Saudi Oil Ethics Challenged by Canadian Upstart

EthicalOil.org, the organization that sparked a diplomatic incident between Canada and Saudi Arabia with its television commercials criticizing Saudi oil imports, has brought its controversial campaign to the United States.

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The group, which launched this summer, promotes “ethical” Canadian oil from the oil sands as a more responsible choice for North American consumers than “conflict oil” from producers like Saudi Arabia. OPEC oil imports, it argues, support totalitarian regimes that repress women and abuse human rights while funding military belligerence and terrorism. It has aggressively pushed oil from Canada –which has the third largest deposit of oil reserves on earth — as a way for North Americans to end their dependence on imports from undemocratic and hostile regimes in Venezuela, Libya and Saudi Arabia.

The group is running ads on the Fox Business channel, the first time they have appeared in the U.S. marketplace. The commercial is the same one that rankled the Saudi royal family when it ran in Canada in September.

Highlighting the Saudis’ abysmal treatment of women and encouraging consumers to question their support for the Saudis’ misogynist rule, the TV spot set off a diplomatic incident when the Saudi Arabian government attempted to quash the ad with threats against Canadian broadcasters.Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird, demanded Saudi diplomats explain their attempts to “stifle free speech” in his country after it was revealed that the prominent international law firm Norton Rose had been hired by the desert kingdom to secretly pressure Canadian television networks to turn away EthicalOil.org’s ad. The attorneys sent letters to Canada’s broadcasters, reportedly warning that the networks could face legal action if they accepted the commercial.

Though several networks were successfully cowed by the threats, citizenship minister Jason Kenney protested the foreign interference, insisting that Canadians “don’t take kindly to foreign governments threatening directly or indirectly Canadian broadcasters or media for giving voice to freedom of speech.” EthicalOil.org pointed to the Saudis’ heavy-handed response as an example of the kingdom’s lack of respect for freedoms, as well as its growing apprehension over Canada’s growing power as an oil producer and exporter.

Canada overtook Saudi Arabia as America’s biggest oil supplier in the Nineties, and many U.S. politicians and business leaders have been pressing for approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would ship an additional million barrels of Canadian oil from the oil sands to U.S. markets every day. Though the State Department had ruled the pipeline to be environmentally safe and in America’s national interest, President Barack Obama refused last week to approve the pipeline, maintaining that it required more study and delaying the decision till after the 2012 election. Critics say the president had buckled to the anti-oil environmentalists in his left-wing base.

The Ethical Oil ad points out that by importing Saudi oil, “we bankrolled a state that doesn’t allow women to drive, doesn’t allow them to leave their homes or work without their make guardian’s permission, and a state where a woman’s testimony only counts for a half of a man’s.” It concludes by asking, “Why are we paying their bills and funding their oppression?” when there is a “better way: ethical oil from Canada’s oil sands.”

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