David Johnston, chairman of The North Matters speaks in the Gathering Place in Burns Lake, on June 12.

Rich U.S. donors fund anti-oil activism, meeting hears

Much of the organized opposition to oil and gas development in Canada comes from powerful groups funded by American philanthropists, says a Vancouver-based researcher.

Their ultimate aim is to “land lock Canadian oil and keep it out of the global market,” as Vivian Krause told an audience in the Gathering Place in Burns Lake on June 12.

The event was organized by pro-development group The North Matters.

READ MORE: Pro-pipeline group eyes expansion to Burns Lake

Krause has been researching the financial links between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and wealthy American philanthropists and foundations since 2002.

The initial focus of her research 17 years ago was on campaigns to encourage the consumption of wild salmon over farmed salmon. The David Suzuki Foundation, among other organizations said that farmed salmon contained high levels of toxins.

When Krause began digging, she found that the alleged science behind the campaign was shoddy, and that wild salmon in fact contained more mercury than their farmed cousins.

She dug deeper, and found that the Packard and Moore foundations in the United States were giving millions of dollars to Sea Web, Tides Canada and other NGOs to help bolster their anti-farming projects.

Krause learned about the payments because she obtained copies of the tax returns of the various organizations.

She became aware of a wider pattern in the funding streams.

“About 37 organizations in British Columbia have received more than $1 million from the Moore Foundation. Almost every environmental group in B.C. They’ve spent most of the money on marine planning – $150 million on marine planning and related purposes,” she explained.

“Marine planning came up with four plans for the coast of B.C. and none of them would allow for any pipelines or any tankers. No infrastructure that would allow for the export of gas or oil.”

Moving from the water onto the land, campaigns for the Great Bear Rainforest initiative have also received many millions of dollars for several years.

The rare, blond-furred Kermode bear lives in that forest on the coast.

One of the biggest recipients of funding has been the Coastal First Nations group, an organization of nine northwest First Nations that backs the rainforest initiative and seeks “to protect our coast and improve the quality of life in our communities,” according to its website.

It has received funds from – among others – the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City, which has also given financial backing to anti-oil sands initiatives, such as the Tar Sands Campaign, Krause said.

Coastal First Nations itself received $25 million from philanthropist supporters for its work in protecting the Great Bear Rainforest.

Krause acknowledged that the habitat of the Kermode bear should be protected because of the animal’s beauty and its spiritual significance for Indigenous people.

However, she showed the audience three images of the rainforest region that gave a wider perspective on the situation.

“If we look at the annual report of the Rockefeller’s at the end of the 1990s, there’s actually a map of the area that they wanted to protect,” which showed a region just inland from the coast where the bears live.

But moving up to the present day, a third image showed the much larger Great Bear Rainforest that stretches from just north of Campbell River up to the Alaska border.

“It started out as a good idea and it has changed. And now they call the entire north coast of B.C. the Great Bear Rainforest, even though in most of it there’s no Great [Kermode] bears,” she said.

“And now we’re told that we can’t have any tankers and no pipelines.”

Other “large scale conservation initiatives” such as the Yellowstone 2 Yukon bid and the Canadian Boreal Initiative, both of which seek to protect vast swathes of land and put them off limits to any development, have received hundreds of millions of dollars from the big donors, Krause said.

Specifically with pipelines, Krause said the strategy of NGOs has been to deter investment in Canada.

“Greenpeace got $424,000. This was to create enough financial, regulatory and political uncertainty such that prominent financial analysts would publicly state their concern about investing in Canada.”

Considering the B.C. government’s opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, “the Georgia Strait Alliance would push the government to articulate its strategy to undermine the industry’s legitimacy and make investors nervous. They said this would involve stakeholders in the US who could make it more difficult for the Kinder Morgan project to be successful. This is what a charity in Nanaimo [Georgia Strait Alliance] was funded to do.”

On the ground, Krause said some activists are paid to attend anti-pipeline protests, such as those that took place in early January at the Gitdumden blockade south of Houston, where 14 people were arrested.

LOOK BACK: RCMP arrest 14 people in northern B.C. over anti-LNG pipeline protest

Other times, the activists are already employed by NGOs.

“Some of them are paid very well – $100,000 payments. In one case, the Boreal Songbird initiative – they fund the Canadian Boreal Initiative. On their tax return for 2017 the names of the contractors are there and their salaries,” Krause said.

“Activists should be paid but if they’re paid they should be honest about it. My problem is when they’re paid and they say they weren’t. There are people even in this region that are part of that.”

The million dollar question amid all the money transfers and protests is why deep-pocketed American foundations care about Canadian energy development.

There is an environmental ethic among most of the relevant philanthropists, and Krause pointed out that most of the organizations support noble humanitarian and scientific causes.

But in at least one case, their interest in Canada’s oil industry is clear.

The San Francisco-based Hewlett foundation has put $18 million into environmental projects, such as the Canadian Boreal Initiative.

It also funds SAFE (Securing America’s Future Energy) an organization that aims to reduce American oil dependence and vulnerability of businesses to volatile oil prices.

“This charitable foundation has no qualms about influencing the price of oil, as long as it is benefits US interests. And they’re clear about why. They’re doing this because of the geopolitics of oil. Energy security is national security,” Krause said.

If Canada could sell oil to other countries, the near-monopoly the U.S. has on Canadian oil would end and prices could become less stable.

Hewlett, along with the other big funders have four main goals, as Krause outlined: More renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, a cleaner environment, and keeping Canadian oil and gas out of overseas markets.

“The fourth goal is where we as Canadians need to disagree. I think making Canada the whipping boy, the poster child – that’s not okay. I think we all want to transition to cleaner and greener energy but this transition has got to be fair,” she said.

“I think the most objectionable thing about it is it doesn’t help the environment at all. Keeping Canada out of the oil market hasn’t kept one barrel of oil in the ground. I would like us to be part of the oil market. I would like to see us have a strong economy.”

In closing her presentation, Krause said that Canadians can begin to raise awareness of the long money trails behind opposition to oil development by writing letters to the editor in the media, and by urging local politicians to bring the issue to wider attention.

Krause writes for the Financial Post and has worked in the fish farming industry and for UNICEF in Indonesia and Guatemala.

She has faced criticism for accepting large speaking fees at oil and mining industry events.


Blair McBride
Multimedia reporter
Send Blair an email
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Karen Ogen-Toews, a recently elected councillor of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation speaks at The North Matters event in the Gathering Place in Burns Lake, on June 12. (Blair McBride photo)

Researcher Vivian Krause speaks in the Gathering Place in Burns Lake, on June 12.

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