Not any more

Director James Cameron visits Alberta oil sands

In Canada on September 28, 2010 at 21:07

FORT MCMURRAY — James Cameron, the powerful Hollywood director who earlier this year called Alberta’s oil industry a “black eye” on Canada, spent Tuesday morning getting an eyeful, and an earful, from oil company representatives and the provincial government as he spent nearly six hours on a guided helicopter tour of the province’s oilsands industry.

Accompanied by Rob Renner, the Alberta environment minister, and representatives from Syncrude, Cenovus and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Mr. Cameron touched down first on a sprouting timberland, roamed by bison, that had been rebuilt by Syncrude after the company began mining it for oil decades ago, before being taken to Cenovus’s relatively low profile steam drainage in situ operation near Christina Lake. There, he also met briefly with Chief Vern Janvier, of the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, whose band has built several prosperous businesses servicing the in situ mine and upgrading plant.

Mr. Cameron explained that he had taken up the invitation from downstream First Nations environmental activists to visit northern Alberta because he had a keen personal interest in learning more about the industrial project that was earning the province a bad reputation.

“I’m at the point now where I don’t need to make any more money,” he told the National Post. “I want to use my time and resources to do some good, but I don’t want to look like an idiot by dropping myself into a discussion about something that I know nothing about.”

The director set off a controversy in April when he called further oil development in Alberta “the wrong solution for us to be doing greater and greater environmental damage pursuing a dead-end paradigm, which is fossil fuels, instead of spending those billions … on building wind turbines.”

Mr. Cameron’s tone Tuesday was markedly non-confrontational, however. He acknowledged he was “firmly in the camp” that believes the world must wean itself from a carbon-based economy, but he said he acknowledges that a renewable energy economy is still something off in the future.

“The question is, what’s the interim plan?” he said. “What’s the bridge strategy?”

He spent the morning peppering his hosts with detailed technical questions about their work on improving the environmental impact of tailings ponds, carbon emissions, water usage, and physical footprints on the land.

He said that the visits had made an impact on how he thinks about the oilsands.

“I learned a lot today that will reframe how I think about this,” he said.

Greg Stringham, CAPP’s vice president of Oil Sands and Markets said he was impressed with how “open minded” Mr. Cameron seemed to be in learning about the oilsands industry.

“He had some great ideas to try and connect some things together, but I think he really got it,” Mr. Stringham said.

“I was concerned we would have a difficult time bringing some balance into the discussion, but clearly that wasn’t the case,” aded Mr. Renner. “I think that he’s someone who cares for deeply for his environment, and for the aboriginal people, and he wanted to come and find for himself whether or not the words we speak are reflected in our deeds. And I hope he found that to be the case.”

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