You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

WikiLeaks Reveals One Company's Silly Strategy to Silence Anti-Keystone Activists

Scott Olson/Getty Images News

A corporate presentation made public by WikiLeaks reveals exactly how the energy industry sees pesky climate activists: as a bunch of “radicals,” “realists,” “idealists, and “opportunists.” Also, as a real threat, judging from evidence that Canadian energy giant Suncor hired the consulting firm Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, to help it nip populist opposition to development Alberta, Canada’s vast oil reserves—which depends on the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline—in the bud. (Suncor told InsideClimate News that it never hired Stratfor, but its name comes up 11 times in this 35-page presentation, embedded below.)

Over the past two years, WikiLeaks has released millions of emails and memos from the Texas-based Stratfor. The firm bills itself as a purveyor of “geopolitical intelligence,” and WikiLeaks advertises the scoop as a glimpse into the machinations of a for-profit CIA, but Max Fisher at The Atlantic has argued that the firm peddles nothing more exciting than “banal corporate research,” and that it’s “considered a punchline more often than a source of valuable information or insight.” Though its advice to big oil, in this file dated December 2010, is light on geopolitical secrets, it’s rich evidence of how the industry thinks about its foes. When it comes to characterizing the field, Greenpeace is “radical”; the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, and Eartworks are “idealists”; and the Natural Resources Defense Council and WWF are “realists.”

Here are a few of the “Engagement Options” Stratfor suggests:


Rationale: “Gives Suncor the lead on the resolution of the issue.” In the best case scenario, “Campaign ends quickly with a resolution along the lines Suncor had wanted.” In the worst case, “Activists see weakness and press for an unrealistic deal.”


Rationale: “Uses Suncor’s size and importance to force activists to look for softer deal.” In the pro column, “Potentially reduces demand set.” In the con, “Could lead to a direct action campaign that does not necessarily have to be acrimonious.”


Rationale: “Suncor develops its own environmental initiatives on its own timetable.” This “Allows Suncor to define its own agenda and maintain full control; Suncor does not have to negotiate on difficult issues.” The con, Stratfor acknowledges, is that this “cannot satisfy the activists.”


Rationale: “The activists are not stopping oil sands’ growth and they have no power in Alberta or Ottawa.” (Stratfor also assumes the activists’ “chances of success with the U.S. government is [sic] slim.”) The pro is obvious: “Reduces executive time and attention paid to campaign. No concessions needed from company.” But the worst case scenario is a doozy: “Campaign becomes the most significant environmental campaign of the decade.”

Whether or not Stratfor is right about the anti-Keystone, anti–tar sands movement’s “chances of success with the U.S. government”—which will become clear when President Obama rules yea or nay on the pipeline in 2014—thousands of people have marched in protest all over the U.S. and Canada since 2010. The duel over the tar sands is, unequivocally, the rallying point of the decade on climate: The consultant’s worst case scenario is already here.

Oil Sands Market Campaigns by The New Republic