now this campaign is even threatening to tear our country apart. 

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


  • A previous version of this story did not make clear how Vivian Krause earns her income and that her views are controversial to some.
    Nov 27, 2018 2:41 PM MT