CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Environmentalists aim to hitch their stars to James Cameron's "Avatar" by trying to draw parallels between the sci-fi blockbuster and Canada's oil sands industry ahead of Sunday's Academy Awards.
In a full-page ad in the show business trade publication "Variety," a coalition of green groups endorsed the film, which is nominated for nine Oscars, saying the predatory grab for resources it portrays on the fictional planet Pandora is similar to methods used in northern Alberta.
The oil industry panned the ad, calling it irresponsible.
"Canada's Avatar Sands," it read before a backdrop featuring a massive dump truck, which is used in oil sands extraction, and an open pit mine.
Like the film, it said, indigenous peoples are endangered by pollution and future oil spills, Shell, BP, Exxon and other "Sky People" are destroying ancient forests and huge trucks are used to mine an expensive energy source to feed America's "addiction."
"Part of it is to reach out to a new audience that have seen the movie," said Mike Hudema, a campaigner for Greenpeace, one of the groups behind the ad. "A lot of the themes that were dealt with in "Avatar" do parallel a lot with what we're seeing in the tar sands."
Environmentalists have escalated a campaign to spread their message that developing Canada's oil sands, the largest deposits of crude outside the Middle East, is damaging the land, air, water and local communities.
Meanwhile, the industry has intensified efforts to counter that, saying it is doing all it can to minimize environmental impacts, clean up operations and support aboriginal communities with consultation and employment opportunities. The two sides have become more polarized.
"The campaign is bizarre at minimum and at maximum it's irresponsible," said Janet Annesley, spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry's main lobby group.
"We've seen in the past that anti-oil activists like to blur the line between fact and fiction, but in this instance the cognitive dissonance is just too great to go unaddressed."
Canada is the largest foreign oil supplier to the United States, and about half the country's crude oil supplies are derived from the oil sands.
Editing by Frank McGurty