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Corporate Mapping Project names top fossil fuel industry players, unlocks online database

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Tar sands plant north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo: Suncor Energy/Flickr

"The fossil fuel industry … is the biggest obstacle to real action on climate change today," says the co-director of the Corporate Mapping Project, which this morning published an eye-opening list of the 50 most influential players in the industry and a publicly accessible database with information on more than 200 extractive corporations with assets over $50 million.

The reason is easy to understand, explained Bill Carroll, a sociology professor at the University of Victoria: the industry's "economic interests are served by continued expansion of oil and gas production."

The Corporate Mapping Project, partly funded by the federal government's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, has spent most of the past four years plumbing the interlocking directorships and other relationships that link entities within the Canadian fossil fuel industry with one another and the wider corporate sector in Canada and abroad.

The online Fossil Fuel Top 50 list published this morning contains in-depth information and profiles of the most influential players in the Canadian fossil fuel industry, which the Corporate Mapping Project defines as emitters, enablers and legitimators.

Emitters are described by the project as corporations mostly based in Western Canada that extract, process and transport oil, gas and coal. Nineteen of the top 20 emitters listed in a handout with today's publication are based in Calgary.

Enablers are defined as organizations that enable fossil fuel production, such as big banks and industry-friendly regulators including the National Energy Board and the Alberta Energy Regulator.

Legitimators are designated in the documentation as organizations whose job is to persuade the public and decision makers that business as usual must continue and that a shift away from the world's dependence on fossil fuels is unnecessary or infeasible. The Corporate Mapping Project names the Calgary-based Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and such market-fundamentalist "think-tanks" as the Fraser Institute, C.D. Howe Institute, and Macdonald-Laurier Institute as top legitimators. It also names the publicly financed University of Calgary, which really ought to be embarrassed to find itself on a list that also includes Rebel Media!

A Corporate Mapping Project study published in the fall of 2018 suggested centralized ownership in the fossil fuel sector partly explained the pressure to complete the Trans Mountain Pipeline, despite the weak business case for the project. Industry decision makers, Carroll said then, "are really leaning toward maximization of their long-term investments. They want to get the full value out of their major corporate investments."

The public database unlocked yesterday was created in partnership with LittleSis.org, a U.S.-based online corporate watchdog whose name is an ironic tribute to author George Orwell's creation Big Brother. LittleSis tracks the relationships among corporations, their leaders, politicians, lobbyists, financiers and affiliated institutions.

Each of the Fossil Fuel Top 50 profiles includes network maps based on information from Corporate Mapping Project data.

The data gathered by the project "allows us to see the network of fossil fuel industry influence, track the close connections between this industry and other economic sectors, and uncover the links between powerful corporations, governments and advocacy groups that support them," said co-director Shannon Daub, who is also director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' British Columbia office.

Formally known as Mapping the Power of the Carbon-Extractive Corporate Resource Sector, the Corporate Mapping Project is a six-year research initiative jointly run by the University of Victoria, the B.C. and Saskatchewan branches of the CCPA, and the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute.

It is financed by a $2.5-million partnership grant approved by the SSHRC in 2015 during the final days of Stephen Harper's Conservative government, plus $2 million in matching funds from partner organizations. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was minister of defence in Harper's cabinet at the time.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: Suncor Energy/Flickr

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