Thursday, March 17, 2011

Enbridge may sue in response to Web site hoax over human hair

CALGARY, Alta. – April Fool’s Day came early for Enbridge, and the company is not amused by a hoax that makes it appear the company behind the Northern Gateway pipeline project in B.C. is planning to use human hair to clean up oil spills.

Enbridge was the victim of what amounts to a double spoof.

The first hoax was an authentic-looking news release, posted online for news reporters in the U.S. and Canada. It claimed that Enbridge Inc., which has a pipeline in Wisconsin, had an elaborate plan to turn hair salon clippings into "super-absorbent oil cleanup booms" on the route of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline across British Columbia.

"Human hair has been successfully used to clean up oil spills for nearly two decades, ever since Alabama hair stylist and inventor Phil McCrory patented the technology in 1995," the fake release says. "With MyHairCares, Enbridge expects to collect 450,000 pounds of hair."

The release goes on to quote Enbridge as saying it will turn 450,000 pounds of hair from salons across North America into “super-absorbent hair booms.” “When we’ve finished collecting hair, we will stuff it into old nylons and put it in mesh to strengthen the exterior. These sausage-like booms will be tied together to contain and absorb oil spills.”

The spoof news release cited an oil spill last summer in Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

That spill, which actually did occur, resulted in an estimated 877,000 gallons of oil or more flowing into the river, killing fish and other wildlife.

In the second part of the spoof, another release purportedly issued by Enbridge in response to the first hoax says the company would post a $20 billion liability bond for the proposed Canadian pipeline.

Enbridge says it is not collecting hair clippings from salons, and it also says it did not write either news release.

A spokesman for an environmental group that has pulled similar pranks on oil companies claimed responsibility, saying the latest hoaxes were meant to bring attention to the industry's environmental record.

Several Web sites were fooled into posting the fake MyHairCares initiative news releases as authentic.

In a March 15 statement, Gina Jordan, spokesperson for Enbridge Pipelines, called the MyHairCares hoax a “cynical attempt to take advantage of public concern about the environment.”

“Enbridge will vigorously defend its reputation, and is considering an appropriate legal response to this media campaign attack,” Jordan said.

The No Tanks Coalition, which is fighting Enbridge's proposed oil pipeline, sent out a news release critical of the hoax MyHairCares initiative.

“Enbridge should trim their project not the hair of the nation to make British Columbians feel safer,” said Rex Weyler, a No Tanks member, in the release. “This outrageous campaign is just the latest of many feeble attempts to convince the public not to worry about the inevitable devastating consequences of oil pipelines and tankers on the west coast. Instead, it serves as a powerful reminder that there is simply no good way to clean up oil spills and that oil spills are inevitable in a project of this scope and daring.”

Reached by phone this afternoon, Weyler told the Straight Web site that he didn’t know MyHairCares was a hoax when he provided his quote for the release.

Asked if he knows who put up the hoax sites, the long-time environmentalist replied, “No, I don’t know who did.”

Weyler noted MyHairCares is clearly a hoax and “kind of funny."

Some journalists also fell victim to the hoax. The fake news releases were picked up by a Canadian wire service, at least one newspaper and several web sites. The Province headline “Greenpeace slams Enbridge’s ‘hair-raising’ campaign” can be found in Google News, but the story is not available on the newspaper’s site.

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