As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information
Last week I watched news coverage of Green Party leader Elizabeth May and NDP MP Kennedy Stewart getting arrested at Burnaby Mountain, the site of a protest against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project.
Despite the pipeline being federally approved, there was May, Kennedy and hundreds of other protesters in civil contempt for blocking a road giving access to construction workers. The project would twin an existing pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, a Vancouver suburb, allowing a tripling of crude oil from 300,000 barrels to 890,000 barrels a day, while also triggering a seven-fold increase in the number of oil tankers coming and going from Vancouver Harbour. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals approved the project in 2016, along with Enbridge’s Line 3 from Alberta to Wisconsin, justifying the decision with a quid pro quo to implement a national carbon tax to cut greenhouse gas emissions. His government at the same time killed the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project – a plan by Enbridge to ship oil sands crude across northern BC and Alberta ending in Kitimat – citing too much First Nations opposition and risk of a tanker spill in the storm-prone Douglas Channel.
While most pipeline protesters are well-intentioned (if misguided and misinformed) idealists, their actions are generally pure, something that cannot be said for the organizations that are funding the anti-oil sands campaign which not only includes protests against Kinder Morgan and other pipelines, but propaganda against “dirty” Alberta oil aimed at European buyers, banning oil tankers from the BC coast, creating the Great Bear Rainforest, and other conservation areas to prevent Canadian fossil fuel development. These American eco-funding machines have raised, and are raising, millions of dollars under the aegis of slowing the noble cause of global warming through the dubious claim of shutting down the oil sands (a relatively small contributor to the problem of human-caused or cyclical climate change – Canada makes up just 1.6% of global GHG emissions), when in fact their other, disguised purpose is to protect the US energy market and to keep the price of Western Canadian Select (WCS) crude, which trades at a significant discount to the WTI benchmark, suppressed by preventing pipelines from relieving the glut of oil.
This article will trace the money that is flowing from large US philanthropic organizations and channelled through a myriad of smaller groups, ending up in the hands of Canadian environmental organizations that claim to represent the people holding the anti-pipeline placards. It will also explain the inability of governments of all stripes to build a Western (or Eastern) Canadian pipeline to tidewater, while pipelines running north to south like Keystone XL and Enbridge Line 3 proceed largely unopposed. The route to the money will encounter some surprising characters along the way, so buckle up, you’re in for a good ride.
The Tar Sands Campaign
Ever wonder why the same people seem to show up at pipeline protests, climate change demonstrations, protests against West Coast tanker traffic, and vocalize loudly against so-called dirty oil produced by the Alberta oil sands? While a flippant answer might be, “they’re professional protesters and have nothing better to do,” the more accurate response is that these protests are not grass-roots affairs organized from some hipster’s basement apartment. They are in fact extremely well-funded and orchestrated events where the money can all be traced back to the Tar Sands Campaign.
Launched in 2008 by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Tides Foundation, the Tar Sands Campaign is an international initiative designed to stop expansion of the Canadian oil industry, reduce demand for Canadian oil sands crude in the US and stop or stall pipeline and port construction. The goal is to shut down the export of oil from Western Canada by pipeline, tanker and rail.
Independent Vancouver-based researcher Vivian Krause has been blogging and tweeting about the money behind oil sands activism since as far back as 2010 according to my research. Krause has over 10,000 Twitter followers and her work has appeared in numerous publications including the Financial Post. According to Krause she has no political affiliation and is not funded by industry.
Krause uncovered the money trail which starts at the Tar Sands Campaign while poring through over 100,000 pages of US tax returns. According to her analysis, over a dozen US foundations granted at least $75 million for initiatives to stymie the Canadian energy sector between 2009 and 2013. The biggest beneficiaries were First Nations including those that opposed Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project. She said US tax returns show two coastal First Nations received US$27.3 million in one mega-grant to pay for “Mobilizing First Nations Against Climate Change in B.C.” and to coordinate with government, environmental groups and the media to oppose “the proposed Enbridge Gateway tar sands pipeline.” While some BC and Alberta Indian bands remain opposed to oil pipelines, a new report found that First Nations are receptive to the nascent liquified natural gas (LNG) sector being promoted by the current and past BC provincial government.
Krause found the Tar Sands Campaign is co-funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund – a philanthropic foundation created by the same family that founded Standard Oil – the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Oak Foundation, the Tides Foundation, the Sea Change Foundation, the Marisla Foundation and at least a dozen other foundations, mostly based in California.
In her January 2018 report “The Tar Sands Campaign Against the Overseas Export of Canadian Oil: Activism or Economic Sabotage?” Krause summarizes that the campaign is “a small part of a very large, global effort to foster a major shift in investment capital away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. This effort also seeks to improve energy efficiency and the energy security.” But the effort isn’t small. Her research reveals that between 2009 and 2016 the Tides Foundation made at least 400 payments for $36 million to over 100 organizations in Canada, the US and Europe. Its website boasts $158.4 million in US grants and $65.2 million in international grants in 2016 alone.
All of the major environmental organizations in Canada that regularly protest pipelines and tanker traffic have been partially funded as part of the Tar Sands Campaign. These include the defeated Northern Gateway and Energy East pipelines, the reversal of Line 9, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, and the Fuel Quality Directive in Europe which requires a 6% reduction in the greenhouse gas intensity of transport fuels by 2020.
Krause says the rationale for the campaign was initially hard to find but she uncovered it in 2010 through a strategy paper written by Michael Marx, then the executive director of Corporate Ethics.
“From the very beginning, the campaign strategy was to land-lock the tar sands so their crude could not reach the international market where it could fetch a high price per barrel. This meant national and grassroots organizing to block all proposed pipelines,” the CorpEthic website explains.
This would be done through “demarketing” where the strategy is the opposite of marketing – which promotes the best aspects of a product. In demarketing, the product, in this case Alberta oil, is bombarded with messages that make it less attractive to buyers, producers and even the industry itself.
The campaign seeks to demonize Alberta oil sands as the “dirtiest” oil in the world (Ie. most harmful to the environment) through negative imagery of oil sands mining rather than cleaner steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) operations, while also diminishing or ignoring industry improvements. Maclean’s last year reported that in 2014 while the average oil sands barrel emitted 6 to 9% more greenhouse gases than the average crude barrel refined in the US, new oil sands projects can compete with US oil on a a low-carbon basis. Also, Paraffinic Froth Treatment (PFT) uses a lower boiling point and less steam which substantially lowers GHG emissions.
The Tar Sands Campaign aims to significantly reduce investor confidence in the Canadian oil industry and sway investment capital away from Canada by engineering “a steady drumbeat of bad press” to negatively stigmatize oil produced from the Canadian oil sands as the “poster child” of so-called “dirty fuel.” The Sands Campaign also aims to achieve a national carbon policy as a framework for curtailing the development of the Canadian oil sands. With the Alberta government’s announcement that it will limit the industry’s carbon emissions to 100 million MT, this objective has been achieved.
The Tar Sands Campaign seeks nothing short of stopping altogether the growth of the Alberta oil industry, aiming “to constrain the growth of tar sands production by increasing the perception of financial risks by potential investors and by choking off the necessary infrastructure (inputs and outputs) of the tar sands,” the campaign’s original strategy states. It says, “We will accomplish this by raising the visibility of the negatives associated with tar sands; initiating legal challenges in order to force government and corporate decision-makers to take steps that raise the costs of production and block delivery infrastructure; and by generating support for federal and state legislation that pre-empts future demand for tar sands oil.” The long-term goal of this campaign is to accelerate the shift in Canada and the U.S. toward cleaner energy and lower energy consumption. “We are forcing investors and oil companies to embrace a new energy paradigm,” the strategy says. – Vivian Krause, @Fair Questions
The motivation: Renewable energy and US energy security
It’s clear from the above-cited objectives of the Tar Sands Campaign that its goals are as much economic as environmental. In an article in Alberta Oil, Krause quotes from a strategy paper Design to Win: Philanthropy’s Role in the Fight Against Global Warming:
According to Design to Win, the overarching goal of voter and consumer education campaigns is to create a policy context for a massive shift in investment capital and a billion-dollar market for renewable energy. Without a negative foil of bad press about fossil fuels, it would be much harder to justify the billions of dollars that government has invested in solar and wind.
As an example of this policy in action, in 2016 the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced a shift from investments in fossil fuel companies by taking its first stake in a renewable energy company. The New York-based fund paid $10 million to Mainstream Renewable Power Ltd. to expand renewable energy in Africa – part of an $117.5 million funding round that will finance up to $1.9 billion in green energy on the African continent. Bloomberg reports that out of the $816 million
under management by the fund, $97.5 million has gone to renewable energy investments including Mainstream and the New Energy Capital Infrastructure Fund which invests in clean infrastructure projects and companies.
By the end of 2018 the Rockefeller Brothers Fund plans to sell all of its investments in fossil fuel companies.
Other ways that the Tar Sands Campaign seeks to hurt the Canadian oil industry include promoting a tanker ban on the BC coast (Trudeau placed a moratorium on tanker traffic in 2015), reducing oil sands demand, and pushing governments to conserve large pieces of land from oil and gas or mining exploration. One of the earliest examples of this occurred in 2001-03 when the Rockefeller Brothers paid US$425,000 to the David Suzuki Foundation – an environmental group familiar to Canadians – to organize BC First Nations. In 2004, according to Krause, the fund also made a grant to the Suzuki Foundation “to campaign to support a moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration” on the BC coast. She adds over half of the Suzuki Foundation’s early money came from US sources, including around a million from the Rockefellers. While US tankers ply the waters off BC’s coast and the Atlantic coast unimpeded by protesters, tanker traffic in BC is seen as the bogey man by these groups. Why? Because allowing tankers to bring Canadian crude to tidewater, and get a higher price for it, would break the US monopoly on Western Canadian oil exports.
The Rockefeller Brothers are also trying to destabilize the Canadian oil industry by attempting “to cap tar sands production in Alberta, Canada, and to reduce demand for tar sands-derived fuels in the United States” according to a statement on its website in 2012 announcing a grant to the Washington, DC-based New Venture Fund. The statement has since been removed. The New Venture Fund is backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David & Lucile Packard Foundation. Krause uncovered that since 2003 New York and California-based charities have granted $15 million for campaigns targeting Alberta oil and against oil tanker traffic and pipelines through BC, including a $700,000 grant from the Oak Foundation to Tides US “to raise the visibility of the tar sands issue and slow the expansion of tar sands production by stopping new infrastructure development.”
Other foundations affiliated with Tides Canada (Ie. William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation – who founded Hewlett-Packard, or HP) are closely linked to organizations that promote clean energy and US energy security. These include the Bipartisan Policy Center, Securing America’s Energy Future (SAFE) and the Apollo Alliance. While it no longer exists, the Apollo Alliance was a project of the Tides Center “launched in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy to catalyze a clean energy revolution in America”.
Discoverthenetworks.org reports the Alliance had a powerful influence on the Obama Administration including helping to craft part of the $787 billion stimulus legislation that Obama signed into law in early 2009. SAFE’s mandate according to its website is to “[unite] prominent military and business leaders to develop and advocate for policies that improve America’s energy security by significantly curtailing our dependence on oil and promoting responsible use of our domestic energy resources.”
Two other organizations, ClimateWorks and the Energy Foundation, promote renewable energy and energy efficiency and have worked extensively to promote fuel efficiency standards in the US, Europe and China, states Krause. She notes that since 2009 the Hewlett and Packard foundations have granted over $1 billion to ClimateWorks and the Energy Foundation, which she describes as the twin engines of the campaign against fossil fuels.
The Hewlett Foundation is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the United States, awarding $400 million in grants in 2016. In December the foundation announced it will donate $600 million over the next five years to non-profits working to solve climate change.
Conservation is the last strategy being employed by large US eco-funds in the name of habitat protection, but in reality the underlying objective is to stop oil and gas development. Krause writes that in all of Canada’s largest conservation efforts – the Great Bear Rainforest in BC, the Yukon to Yellowstone Initiative (Y2Y) and the Canadian Boreal Initiative – the main funder is a US foundation.
The Wilburforce Foundation, which according to its 2004 tax return funded Y2Y to protect the region “from oil and gas development, through an advocacy campaign that focuses on grizzly bears and critical wildlife habitat.” The Wilburforce Foundation is funded by James Letwin, a co-founder of Microsoft.
Research by Krause also uncovered that the Great Bear Rainforest, a no-development zone twice the size of Switzerland, was created through over $100 million in funding from the Rockefeller Brothers, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Hewlett and the Packard foundations.
It shouldn’t have escaped your attention that the Tar Sands Campaign is being bankrolled by some extremely deep pockets including the Rockefellers, Bill Gates, the founders of Hewlett-Packard (though the funds claim to be independent from the company), and James Letwin of Microsoft. Among the companies on the Tides Foundation board is Salesforce, a $4-billion cloud-based software firm. Google was also a key funder, along with $22 billion market cap Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
Among the other connections to rich and powerful US interests, are billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros and the people behind the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a New York-based environmental group. While Soros’ Open Society Foundation rejected claims by former Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver that Soros was among foreign interests trying to influence the Northern Gateway pipeline back in 2012, the Tides Foundation and the Tides Center are listed among the hundreds of organizations Soros and his organization funds directly.
The NRDC, which receives money from the Energy Foundation mentioned earlier, is chaired by Daniel R. Tishman, who while perhaps is not a billionaire (his compensation was not published in a Bloomberg biography), is CEO of the Tishman Construction Corporation, which built the new One World Trade Center building following the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11. His father’s firm constructed the original towers. NRDC’s current president is Rhea Sun Suh, a former Obama appointee in the Department of the Interior.
Unlike many charitable organizations, Tides US does not have a large endownment and according to the US Center for Consumer Freedom, “In practice, Tides behaves less like a philanthropy than a money-laundering enterprise, taking money from other foundations and spending it as the donor requires. Called ‘donor-advised’ giving, this pass-through funding vehicle provides public-relations insulation for the money’s original donors.”
The web of “dark money” being funnelled through large US philanthropic organizations to support environmental causes is highlighted in a four-part series published by the Capital Research Center. Author Hayden Ludwig explains that the Tides Foundation was originally set up by Drummond Pike, a San Franciso investment banker and political activist/former anti-Vietnam protester, as a “donor-advised fund”. While the IRS requires Tides to disclose its grantees, it doesn’t make them report where the individual grants go. This makes Tides an effective legal money-laundering enterprise, and extremely non-transparent. Writes Ludwig:
Collectively, Tides forms one of the largest “pass-through” organizations in the United States—operating a legion of specialized funds designed to maximize the flow of donations to far-left nonprofits while minimizing donors’ public exposure to the fruits of their largesse.
This vast shroud has earned Tides a reputation as a “dark money” heavyweight (dark money being defined as donations that cannot be traced back to the original donor) and rightly so. Since the mid-1970s, Tides has brokered billions of dollars between left-wing philanthropists and groups that fund the “social justice” agenda. Over the years, Tides has weaponized its 501(c)(3) IRS tax-exempt status to “incubate” hundreds of organizations, many of which underpin the Left’s political infrastructure today. – Hayden Ludwig, Capital Research Center
An example of how the pass-through works can be seen in the chart below. Instead of the Energy Foundation directly funding the NRDC, or the Sierra Club, other larger funders like the Hewlett Foundation contribute to the Energy Foundation, which then distribute the funds to smaller groups. The system provides an extra layer that obscures where the money is coming from and going to.
The Energy Foundation was featured in a 2014 Senate Committee report that highlighted “the lengths the far-left environmental movement goes to hide sources of funding and to disguise their actions – bought and paid for by millionaires and billionaires – as charitable acts in service of their fellow man.”
Links to the Dems
Capital Research also uncovered strong links between Tides and the Democratic Party, noting that Tides received nearly $8 million in grants from federal agencies during the former Clinton Administration. The Tides Foundation was a major funder of the Apollo Alliance mentioned above as influencing the massive stimulus package passed by former President Obama. The website reports that Apollo was behind a “cash for clunkers” program aimed at promoting fuel-efficient cars for low-income earners. The program was headed by Brian Deese, Obama’s former climate change adviser.
Besides promoting the Left’s anti-oil agenda, the program helped stimulate the flagging U.S. auto industry alongside the federal bailouts that followed. It was so effective in the eyes of many on the Left that in 2009 the New York Times described the then-31 year old Deese as “one of the most influential voices” in the Obama administration’s bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler.
In August 2009, Fox News host Glenn Beck identified the Apollo Alliance as a professional attempt at further solidifying labor unions, social justice activists, and environmentalist groups under one, well-coordinated aegis.“This is the head… this is at least a main player of what’s going on in America,” Beck said. – Hayden Ludwig, Capital Research Center
Damage done to Canadian oil
All of this well-financed and coordinated environmental and economically-driven activism is interesting for its secretiveness and the powerful US interests behind it, but what really represents the hammer hitting the nail is the negative effect it is having, in several ways, on the Canadian oil industry.
The first of course is the continued disparity in prices between Western Canadian Select – the main benchmark for oil sands crude – and West Texas Intermediate, or WTI. In December the disparity between WCS and WTI reached a four-year high of $30 per barrel, due to increased production from the oil sands and pipeline bottlenecks including TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline being shut for two weeks due to a spill in South Dakota. That means Canadian crude is selling for $30 per barrel less than WTI, meaning far less revenue for producers, who have to compete with US and Mexican oil being refined on the Gulf Coast and don’t have the same transportation costs – Canadian producers have to offer it at a discount. The spread is now well beyond pipeline costs.
The differential also means billions in lost tax revenue. Bloomberg predicts the problem is only going to get worse. That’s because an increase in oil sands production, expected to reach 4.8 million barrels a day in 2019 compared to 3.9 mbod in 2016, cannot be handled by domestic refineries. Canadian refining operations only process about half a million barrels a day, leaving around 330,000 for export. By 2019 that exportable oil goes up to almost 700,000 bopd. Some of it could go by rail, but lately that isn’t happening either, due to a shortage of locomotives.
Why isn’t more oil processed in Canada rather than exported south? This often-asked question is well-answered by Oil Sands Magazine, which explains that a refiner’s ability to handle types of crude oil is defined by its Nelson Complex Index (NCI). NCI values run from 1.0 for a simple refinery, designed for light sweet crude, to over 15 for a complex refinery able to handle heavy, sour crude oil such as Western Canadian Select, a blend of 20 heavy conventional oil streams, condensate and upgraded bitumen. Canadian refineries tend to be older, averaging 8.2 NCI, meaning they are unable to handle the complexity of WCS. That’s why Canada imports almost a million barrels a day and exports 3.1 mbod. Refineries on the US Gulf Coast receive most of Canadian oil sands crude, and they’re happy to get it at a significant discount to US and Mexican oil.
Canada has a refining capacity of just under 2 million bbl/day, about 40% of which is light sweet crude imported from the US and overseas. In 2016, less than 100,000 bbl/day of heavy diluted bitumen from the oil sands was processed in Canadian refineries. The remaining 1.5 million bbl/day was exported to the US. – Oil Sands Magazine
It’s also noteworthy that the main beneficiaries of the crude oil bottleneck in the US Midwest, through which a lot of Canadian oil flows, are the Midwest oil refineries, with the costs borne by Midwest and Canadian producers forced to take lower prices due to the glut. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, construction of the northern and southern portions of the Keystone XL pipeline would relieve the Midwest bottleneck and increase Midwest prices closer to the Gulf Coast price.
The lack of pipeline capacity is taking its toll on Canadian producers. Bloomberg reported last week that Cenovus Energy is cutting back production due to difficulties shipping its crude, while Canadian Natural Resources announced March 1 that its Peace River oil sands site would be placed on maintenance due to the heavy discount between Canadian crude prices and futures. A February report from the CD Howe institute said that lack of pipeline capacity is the biggest factor affecting competitiveness with US energy companies.
More than that though, investment is fleeing the Candian oil and gas industry. The Calgary Herald recently reported that pipeline, regulatory and political frustrations slumped Canadian energy shares to their lowest level in nearly two years this month. The Shares S&P/TSX Capped Energy Index ETF, which tracks Canadian energy companies, shows about $56 million in outflows this year versus $32 million in inflows for an ETF focused on US stocks. Weak prices caused by pipeline woes is named as the chief culprit.
Locking up the oil sands?
So why are well-moneyed interests in the United States deliberately destroying the Canadian oil industry, by stopping east-west pipelines from being built, keeping existing pipelines full and perpetuating a never-ending glut that allows US refineries to buy our oil at a 30% discount? We think the answer is the US is trying to lock up Canadian crude for the future when they really need it.
Let’s look at what we know. The original plan for the Tar Sands Campaign being funded by massive donor funds was to reduce demand for Canadian crude, by making it seem “dirty” (ironic considering ‘fracking’ is destroying, by permanently poisoning, huge amounts of the US fresh water supply yet where is the billionaires money regarding this?), and to stop pipeline construction. The campaign has mostly succeeded on both fronts. At one point it looked like the US might not need Canadian crude any more, or less of it, as the US moved toward energy independence. But now, as we have proven in a recent article on the decline of shale oil, it seems very likely that the US will need our oil, when it runs out of shale.
The goal as before is still to lock up the oil sands, but the purpose now is to keep it in the ground for use in the future, because US energy independence will not happen. The country still imports 7 million barrels a day, 40% from Canada. They can’t crank up shale production, for all the reasons we pointed out, to a point where imports are unnecessary. When shale runs out, they’ll turn to conventional fields and use enhanced oil recovery techniques to get it out, and possibly offshore oil, but will it be enough? To make sure, they need a ready supply of cheap oil, and what better place to get it than their neighbor to the north? And when they do come for it, the north-south pipelines will exist to ship it. At Ahead of the Herd we normally only draw conclusions based on facts, and while we admittedly can’t prove this theory, it does make a lot of sense.
Maybe the Tar Sands Campaign is all about environmentalism and making the switch to renewable energy, but we don’t think so. It’s looking more and more like a convenient way to ensure America has enough oil, by keeping Canadian crude in the ground, pipelines full, and the option open to expropriate it, if necessary. You might call me paranoid, but there’s a saying – ‘I know I’m being paranoid but am I being paranoid enough?’ We’ll let you, dear reader, draw your own conclusions as to what is happening.
Canada is a free country with a Charter of Rights that guarantees freedom of association and expression and I have no qualms about people gathering to protest what they don’t like. What galls me is when the money behind the protests is driven by a shadowy group of funders whose real interests don’t even lie on this side of the border. Their interests, which as we have shown are primarily economic while cloaked in the seemingly benevolent cause of anti-pipeline activism, do not align with Canada’s interests at all. In fact the goals of the Tar Sands Campaign, bankrolled with millions from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Tides Foundation and other huge US philanthropic groups, is to hurt the Canadian oil and gas industry – never mind help the environment, although that might be a nice adjunct. Canada’s January GDP decline was the largest since May 2016 and it was driven by a 3.6 percent drop in oil and gas extraction. Statistics Canada cited a 7.1 reduction in oil sands production due to unscheduled maintenance shutdowns.
What needs to happen is for these groups to become more transparent about who their funders are, but that is never going to happen, since doing so would expose the campaign for what it really is: a multi-million-dollar shell game. And why would small Canadian environmental groups want their cause to be associated with billionaires like Bill Gates and the Rockefellers, and big corporations like Microsoft, Google and Salesforce? That would disrupt the David and Goliath narrative that drives the emotion behind these campaigns and brings locals, blind to the real objectives, out to protests.
I’m watching, bemused, as the Kinder Morgan protests continue and tens of billions of dollars, in the form of taxes and wages, continue to be lost to Canadians. I’ve got what big US money is doing to the Canadian oil industry on my radar screen, do you?
If not, you should.
Richard (Rick) Mills
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