On March 15, 2011, a group of former oil workers parodied the laughable corporate strategies to protect the environment. In a hoax release, the public learned of new Enbridge program to protect sensitive ecosystems from oil spills through mopping them up with human hair.

The “MyHairCares” hoax was created through a collaboration between former oil workers and the Yes Men, a group that parodies the world of business and its shallow commitments to the public. They linked with hair salons and developed a slip Video News Release, touting Enbridge’s commitment to work together with salons and develop an innovative new solution to oil spills.

Enbridge is currently seeking regulatory approval for the Northern Gateway pipeline project that would carry oil from the Alberta tar sands to a marine terminal on the North Coast of British Columbia. In a press release on the Northern Gateway website, they suggested that the “My Hair Cares” hoax “makes light of a serious issue.” Further, the company indicated that they deplored “this cynical attempt to take advantage of public concern about the environment.” They asserted that their company intended to “vigorously defend its reputation, and is considering an appropriate legal response to this media campaign attack.”

However, adding to the confusion the pranksters released their own denial of the hoax, again impersonating Enbridge. In this slick forgery, Jennifer Varey, head of Media Relations for Enbridge was attributed the comments: “The so-called ‘MyHairCares’ program is a dangerous fraud conducted by environmentalist radicals. … Its aim is to terrorize innocent salon consumers into fearing the Northern Gateway project and thinking our company is less than fully prepared for catastrophe. I can assure you, when inevitable oil spills do occur, we at Enbridge have more up our sleeves than a handful of hair.”

Further, the fraudulent release also touted a multi-billion dollar liability bond that the company would use to ensure that the legal rights of communities was protected should an accident occur. This was entirely an activist invention, as no such multi-billion dollar liability bond exists.

On Wednesday, March 16, at noon, protesters staged an unconventional protest, offering free haircuts in front of the Enbridge offices in Vancouver. The hairy hoax sought to highlight that Enbridge lacked any substantial plan for oil spill remediation. Insinuating that hair clippings constituted an improvement over Enbridge’s current policies, activists sought to highlight the substantial risks involved in oil pipelines.

In another press release, the pranksters justified their hoax. Shannon McPhail, a Canadian spokesperson for People Enbridge Ruined in Michigan (PERM), the group responsible for MyHairCares stated, “this was a funny way to dramatize the fact that neither Enbridge nor any other oil company can prevent spills, and that they basically have no cleanup plan.”

What happened after a spill in the Kalamazoo Rver highlighted their concerns. Last summer, an Enbridge pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Allegations quickly emerged that Enbridge was coercing Kalamazoo spill victims into signing liability waiver forms.

“We don’t want Canadian rivers or coastlines to end up like the oily mess that Enbridge has left in a number of places around here,” said U.S. PERM spokesperson Rick Smith.

“In the U.S., Enbridge failed to maintain their pipeline, failed to clean up their mess, and are exploiting the victims,” said McPhail. “It would be madness to let them build a pipeline in Canada, especially through one of our planet’s last great wildernesses.”

The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline would cut across the Rocky and Coastal Mountains, crossing over 1,000 streams and rivers. The pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil across 1,170 kilometres between Alberta and the Pacific Coast, where supertankers would carry the crude though the treacherous Douglas Channel.

“A major spill on the coast or in a river would be devastating and irreversible,” said McPhail. “Canada must not trade in our wilderness just to make some foreign oil companies rich.”

Tyler Shandro during a June 25 news briefing. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Tyler McCreary

Tyler McCreary is an Indigenous solidarity activist based in northern British Columbia. He is also currently working towards his PhD in geography at York University.