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Canada's Competition Bureau investigates oil sands group over advertising

By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada's Competition Bureau said on Thursday it was investigating whether Pathways Alliance, a group of oil sands producers collaborating on ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions, misled the public in its advertising campaign.

Three environmental groups complained to the bureau in March about Pathways' "Let's clear the air" campaign that promoted the producers' plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The bureau reviewed the complaint to determine if it meets technical requirements of Canada's Competition Act prior to launching a formal investigation that is then required by law to determine the facts, a Competition Bureau spokesperson said in a statement. The spokesperson declined to provide further details, saying the work is confidential.

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The Competition Bureau, an independent agency of the federal government, has authority to order financial penalties.

The environmentalists said Pathways' net-zero claim was misleading because 80% of the emissions associated with oil and gas are related to combustion, not the initial extraction on which Pathways is focused.

"We think the public deserves to be told the truth about the environmental harm caused by fossil-fuel production," said Nola Poirier, senior researcher at Greenpeace Canada, one of the environmental groups.

The oil and gas and transportation industries are Canada's two highest-polluting sectors, accounting for half of its emissions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government is aiming to cut overall emissions by at least 40% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Pathways said it strongly disagrees with the environmental groups' complaint.

"Our campaign acknowledges the oil sands represent a significant share of our country’s emissions and that we must work collaboratively, including with governments, to achieve our goal of net zero from operations," said Mark Cameron, Pathways' vice-president.

Pathways is made up of Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, Suncor Energy, ConocoPhillips Canada, Imperial Oil and MEG Energy.

Its biggest project is a plan to build an underground hub to sequester carbon.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by David Gregorio)