Here’s celebrity environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, in her latest role with Greenpeace International where she is enthusiastically campaigning against the evil “Tarsands” as she calls them. She’s got 3,350 Facebook friends, one less since she unfriended me yesterday.

I got into an argument with her and some of her friends after she posted this dramatic photo from U.S. environmental group 350.org and its exhortation to join another march on Washington D.C. against the Keystone XL pipeline.

Regular readers will know I have questioned the single-minded focus of U.S.-funded environmental groups, such as Berman’s various employers, on the Alberta oilsands. I am regularly accused of being a tool of the oil industry or the Harper government, but that’s not really my motivation. I am simply a journalist with a few years’ experience in the petroleum industry and a basic knowledge of chemistry and mathematics. That’s not much of a knowledge base, but it’s enough to see through the systematic misrepresentation of greenhouse gas and conventional pollution impacts from this chosen villain of the environmental movement and its celebrity supporters.

The New York Times quote above refers to a study by Canadian government scientists released on Monday. Here’s a Globe and Mail report on the same study.

The pollution impact of this vast industrial project sounds pretty dramatic. But note the final paragraph of the Globe story, which refers to the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in remote Alberta lakebeds:

PAH levels in all six tested lakes were found to have increased, though only in one are contaminants at urban-lake levels. In that lake, seven of 13 PAHs tested are at a level considered to have the potential for “possible” but not “probable” impact. The other five are “generally comparable to other remote lakes and much lower than” urban lakes, the study concludes.

What this means is that PAH contamination is a product of all fossil fuel use, from extraction to refining to the most significant activity, burning gasoline and diesel in vehicles. That’s why Burnaby Lake has more contamination than a lake near the Athabasca oilsands.

I pointed this out on Berman’s Facebook page, and a lively discussion ensued. A friend of hers began throwing out statistics that simply don’t add up, and Berman weighed in with similar claims. One of her favourite tricks is to drop out the pollution and CO2 impact of the fuel use, which accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the total “well to wheels” emissions. This makes oilsands extraction seem much worse than it actually is.

After I cited a Royal Society of Canada study to debunk her friend’s claim of vast, catastrophic greenhouse gas impact from oilsands development, and pointed out that vehicle emissions in Canada are more than five times the greenhouse gas emissions of the entire oilsands, Berman had had enough. She saw that I had accused her of intentionally misusing statistics to support the popular, donation-attracting, but wrong, idea that stopping Alberta oilsands production will save the planet.

If it was that simple, I’d be in favour of it too. But it’s not. As long as our society depends on oil and coal, other sources of these materials will simply fill the void and Canada’s economy will suffer without significant improvement of pollution or greenhouse gases. That’s a harsh reality, but it’s a reality nonetheless.

You can see the whole exchange here.