Canada oil sands group removes online content over federal anti-greenwashing rules

A TORC Oil & Gas pump jack near Granum

By Nia Williams and Ismail Shakil

OTTAWA (Reuters) -The Pathways Alliance, a group of Canada's biggest oil sands producers, has removed all content about environmental goals from its website and social media pages, citing "significant uncertainty" over the federal government's anti-greenwashing legislation.

Bill C-59, which only needs royal assent to become law after Canada's parliament gave approval on Wednesday, would force companies to show proof of their environmental claims.

Pathways is proposing a C$16.5 billion ($12.04 billion)carbon capture and storage project to cut carbon emissions from the oil sands, but is yet to make a final investment decision. The group has faced criticism from environmentalists for slow progress and seeking more government financial support.

On Thursday, the content on Pathways' website had been replaced with a post about its concerns with omnibus Bill C-59, which will implement the Liberal government's mid-year budget proposals and change Canada's Competition Act. The bill was amended earlier this year to add anti-greenwashing rules.

"Imminent amendments to the Competition Act will create significant uncertainty for Canadian companies that want to communicate publicly about the work they are doing to improve their environmental performance," the website said.

On Wednesday, that website had said "Canada's oil sands are on a path to reach net-zero emissions from operations," according to an archived copy.

Canada is the world's fourth-largest oil producer and the oil and gas sector is the country's highest-polluting industry, accounting for more than a quarter of all emissions.

Climate advocacy group Environmental Defence said Pathways' decision to take down content shows "they don't have evidence to support the story they're selling," while the Pembina Group think-tank said there were significant gaps between the emissions reduction promises Pathways first made in 2021 and its actions.

The alliance, which includes oil sands producers Suncor Energy, Imperial Oil, and Cenovus, said in a statement later on Thursday that it removed its online content because the amendments were too vague and opened the door to "frivolous litigation" from private entities.

"These actions are a direct consequence of this legislation and are not related to our commitments or belief in the accuracy of our environmental communications," Pathways said.

Asked to comment, a Competition Bureau spokesperson referred to a letter it submitted to lawmakers last month, in which it said the amendments would strengthen its ability to police deceptive greenwashing claims.

"While we take the concerns of Pathways Alliance seriously, we are confident that enforcement guidance from the Bureau can help address their concerns and provide assistance to all stakeholders in complying with the law," the letter said.

($1 = 1.3699 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Nia Williams in British Columbia and Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Bill Berkrot)