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Following the money that canceled Keystone

Public Policy

Prime Minister Trudeau says he is disappointed in President Biden’s decision to revoke permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, but is he surprised? This incredible success of a nearly decade-long campaign to cancel the pipeline counts Biden as an ally in their ‘build back better’ coalition.  Recently Trudeau also signalled his alignment with the ‘build back better’ and ‘great reset’ global initiatives with important public addresses. With powerful friends like that perhaps no one should be shocked by the swift cancellation of this key pipeline.

Even before the culmination of the anti-Keystone XL pipeline campaign, the Province of Alberta undertook an official inquiry into the groups targeting the province’s energy industry. These campaigns, as the inquiry initially found through independent reports, ostensibly have been mostly led by Canadian organizations fighting new infrastructure and oilsands development.  However, follow the money and the key funders and strategic organizers are oftentimes foreign organizations with missions devoted to ‘build back better’, the ‘great reset’ and impeding and ending energy development.

One of the reports provided by Energy In Depth uses a series of case studies to examine the most common foreign funders interrupting Alberta’s energy industry, and the Keystone XL pipeline is given its own section.

Recounting these different campaigns is dizzying given the number of layers which funneled money goes from the original foreign funder to finally reach multiple environmental advocacy non-profits.  Yet the Energy In Depth report does an admirable job in trying to detail as many examples of these campaigns as are publicly available through tax records, archived internet pages, media stories, and public records.  What becomes clear is there are more groups and more money than was generally known before.  These groups are working for a common outcome: attacking Alberta’s energy industry.

In it, Energy In Depth details how “a leaked PowerPoint presentation emerged showing that during a ‘July 2008 meeting, the $789 million Rockefeller Brothers Fund proposed to coordinate and fund a dozen environmental and anti-corporate activist groups’ efforts to scuttle pipelines carrying tar sands oil from Canada to the United States.’” The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, for those Canadians unfamiliar, is a New York-based nonprofit organization that derived most of its wealth from the descendants of John Rockefeller, the wealthiest American of all time who built his wealth on oil.

The foreign-funded campaign against Keystone is just one example in a thorough report which looks at how the center of our country’s energy industry is vulnerable to attacks from a new style of activist philanthropies who count billionaires as their benefactors.

Of course, critics of Alberta’s inquiry, and the Energy In Depth report, quickly tried to denounce the report for the organization’s bias—Energy In Depth publicly states that it is a project of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. But that’s as far as the critiques go. Because what they don’t answer—and what they’d like to ignore—is the report’s conclusions that anti-energy groups in Canada are well-funded by foreign groups who have targeted Alberta’s energy sector for nearly two decades.

What makes it difficult to track these campaigns is that they’re oftentimes run through multiple organizations, obscuring the original funders. What’s more, the sums of money for any given project may seem small in comparison to non-profit donations in the tens of millions which tend to make headlines. Instead, hundreds or even thousands of donations ranging from the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands are used in what has been a steady stream over nearly twenty years. Take for instance a campaign that the Rockefeller Brothers Fund supported to smear Alberta’s tourism. The campaign, funded in 2008 gave Tides Canada (at the time the “Sage Foundation”) $50,000 USD to create a Greenpeace-run website called “” The URL was of course very similar to Alberta’s official tourism website “,” but the Greenpeace-run web presence titled Alberta’s oil sands “tar sands” and tried to dissuade tourists from visiting the province.

Yet, it is still difficult to quantify the money foreign funders have spent targeting Alberta. One of the difficulties is that many of these funders are American charity organizations benefiting from tax relief for their billionaire and other donors. As such, their tax records require them to detail the amount of money they give to charities inside of the United States. However, they are not legally required to detail exactly which foreign groups are receiving funds. In Canada, charities are allowed to receive these funds benefiting from foreign tax relief without detailing who gave them.  The use of charitable foundations has long been part of international and local tax planning schemes.  Funneling this into activist philanthropy is a more recent trend.

The report notes this difficulty, and the imbalance it creates to understand the interests of groups attacking an industry that has national importance writing, “Energy producers and anti-energy activists are engaging on an uneven playing field. The energy industry is among the most highly-regulated and heavily scrutinized in the world …As this report has shown, the full picture of [anti-energy advocates’] funding, coordination, and operations must be painstakingly pieced together from what little information is publicly available.”

When national leaders are repeating the slogans like ‘build back better’ and ‘great reset’ of groups associated with anti-Alberta energy campaigns, it’s clear Alberta’s inquiry is necessary.  The inquiry is likely only a start to understanding the complex and well-funded web of advocates targeting its energy industry.

One thing critics of Alberta’s efforts cannot deny is the conclusion of these reports: one of Canada’s most important industries has faced nearly two decades of attacks funded by foreign groups, and we need to understand these interests for the good of our country.


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