Carola Hoyos Canada’s maligned oil industry draws the line at soap

It appears Canada’s oil industry has had enough of being maligned. After months of attacks from environmentalists and campaigning shareholders, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has drawn the line at designer soap.

As my colleague Bernard Simon in Canada writes, the industry has hit back after Lush, the UK cosmetics group, joined the campaign against the development of Alberta’s oil sands.

“It’s technology – not soap – that enables cleaner energy”, Dave Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said in a statement that accused Lush of distorting the industry’s environmental record.

Lush has launched a campaign against the oil sands in partnership with Rainforest Action Network, one of the industry’s most prominent critics.

The company’s website describes the oil sands – which environmentalists prefer to call tar sands – as “a dirty secret that…involves intrigue, big business, and a lot of scandal. Our governments have crawled into bed with big oil companies, and it’s creating a mess for the people of Canada, and the world.”

The rainforest network will receive proceeds from the sale of a new Lush bath bomb named after the wild rose, Alberta’s signature flower.

Lush also said that would use only clean energy at its North American head office in Vancouver and its manufacturing and distribution facilities.

Projects to extract the bitumen-like oil sands have drawn tens of billions of dollars in investment from some of the world’s biggest energy producers including, most recently, Chinese companies. Covering an area the size of Florida, the oil sands contain the biggest oil reserves on earth after Saudi Arabia.

However, the industry has faced a widening campaign against its impact on local water supplies and wildlife, and its sizeable greenhouse gas emissions.

Tactics have ranged from partnerships between retailers and environmental activists, such as the Lush campaign, to shareholder resolutions against oil sands operators.

Royal Dutch Shell and BP both faced resolutions at this year’s annual meetings calling for greater disclosure about their oil sands activities. Two prominent US retailers – Whole Foods Markets and Bed Bath & Beyond – said in February that they would boycott fuel produced from the oil sands.

Increasingly concerned about its image, the industry has begun to take a more pro-active approach to its critics.

Referring to the Lush campaign, Travis Davies, a producers association spokesman, said on Wednesday that “we have to look at it as an opportunity to get out there and tell our story. It represents the direction we’re going to be taking over the next little while.”

Some analysts have suggested that the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico could mute attacks against the oil sands, given their potential importance as a secure source of energy to the US.

But Jerry Bellikka, spokesman for Alberta’s premier Ed Stelmach, told the Financial Times that “we do not see this in any way as an opportunity to seek a political or market advantage”.