Applause to Cenovus Marketing and its Implications on Public Participation

Applause to Cenovus Marketing and its Implications on Public Participation

by Derek Davies

The below YouTube is of the Cenovus’ Future In Situ Drilling plans for the Alberta Oil Sands.

The video is certainly a work of art. Combining sources of Canadian identity, innovation, determination, persistence, and resiliency, with imagery of Canada’s beautiful and vast wilderness, the rocky mountains, sunlit forests – and the oil sands. Wait, what? Pardon? Is this a skit from The Onion?[i]

Almost had me Cenovus, I see what you did there. I will admit Cenovus is using innovative technologies such as Steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) and their trademark SkyStrat drilling rig for in situ drilling that will potentially save the Albertan landscape by using drilling instead of open pit extraction.  However, while the aesthetics of in situ drilling are quite compelling, that does not mean they still will not affect the landscape and the environment; the oil still needs to be pumped back to a refinery and energy must still be supplied to the rig, creating large areas of fragmented forests (Pembina, 2010). As well as the fact that Cenovus will be, by the year 2021, the largest oil company in the Alberta Oil Sands market, producing over 500,000 barrels/day (Cenovus Energy, 2013). With the only method of in situ drilling, which creates almost triple the GHG and Sulphur Dioxide emissions, but uses half the amount of water as open mining, it is still considered to be a very unclean energy – and this is only drilling, this does not even take into account the process of refining bitumen into crude oil (Pembina, 2010).

Personally, I can see through this marketing scheme to the hilarity in which it really is – Greenwashing. In terms of Greenwashing, this commercial is Oscar worthy. The commercial, which is played before every movie across the country has you almost cheering for Cenovus for their innovation – no sorry, ‘our’ innovation as Canadians. Our innovation to find a way to drill 400 meters below the ground to be able to suck out bitumen in order to perpetuate our countries addiction to fossil fuels.  What about those others that cannot easily spot or see through this deception?

With respect to pubic participation in Environmental Assessment this will end up having drastic effects to public hearings and participation. Cenovus’ marketing strategy is clear, they want to stop negative backlash from the public. One way to achieve this is to target an early generation of people that do not know enough information to form an educated opinion on the oil sands.  This is an example of a classic theory of mass communication known as the theory of agenda-setting. By using mass media, a corporation can transfer core salience or prominent important issues of their agenda onto the public in hopes to shift public perception (Carroll & McCombs, 2003).

There are two major problems this strategy of agenda-setting that will affect public participation.

First, awareness of oil sand issues has been a driving force that makes Canadians doubt this enormous industry. Without outside sources coming from all over Canada and the world, the oil sands will become a localized problem. Issues concerning tailing ponds and water quality for communities along the Athabasca River are local problems people suffer with everyday. The oil sands are an incredibly obvious environmental scar on the province of Alberta; so large you can see it from space or on Google Earth. Yet, Cenovus applies a ‘green’ cosmetic in their commercials to hide the large disfigurement that is the oil sands. Without the globalized upheaval of this problem, less and less people will participle in EA hearings, comments, or they may not even bother to even pay attention to the oil sands at all. By shifting the agenda and the most the prominent issues away from Cenovus, it puts the company out of the media, where they are happy to be.

Second, the commercial discourse sends a message to Canadians that everything is ‘okay’. This marketing strategy desensitizes the general population. It “Greenwashes” or uses agenda setting effects in changing the publics opinion into believing that oil sands production is environmentally sound. Why would you ever need to protest, participate or question something that looks so beautiful and is so patriotic to our country? You probably wouldn’t protest, question, participate, and worst of all – you wouldn’t even be aware.

Painting a perfect picture deters people from asking questions. Should it not be the other way around? If something is too good to be true, it usually is.

Works Cited

Carroll, Craig E and Maxwell McCombs. “Agenda-setting effects of business news on the public’s image and opinion about major corporations.” Corporate Reputation Review 6.1 (2003): 36-46.

Cenovus Energy. “Cenovus – Canadian Ideas at Work.” Online Commercial.  YouTube. Youtube, 8 March. 2012. Retrieved: Sun. 6 Oct. 2013.

Cenovus Energy Inc. “Cenovus Energy: First Quarter 2013 Report.” Quarterly Report. Cenovus Energy, 2013.

Cenovus Energy. Operations: Technology: SkyStrat drilling rig. 22 10 2013 <;.

—. Operations: Technology: Steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). 22 10 2013 <;.

Dyer, Simon and Marc Huot. “Mining Vs. In Situ: What is the Highest Environmental Impact?” Fact Sheet. Pembina Institute, 2010.


[i] The Onion is an American news satire organization. It is an entertainment newspaper and a website featuring satirical articles reporting on international, national, and local news.


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