Leaked: What you should know about Edelman and TransCanada’s attack plan

by Jesse Coleman

November 20, 2014

Greenpeace volunteer and activist Nicole Allison stands in front of a tar sands tailings pond, near Fort McMurray, Alberta.

© Ian Willms / Boreal Collective / Greenpeace

How far is the oil industry prepared to go to silence opposition to dangerous and environmentally destructive projects like the Keystone XL pipeline?

Documents obtained by Greenpeace detail an aggressive plan to sideline critics of TransCanadas Energy East pipeline while building a network of true champions for the oil company. The Energy East, seen as a bypass for the stalled Keystone XL pipeline, would transport tar sands product from Alberta to Canadas east coast for export.

Sophisticated PR plans like the one created by Edelman have become vital to fossil fuel companies, who have seen their traditionally strong sway over politicians weaken in response to massive pressure from voters concerned about climate change. As seen by the failed Keystone XL vote Tuesday night, the fossil fuel industry has been forced into waging what Edelman refers to as “perpetual campaigns” against concerned communities in order to build environmentally dangerous projects.

keystone pipeline protestors

The documents give heretofore-unseen details of a campaign created by the worlds largest PR firm, Edelman PR. As Brian Merchant at Vice writes:

The worlds biggest PR company has, in other words, outlined, in great detail, how it anticipates targeting everyday citizens and convincing them to become pro-oil support troops, and how it intends to collect data on those arent quite ready to rally to the cause and how to push them over the edge. It is collecting a trove of data on citizens to better convert future supporters into advocates, even champions.

This creation of fake grassroots support is called astroturfing. The Edelman plan carries several hallmarks of astroturf campaigns, including the promise of creating grassroots support. To do this, Edelman’s plan uses a complex software to tag and track people online, with the goal of creating true champions of the pipeline. Edelman’s plan involve a “seeding strategy,”aimed at getting trusted academics and TV shows to parrot pro-TransCanada propaganda. The plan rounds out it’s immersive assault on key communities using hyperlocal, geotargeted messaging to take over Facebook feeds and local TV programming.

To augment the non-stop propaganda blitz, Edelman’s plan includes enlisting thousands of TransCanada employees and indirect employees as supporters. All told, Edelman hoped to use of all TransCanada workers as part of the astroturf campaign.

Edelman plans on using the astroturf plan to influence media, the public, politicians, and regulatory agencies.

In addition to an astroturf strategy, the documents outline an attack on environmental and community groups opposed to the pipeline. Unfortunately for TransCanada, Edelman does not think they can win with honest discussion. As Edelman puts it combating this type of opposition tactic with facts and figures is often ineffective.

So instead of facts, Edelman recommends adding layers of difficulty to our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources.

The documents describe conducting in depth opposition research on the personnel and finances of environmental groups like the David Suzuki Foundation, and then using third party groups that are not directly affiliated with TransCanada to wage attacks using that research.

Lincoln Memorial R&P

People united against TransCanada’s pipeline

TransCanada has denied that they agreed to attack environmental groups as outlined in the plan, but the New York Times confirmed that “the company had followed Edelmans advice to create a network of allies. Furthermore, it is clear from the documents that Edelmanhad already begunthe research at the time these documents were created.

Edelman has a long history of working on astroturf campaigns. In 1978, Edelman offered the tobacco industry a “total program” to avoid smoking bans, which included industry funded, seemingly independent smoking groups to defend the tobacco industry. More recently Edelman has worked for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a stealth lobbying organization that denies climate change science and opposes renewable energy. Edelman also works for The American Petroleum Institute, Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and other oil companies on an astroturf effort called Energy Citizens. Energy Citizens created “Vote 4 Energy,” an ad campaign featuring supposedly regular people opposed to oil industry regulation. However, Greenpeace exposed these commercials as a scripted sham.

With climate change activism on the rise and dire warnings from climate scientists, sophisticated PR campaigns to shut down opposition to fossil fuel has become a neccessity for companies like TransCanada. However, try as they might, TransCanada’s money and Edelman’s subterfuge cannot stop people from protecting themselves and their environment.

Recent News Articles on Edelman and TransCanada’s PR plan:

The Guardian

The New York Times



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