Who cares about climate change?

The mass media and socio-political acceptance of Canada’s oil sands and Northern Gateway Pipeline

Nichole Dusyk , Jonn Axsen, Kia Dullemond

Energy Research & Social Science

Volume 37, March 2018, Pages 12–21


Canada’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline would carry unrefined bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to the coast of British Columbia for international export. Socio-political acceptance or opposition can determine the fate of such projects, and media coverage offers insight into public discourse, including how the project is framed. We analyzed print media coverage of the project in six Canadian newspapers, including 2097 articles published from 2008 to 2014. The objectives were threefold: 1) to characterize media framing of the project using a risk/benefit framework; 2) to identify regional differences in framing between the two affected provinces; and 3) to investigate the framing of environmental risk. Our findings demonstrate that public debate is dominated by environmental risk of the project with a tendency to frame the project as a trade-off between economic benefit and environment risk. Despite a strongly regional distribution of risks and benefits, we did not find substantial differences in framing between newspapers in the two affected provinces. Finally we found that the environmental risk frame was presented predominately according to potential local impacts due to pipeline or tanker rupture. The global impacts of climate change were rarely mentioned despite the large carbon footprint of the Alberta oil sands.

Link to paper