Green groups begin campaign to tell Obama about Alberta's 'dirtiest oil'

A coalition of Canadian and U.S. environmental groups has launched a cross-border campaign ahead of Barack Obama's visit to Canada, urging the U.S. president not to be swayed by Ottawa's pitch for Alberta's tarsands.

A coalition of Canadian and U.S. environmental groups has launched a cross-border campaign ahead of Barack Obama's visit to Canada, urging the U.S. president to stick to his new energy plan amid possible pleas for him to support oil production from the Alberta oilsands.

Toronto-based Environmental Defence, Washington-based Earthworks and 14 other groups have produced a newspaper advertising campaign that will start running Tuesday. They are also launching and urging supporters to sign petitions to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Obama, who will visit Ottawa on Feb. 19.

One ad — aimed at lawmakers and running in Roll Call, a prominent Capitol Hill newspaper in Washington — says: "On February 19 Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will try to sell President Obama on a North American climate pact that gives special treatment to the tarsands in Alberta, the source of the dirtiest oil on earth. Tarsands don't fit into the new energy economy." 

Matt Price, project manager at Environmental Defence, told CBC News the campaign is a reaction against the tarsands sales pitch. "We'd like a pursuit of a green jobs agenda in North America," he said.

Obama's "new energy economy means a green economy, and the tarsands just don't fit," Rick Smith, Environmental Defence Canada's executive director, said in a release. "Tarsands oil is dirty oil. We need to eliminate both the carbon emissions and the toxic pollution that is destroying the environment and harming human health."

The groups have long criticized the oilsands, pointing to the large amounts of energy required to extract bitumen and the waste created by the process.

Canada is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the U.S., exporting nearly two million barrels per day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice has defended Alberta's oilsands production as "a reality" that is not going away, and has said the U.S. will realize oil from that source is important to its future.