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Lianne Lefsrud tries to bridge the gap between the oil industry and environmentalists

The University of Alberta alumna says it's more complicated than simply choosing sides

Feb 1, 2014

by Alix Kemp

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Lianne Lefsrud
Photograph Bluefish Studios

DOB: 1970
Hometown: Viking, Alberta
Higher ed: B.Sc. in civil and environmental engineering, interdisciplinary M.Sc. in environmental engineering and sociology, PhD in strategic management and organization, University of Alberta. Currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan
FUN FACT: Trained as a locomotive engineer and conductor with CN Rail

The Person

The relationship between the oil industry and environmentalists is fraught with tension, and nobody knows that better than Lianne Lefsrud. Her research focuses on the language and emotions surrounding the oil sands debate (or is that the tar sands debate?) and why it’s more complicated than choosing sides.

The Past

Lefsrud completed a master’s degree at the University of Alberta, combining environmental engineering with sociology to study the impact of controversial facilities on nearby communities. In particular, she researched a nerve-gas munitions incinerator the U.S. Army was designing in Oregon.

The Present

After 12 years in industry, Lefsrud returned to school to complete a PhD. She recently accepted a post-doctoral fellowship at the prestigious Erb Institute at the University of Michigan, where she’s continuing her research on the oil sands. In June, she presented part of her dissertation, Golden Goose or Ugly Duckling? at a TEDx presentation in Fort McMurray. It focused on the language used by oil companies and environmental activists to talk about the oil sands, the way that language has affected media coverage and regulatory outcomes, and how the conversation has evolved. Her research has applications for environmentalists, companies and governments who want to get their side of the story out. “It’s no longer a private conversation about economics in Alberta. It’s an international conversation about the preservation of life,” she says. “Oil companies and the Alberta government need to recognize these broader constituencies, these broader meanings and the influence they have.”

Click below to watch Lefsrud give a presentation at TEDxFortMcMurray in June, 2013:

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