Astroturfing: Inside The War On Canadian Oil

November 1st, 2016 | R. Rados

For a while now, Canadians have been slowly waking up and seeing what's behind the anti-pipeline and anti-oil protests across the country. Vivian Krause has been a one-woman army in the battle to expose the money behind efforts to shut down Canada's oil industry. Her reporting has uncovered a network of foreign interests that have been coordinating a strategic take-down of Canada's competitive energy industry. Using their wealth and some interconnected environmental organizations, interests from the United States and the Middle East have been funneling resources into Canada to fund, organize and coordinate protests against our oil industry. The latest batch of leaked emails from John Podesta give us a glimpse into how easily astroturfing can be accomplished with the right amount of money and influence.

I'll start by showing you an email exchange between John Podesta and billionaire environmental activist, Tom Steyer – in which Bill McKibben is named as Steyer's pal. In a leaked email dated from March 2015, Podesta asked Steyer if he could contact McKibben to organize a protest at Harvard:

Can you get your pal McKibben to organize Harvard student protests against him. I'm all for academic freedom when it's not bought and paid for by Peabody coal. – John Podesta to Tom Steyer, March 20, 2015, Wikileaks

By “him”, Podesta meant Harvard professor, Laurence Tribe. In 2014, Tribe began involving himself with Peabody Energy and – in 2015 – Tribe made comments that Podesta and fellow Democrats didn't like, as revealed in other leaked emails. Although Tribe is a well-known Democrat, his involvement in helping Peabody Energy sue the EPA clearly rubbed Podesta and his peers the wrong way, leading to his eventual request for protests.

About three weeks later, an activist group known as Divest Harvard rallied and blockaded the entrance to Harvard's Massachusetts Hall. The 150 protesters were led by none other than Bill McKibben, who addressed the crowd and invited speakers like senator Tim Wirth of Colorado. The protests didn't single out Laurence Tribe, but they did target Harvard's connections to fossil fuels. Tribe is a respected professor who taught both Barack Obama and Ted Cruz, which likely made McKibben reluctant to target him directly. However, protesters clashed with police, blocked students from entering their dorms and called for Harvard to divest from fossil fuels. All of this conveniently happened three weeks following Podesta's email to Steyer.

We hear a lot about George Soros and his connections to the Tides Foundation and other environmental groups, but we hear less about Tom Steyer. It's a shame, because Tom Steyer is almost as rich and just as involved. His pal, Bill McKibben, also has connections that run deep.

Steyer made news in 2014 when he pledged $100 million to stop the Keystone XL pipeline. That was one of the only times Canadian media gave him any attention. Steyer is a regular supporter of the Tides Foundation, just like George Soros. If you're unfamiliar with the Tides Foundation, you're probably familiar with at least one of their environmental off-shoots or funding recipients. Records show that Tides USA has funneled money into Canada by contributing directly to the Pembina Foundation, The Sierra Club, ForestEthics, Greenpeace Canada, LeadNow, the Living Oceans Society and the Great Bear Initiative. That's just some of the Tides recipients in Canada that you might have heard about. Many of the Tides recipients have directly paid Canadian First Nations, like Fort Chipewyan, to oppose pipelines. Fort Chipewyan was even paid $35,000 through the Exchange Fund to cover legal costs and communications associated with anti-pipeline activism.

In 2014, I wrote about Steyer's connections to Tides and his speaking gigs at the Tides Momentum Conference. In the United States, Steyer ran an environmental super-PAC called NextGen Climate Action PAC, which dealt mainly with senate and local state races. He has been directly and indirectly involved with environmental advocacy groups for years, many of which have opposed fracking and the construction of pipelines. The biggest facade created by some American environmentalists is that they work to oppose all fossil fuel extraction and refining, without any bias against non-American energy. The deeper we dig, the more that facade crumbles.

Dakota Access Pipeline

You may be aware of the recent protests in North Dakota against the Bakken Pipeline System being headed by the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners. The pipeline is also referred to as the Dakota Access Pipeline and protesters have staged aggressive actions to stop it over the course of recent months. Just last week, over 140 protesters were arrested and pepper sprayed. It's also important to note that the pipeline doesn't actually cut through reserve land. It's being built beside reserve land, on what is supposedly part of a sacred burial site. Originally, concerns revolved around the pipeline being built underneath a river, which is a source of fresh water for some Dakota tribes. Following environmental assessments, the pipeline was deemed safe. It was then that some tribes began claiming that the land was sacred and that local native bands weren't properly consulted. Another important fact to note is that not all of the local native bands are opposed to the pipeline. 

One of the groups directly involved with organizing the clashes is Climate Direct Action – the same group responsible for shutting down five pipelines that ship Canadian oil into the US. The group is directly connected to the Climate Disobedience Action Fund. Like most other environmental groups, it cloaks itself with other names and variations – just like its donors cloak themselves to divert nosey journalists and investigators. The group appears to be directly linked to yet another “independent” organization called the Climate Disobedience Center, founded by Tim Dechristopher, Marla Marcum, Jay O'Hara and Ken Ward. All of these names are important to remember, because we'll be getting back to them.

One thing stands out when we compare the Dakota Access Pipeline to other pipelines currently under construction, proposed or built in the United States. How about the Double H Pipeline from North Dakota to Wyoming, or the ATEX Express ethane pipeline from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast? Just like the Dakota Access Pipeline, those pipelines cut through private and Indian land – but they haven't attracted any protesters. So, what makes the Dakota Access Pipeline so special?

Canadian interests.

North Dakota happens to have a lot of Indian land, so it's easy for the same environmental groups that funnel money to Canadian First Nations to do the same in their own country – for the same reason. Both the Double H Pipeline and the ATEX Express are missing something that makes it worthwhile for American environmentalists like Tom Steyer, Tides and the Climate Disobedience Center to throw money at. Unlike the Dakota Access Pipeline, those other pipelines aren't threatening to give Canada's oil industry more market access.

According to the Enbridge website, the Canadian company has a significant investment and interest in the Dakota Access Pipeline:

As part of Enbridge's overall strategy to improve market access and boost energy security, Enbridge Energy Partners, LP (EEP), has announced an agreement to acquire an equity interest in the Bakken Pipeline System.

The agreement is worth $1.5 Billion USD and is touted to “extend the reach of Enbridge's existing crude oil and liquids pipeline network”. The co-opted agreement puts Enbridge in charge of 49% of the company that holds 75% of the Bakken Pipeline System. That means this isn't just a normal investment meant to hedge or strengthen Enbridge's portfolio, it's meant to give Enbridge long term access to other markets.

As we've learned, Canada's energy industry isn't allowed to outpace the US/Saudi industry. Over the past ten years, Canada's oil industry has increased output significantly, meaning that Canada could have surpassed Iran and the United States in output within the next couple of decades. Economic pacts between the United States and Saudi Arabia, like the US-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission On Economic Cooperation, are designed to protect the economic interests of both countries. Unfortunately, little old Canada was never included in that agreement. You can read more about that and the petrodollar here.

Putting all of these economic interests into perspective helps us understand why there's such an effort to suppress Canada's oil industry. These efforts have less to do with the environment and more to do with preserving US hegemony and economic interests. Protecting American investments and long term economic interests also means protecting the interests of wealthy American industrialists. If Tom Steyer and the Tides Foundation were really interested in protecting the environment, they'd be staging protests against their own pipelines and against Saudi interests. But, they aren't. That tells us everything we need to know as Canadians.

Climate Disobedience Center

One of Climate Disobedience Center's founders is Tim Dechristopher, who also founded another environmental organization called Peaceful Uprising. Again, Climate Direct Action is directly linked to Dechristopher's Climate Disobedience Centre, as per their own website. Dechristopher has been to jail and railed against capitalism, but his organizations receive funding from large enough donors that they can hire “compensated volunteers”. The protests that have disrupted the Dakota Access Pipeline are directly associated with Dechristopher and his CDC – those organized protests also require a considerable amount of funding, transportation and PR.

The link that connects Climate Disobedience Center and most of its founders to the Tides Foundation's cash stream is yet another climate oriented organization called Dechristopher, Marla Marcum and CDC's other founders are all directly linked to They've all collaborated, worked with and coordinated campaigns with and its members. In fact, Marla Marcum herself is a co-founder of both's Massachusetts wing and Climate Disobedience Center.

So who is one of the founders of None other than Tom Steyer's pal, Bill McKibben.

According to Vivian Krause, McKibben ran another campaign called 1Sky that later merged into in April of 2011. Where the organizations got their funds is the most astonishing, along with the direct connections the donors have to McKibben:

More than half of the US$10 million came from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Schumann Center For Media and Democracy, where McKibben, a trustee, was paid US$25,000 per year (2001-09). Since 2007, the Rockefellers have paid US$4 million towards 1Sky and, tax returns say. – Vivian Krause, Financial Post, February 14, 2013

Who else gets funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund? You guessed it. One of the Tides Foundation's many donors is the Rockefeller family, through the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and their other organizations. For example, RBF gave Tides $2.8 million in 2005; Rockefeller Family Fund gave Tides $1.2 million; the Rockefeller Foundation gave Tides $4.5 million; and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors gave $819K to Tides in 2005. You can see a list of other Tides donors here.

More directly, Tides is listed as a donor to in their 2014 annual report. Their annual report also lists the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation and the Tides Foundation Bridge Fund. Canada's own Naomi Klein also sits on's board of directors.

So, there you have it. The current protests in North Dakota, against a pipeline that could expand Canada's reach into the oil market, are indirectly connected to the infamous Tides Foundation. Just like the Kinder Morgan protests in BC and the violent protesters who invaded a National Energy Board office in September, the Dakota Access protests are another example of astroturfing courtesy of wealthy American industrialists. 

With the help of Wikileaks, we've been able to expose the ease in which political opponents can request instant protests from their wealthiest friends, like Tom Steyer and Bill McKibben.