Since its launch in 2021, the Pathways Alliance has used a three-step greenwashing strategy to weaken and delay climate measures, according to new research from a leading international think tank.

According to U.K.-based InfluenceMap, the Pathways Alliance, which represents Canada’s largest fossil fuel companies responsible for 95 per cent of oilsands production, appears to use this three-step plan to keep profit margins of its members healthy as the global energy transition off fossil fuels unfolds.

Here’s how the researchers say it works. Step one: Convince the public the oil sands companies are committed to climate action. Step two: Promote carbon capture technology as the solution and secure government funding for it. Step three: Advocate against other emission reduction policies.

Since it was formed, the Pathways Alliance has spent nearly $1 million on advertising on Facebook and Instagram alone.

InfluenceMap identified 114 ads on Facebook in 2023 that racked up more than 40 million impressions and cost the Pathways Alliance just over $460,000. The ads focus on the alliance’s stated commitment to lower emissions using carbon capture technology to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century.

As previously reported by Canada’s National Observer, the Pathways Alliance splashy advertising campaign called "Let's clear the air," also included buying commercial time at premier sporting events like the FIFA World Cup, Australian Open, and 2023 Super Bowl.

Since March alone, the Pathways Alliance has recorded $100,000 worth of advertising on Facebook and Instagram. But the ultimate audience is policymakers in Ottawa, the researchers note.

“Pathways’ messaging attempts to convince policymakers on the 'climate benefits' of Canadian oil production, using claims around the positive contribution of [the] sector to tackling climate change that appears to contradict science-based guidance, all while advocating for greater production,” InfluenceMap notes.

The InfluenceMap study, published Wednesday, comes a day before the CEOs of Pathways members Suncor, Cenovus and Imperial Oil are scheduled to testify to the House of Commons environment committee about their companies efforts to cut emissions.

CAPP realized "their pre-2021 strategy of basically aligning with the Conservative Party and provincial governments against the federal government wasn't working... So the Pathways group broke off from CAPP and developed this greenwashing brand."

The study dug into how the Pathways Alliance has lobbied on federal policies like the proposed cap on oil and gas emissions, methane regulations, clean electricity regulations and carbon tax amendments. The think tank found the alliance was against every measure.

In fact, the Pathways Alliance has “led an active campaign against the oil and gas emissions cap, with its direct advocacy on the policy growing more negative over the years,” InfluenceMap found.

The Pathways Alliance did not return a request for comment.

InflunceMap identified Pathways’ lobbying and advertising strategy after combing through its communications with policymakers and spending on social media. The think tank also looked at how the alliance’s members plan to increase fossil fuel production contrary to what climate scientists say is required to limit the impacts of climate change.

The alliance was formed three years ago this month, when Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus, Imperial Oil, MEG Energy and Suncor announced they were joining forces under the Pathways Alliance banner. The group was pushing a simple message: they would reach net-zero emissions from their operations by 2050 as part of the country’s goal to be carbon neutral under the Paris Agreement. ConocoPhillips Canada joined later that year, with its president Bij Agarwal saying “we are fully committed to putting our ESG leadership into action by investing in the advancement of transformational technologies.”

Three years later, no investment decisions have been made. The alliance has made it clear it wants taxpayers to cover the majority of the costs associated with a $16.5 billion carbon capture megaproject. That carbon capture project involves connecting 14 oil sands projects in Alberta near Fort McMurray to a storage hub near Cold Lake using a 400 km pipeline network.

Already the federal government is offering a 50 per cent tax credit the Pathways Alliance members could use to slash their costs significantly, but according to an alliance official that’s still not enough. At a senate committee meeting last month, Pathways Alliance vice-president, and former senior advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mark Cameron said the group is looking to recover at least two-thirds of its costs.

Offering to cover 50 per cent of carbon capture costs “doesn’t stack up to what the U.S., the U.K., and Norway have,” Cameron said. “In those jurisdictions, there are more generous financial incentives for carbon capture.”

Carbon capture technology does not have a promising track record. According to a 2022 study from the Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), underperforming carbon capture projects “considerably outnumber” successful ones.

“Many international bodies and national governments are relying on carbon capture in the fossil fuel sector to get to net zero, and it simply won’t work,” said IEEFA’s Bruce Robertson at the time.

Typically, net-zero emissions refers to balancing any emissions created with an equal amount of emission reductions. But that’s not what the Pathways Alliance means when it uses the term. When it says net-zero, it is only referring to the emissions from its operations, not the majority of emissions that come from fossil fuels when they’re ultimately burned. Because oil sands companies are currently planning to increase oil and gas production, that means planet-heating greenhouse gases will continue to rise even if the companies successfully deploy carbon capture technology.

“What is the definition of net zero? We think we can get to net zero from our operations, but we would still be producing oil in 2050 at the end of the day,” Cameron told the senate committee. “There are some definitions of net zero that would say there should be no oil production by 2050 or only 20 million barrels per day... If that’s the definition of net zero, then it’s not a definition that would work for our industry.”

Greenpeace Canada senior strategist Keith Stewart told Canada’s National Observer no independent analysts would agree to a definition of net-zero that ignores the majority of emissions, and that the Pathways Alliance has simply invented their own self-serving definition.

In Stewart’s view, the Pathways strategy to acknowledge climate change while asking for government handouts, is an evolution of the fossil fuel industry’s outward climate denial and overt delay tactics.

“What we're seeing now is [the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)] realizing their pre-2021 strategy of basically aligning with the Conservative Party and provincial governments against the federal government wasn't working,” Stewart said. “So the Pathways group broke off from CAPP and developed this greenwashing brand.

“Rather than fighting all climate policy, what they're doing is saying we will do whatever you the taxpayer will pay for, while still trying to weaken climate policy as much as possible.”

The oil and gas sector is responsible for more than a third of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions, with the oil sands specifically representing a large and growing source. A 2020 report from Environment and Climate Change Canada found that from 1990 to 2018, oil sands emissions grew 456 per cent, compared to conventional oil production emissions increasing only 24 per cent.

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"Since it was formed, the Pathways Alliance has spent nearly $1 million on advertising on Facebook and Instagram alone."

Some context would be helpful. $1 million would be a lot for you or me.
$1 million is peanuts for multi-billion dollar oilsands companies.

"A windfall tax on Big Oil could haul in $4.2 billion for Canadians" (National Observer, Oct 27 2023)
"The five largest oil and gas companies pumped $38 billion worth of profit in 2022."

$4.4 million per hour.
$1 million on advertising represents less than 14 minutes of profits.

Probably also worth mentioning this is the overt way of funding this campaign. They're probably paying millions more funding lobbying, right wing Institutes like the Fraser Institute and for more clandestine ways to manipulate the population.

Climate journalists should probe the role played by The Pembina Institute in the Pathways Alliance's carbon capture fiasco.

Pembina promotes taxpayer-funded carbon capture (CCS). Even though its own reports cast doubt on CCS's efficacy in the oilsands industry.
In the discussions and negotiations between the Pathways Alliance and Ottawa, Pembina has been a key player. Pembina has published numerous op-eds promoting CCS and generous taxpayer funding for the Pathways Alliance's white elephant.
Unlike ENGOs, which universally oppose CCS in the fossil-fuel industry.

"There is staunch opposition from some environmental groups to the idea of Ottawa subsidizing CCUS projects in the oilsands.
"The Pembina Institute has backed the role of carbon capture and storage and the federal tax credit but doesn't support increasing it.
"Varcoe: Canada 'falling behind' in race to attract carbon capture investments" (Calgary Herald, Sep 07, 2022)

"Are Canada's carbon capture plans a 'pipe dream'?' (National Observer, 20-Jan-22)
"Leading climate scientists and academics are calling on the federal government to abandon a proposed tax credit that gives big polluters a break for investing in carbon capture technology.
"The experts say the planned carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) tax credit will lock in fossil fuel use and risk ruining Canada's chances of meeting emission reduction goals.

Unlike most ENGOs and the 400+ scientists and academics who signed an open letter in January 2022 advising against federal support for carbon capture (CCS) in the O&G sector, the largely corporate-sponsored Pembina Institute has long supported both carbon capture in Canada's O&G sector and massive public subsidies to fund it.

Pembina supports what appears to be a reasonable policy compromise between two polarized positions: Pathways Alliance demands at least two-thirds taxpayer funding while environmental groups want zero. So the 50% tax credit for CCS Pembina promotes becomes the reasonable or moderate position.
The Pembina Institute serves as a controlled-opposition group.

"Environmental think tank the Pembina Institute says capturing and storing CO2 from oilsands facilities, refineries and gas plants could reduce Canada's emissions by 15 Mt by 2030.
"'There is a significant role for carbon capture in decarbonizing the O&G industry,' said Simon Dyer, the Pembina Institute's deputy executive director. 'We don't know any details about the investment tax credit yet. But we don't oppose those sorts of investments to sort of kickstart that industry.'"
"Carbon capture tax credit a divisive topic; opinions split over potential benefits" (CP, March 30, 2022)

"Some environmental groups lambasted the feds for the new measure, but Jan Gorski of the Pembina Institute said the 50% level was appropriate. Combined with other federal policies, such as a national price on carbon and the incoming clean fuel standard, it will provide an incentive for companies to invest."
"Varcoe: Federal incentive for carbon capture puts ball back in Alberta's court" (Apr 08, 2022)

Pembina's own reports cast doubt on CCS's efficacy in the oilsands:

The Pembina Institute acknowledges that in the oilsands sector "most CO2 is emitted in low concentration streams, and the efforts to capture it will be challenging and expensive."
"Public Policy Forum urges government to help finance oil and gas emission reductions" (Corporate Knights, March 17, 2022)

So why should taxpayers shell out tens of billions of dollars for it?

The same Pembina Institute has long promoted oxymoronic "responsible oilsands development". And collaborates with industry on failed climate plans.
Infamously, Pembina is "the green group that the oilpatch can work with".
"Meet the green group that the oilpatch can work with" (Financial Post, April 21, 2016)

The Pembina Institute is not an ENGO but a sui generis controlled opposition group largely funded by corporate Canada, including Big Oil companies and the Big Banks that back them.

The O&G industry supports CCS, but only if taxpayers pick up most of the bill. Privatize the profits, socialize the costs. The O&G industry's business model.
Even if governments agree to pay industry's business costs, the high cost per tonne of CO2 captured make it a terrible investment.
Huge opportunity costs. We have cheaper ways to cut more emissions faster. Why invest limited public resources in CCS, when far more cost-effective solutions are available?
CCS is an industry smokescreen. Its main purpose is to provide political cover for O&G expansion. Climate plans based on fossil-fuel expansion and CCS are designed to fail.
Taxpayers should not be asked to sink a cent into carbon capture.
If Pathways Alliance believes in CCS, let them pay for it.

CCS in the O&G industry is a boondoggle. No ENGO supports it. The Pembina Institute — a corporate-sponsored energy think-tank and controlled-opposition group — should stop promoting it.
Who elected Pembina to speak for Canada's climate movement and make bad deals with industry? Why is Pembina supporting plans to fail?
Watch Pembina very carefully.

P.S. The National Observer's lead columnist also supports CCS as well as new oilsands export pipelines.
Go figure!

Correct me if I'm wrong but this is only about capturing the emissions from production. They're oblivious to the downstream burning of the oil and gas.
I think Canada is betting on a dead horse. The whole hypothesis is based on the idea that oil and gas demand will continue around the world. It's not going to happen. The oil and gas companies know this. They want us to help them make as much profit as possible before dumping the mess on us.
These companies assets should have been seized years ago for what they've done, but them and their enablers will walk away without any repercussions.

Over the decades of taxpayer supported fossil fuel production (supply), which creates dependency and, when necessary, immense defensive PR campaigns, one can be forgiven for seeking climate solutions exclusively on the demand side.

Regulation of oil and gas production and pollution will not lower demand unless it affects the price, which when rising does tend to lower demand as consumers seek alternatives to the burning of fuel.

As industry ramps up its pro-carbon propaganda, we consumers must fully acknowledge that clean electricity is not just a climate solution, but an economic solution as well.

Give power to the people. Electrify everything.

If the most profitable industry the nation has ever known cannot "afford" to build its own CCS infrastructure, and if it thus claims taxpayers must cover 2/3 of the cost, then it's time for government to ask some fundamental questions, chief among them, What exactly will be the return on taxpayer's investment?

If it's merely to keep oil and gas rolling along polluting the planet and to avoid being blamed for mass layoffs, then one can see the fear in elected official's current policies to follow suit.

But that leaves the vast, open ocean of Scope Three emissions and environmental cleanup of lands and waterways on the future budgetary table of taxpayers.

So, what's larger, the cost of transitioning fossil industry jobs to clean industry jobs and to subsidize renewables and energy efficiency, or paying for an absolutely humongous environmental mess in the increasingly likely scenario that the majority of oil companies, which are foreign owned, vacate Canada once the transition becomes unassailable?

Thanks for sharing this information John. Big Oil would be foolish not to hide their investment in misinformation, lobbying and political campaign contributions. It's good to know what the tip of the iceberg looks like.

I was also stunned that a 50% tax credit on CCS wasn't good enough. The TMX pipeline funded by $30 billion in Canadian taxes is apparently charging to much to transport the Pathways Alliance's product. I'm sure they'd love to pay below operating costs and see Canadians accept ongoing loses. Just cut funding for Healthcare and Environmental stewardship. Who needs those things?