By Nia Williams
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - The government of Alberta, Canada's main oil-producing province, on Wednesday took the first steps toward establishing its so-called 'energy war room' aimed at boosting the image of the oil and gas industry.
Alberta Minister of Energy Sonya Savage said the initiative will officially be known as the Canadian Energy Center and take a "fact-based approach to counteracting the misinformation about our industry".
Alberta is home to Canada's vast oil sands and holds the third-largest crude reserves in the world, but is struggling to get its oil to markets because of fierce opposition from environmental activists and regulatory delays on new export pipelines.
Capital spending in the oil and gas industry has more than halved in the last five years and industry associations are forecasting slowing oil sands growth as a result.
Premier Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party (UCP)government was elected in April with promises to stand up for the oil and gas industry, and has repeatedly accused "foreign-funded" environmental groups of defaming Alberta's energy sector.
His government announced the creation of the energy war room this summer and also opened a C$2.5-million ($1.87 million) public enquiry into foreign-funded interest groups.
"For too long, the reputation of Alberta's energy sector has been damaged by a deceitful campaign to landlock the oil sands," Savage said in a statement. "The Canadian Energy Center will focus on improving perceptions about the oil and gas industry."
Savage said the center will become official before the end of the year and she named former journalist and UCP candidate Tom Olsen as its managing director.
Its three main functions will be responding quickly to misinformation in the media, helping Alberta take control of its energy story and analyzing data to reinforce that story, Savage said.
Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, said the establishment of the war room was unlikely to be welcomed outside of the province, given growing global concern about climate change.
"Kenney's antagonistic approach makes for a barnstormer of a speech to a friendly crowd but it does not play well outside of Alberta or with institutional investors concerned about climate change, which is increasingly almost all of them," Stewart said.
(Reporting by Nia Williams; editing by Grant McCool)