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26 Aug, 2014 16:52

Leonardo DiCaprio, tar sands opponents call on Canada’s Prime Minister, Shell CEO in Ice Bucket Challenge

Actor Leonardo Di Caprio and other leaders of opposition against tar sands production in Alberta, Canada challenged some high-profile corporate and government players to take the Ice Bucket Challenge, a social-media-driven fundraiser for ALS research.

In a video posted on his Facebook page, DiCaprio said he and “friends” were at Fort Chipewyan First Nations at Lake Athabasca in Alberta “learning more about the Canadian tar sands, its impact on our climate, and the way they affect the lands, water, and health of the indigenous communities that live here.”

DiCaprio said he was accepting the Ice Bucket Challenge, and that he would donate money to the ALS Association for research of amyothrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a nerve cell disease in the brain and spinal cord.

Joining the actor to take the challenge was Chief Adam, of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, who challenged Dave Collyer, president of Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers; Chief Courtoreille, of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, who challenged Mark Little of Suncor Canada; and Michael Brune, president of The Sierra Club, who challenged Shell CEO Ben van Beurden.

DiCaprio challenged Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper, Collyer, Little, and van Buerden are proponents of tar sands development in Alberta, which would feed the likes of the Keystone XL pipeline into the United States.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (AFP Photo / Cole Burston)

Opposition to the Keystone XL centers around the increased greenhouse gas emissions connected with crude tar sands development. This requires a more energy-intensive process than the production of plain crude oil, since a substance known as bitumen must be extracted from the Alberta tar sands through means such as surface mining or injecting steam into the ground.

Thus, Keystone XL opponents have several concerns regarding the pipeline – including the carbon-intensive impact from tar sands extraction, which they believe will worsen the effects of climate change. They are also concerned that the pipeline will put nearby communities at risk of oil spills into water supplies.

Critics have also pointed out that most of the oil that will travel through Keystone XL will go to growing economies overseas - like China - that have an increasing demand for more fossil fuels. The pipeline, detractors say, is unlikely to lower the price of gasoline in the US.

Proponents echo pipeline developer TransCanada and the Canadian government, saying the project will create tens of thousands of jobs for the communities near the pipeline in the US. The State Department has made a far more modest prediction, estimating that the pipeline will create an immediate 5,000 to 6,000 jobs. Others, however, have said that long-term job creation is nowhere near either estimate. President Obama said as much last March.

"The most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline, which might take a year or two, and then after that we're talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people,” he said.

AFP Photo / Brendan Smialovsky

In late April, Washington DC witnessed a massive protest against the Keystone XL pipeline, when thousands participated in a six-day event “Reject and Protect," urging President Obama to ditch the project.

The Obama administration announced on April 18 it was delaying a decision on the Canada-to-Texas pipeline, in order to give federal agencies more time to assess the proposed project. The future of Keystone XL remains uncertain until after November’s mid-term elections, though construction is ongoing.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has swept across the United States and elsewhere in recent weeks. Participants dump ice water on themselves, promising to also donate to research of ALS. Participants then challenge others to do the same. Much of the “challenging” has been done via social media outlets like Facebook.

ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, named for the legendary New York Yankees first baseman who died prematurely after contracting the neurodegenerative disorder.

With more comedic flair, much-maligned Toronto Mayor Rob Ford also recently challenged Prime Minister Harper in the ALS fundraiser.