The Price of Oil

The award-winning investigative series The Price of Oil is the largest project of its kind in Canadian history, bringing together more than 50 journalists, editors, students and teachers from four journalism schools and three media outlets to examine the hidden costs of Canada’s oil industry, with assistance from the Michener Foundation and in partnership with the Corporate Mapping Project, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The body of work has rolled out in TV stories, print/online articles and two documentaries, bringing to light hundreds of never-before-seen internal government documents, incident reports, whistleblower accounts and private emails that have raised alarms about government oversight of the oil and gas industry in Saskatchewan and Ontario.



Part 1, Saskatchewan

National Observer’s trailer for the series (Sept. 30, 2017)
Toronto Star: “That rotten stench in the air? It’s the smell of deadly gas and secrecy” (Oct. 1, 2017)
Toronto Star: “‘There’s no sense in speaking up’ despite deadly gas risks” (Oct. 1, 2017)
Toronto Star: “The Human Toll of H2S Gas” (Oct. 1, 2017)
National Observer: “Inside Saskatchewan’s failure to stop a silent killer” (Oct. 1, 2017)
National Observer: “Fear and money breed silence in Saskatchewan” (Oct. 1, 2017)
Global News: “Is Saskatchewan ignoring the potentially deadly gas from oil wells?” (Oct. 1, 2017)
Global News: “Potentially dangerous emissions from oil wells, tanks in Saskatchewan” (Oct. 2, 2017
National Observer: “Wall government dodges questions about dangerous industry failures” (Oct. 4, 2017)
Toronto Star: Public safety is the number one priority, Saskatchewan government says after toxic gas investigation” (Oct. 5, 2017)
Global News: “Saskatchewan Energy Minister responds to investigation about potentially deadly gas from oil wells” (Oct. 5, 2017)
Global News: “Saskatchewan government dodges questions about potentially dangerous oil industry failures” (Oct. 5, 2017)
National Observer: “Crude Power: ‘Oil is king in a province where resistance is small’” (Oct. 6, 2017) (The University of Regina held a public screening of this 45-minute student documentary on Oct. 4, which was followed by a panel discussion.)
National Observer: “Saskatchewan environment official praises investigation dismissed by energy minister” (Nov. 30, 2017)
Toronto Star: Toxic gas nearly killed this oil worker. His employer never told the province” (video embedded) (Dec. 21, 2017)
Toronto Star: “‘Like saying cancer is not a disease’: Ottawa considers declaring deadly oilpatch gas non-toxic” (Dec. 21, 2017)
Global News: “He nearly died at an oil well. His employer never reported the accident” (Dec. 21, 2017)
National Observer: “Toxic gas nearly killed this oil worker. His employer never told the province” (Dec. 21, 2017)
National Observer: “Ottawa plans to declare deadly gas is non-toxic” (Dec. 21, 2017)
Toronto Star: This oilpatch town was overcome with a mystery gas. Now its residents are asking, what made us sick?” (Jan. 31, 2018)
Global News: “This oilpatch town was overcome by a mysterious odour. Now its residents are asking, what made us sick?” (Jan. 31, 2018)
National Observer: “This oilpatch town was overcome with a mystery gas. Now its residents are asking, what made us sick?” (Jan. 31, 2018)

Media coverage by other organizations / commentary

National Observer op-ed: “Hey Saskatchewan, let’s talk about the ‘ugly side’ side of oil” (Oct. 1, 2017)
Regina Leader-Post: “Province defending approach to sour gas” (Oct. 2, 2017)
World Spectator:Heppner responds to Toronto Star story on H2S” (reposting of the government’s statement) (Oct. 2, 2017)
Regina Leader-Post: “Mandryk: Sour gas wells remind us oil industry enjoys a double standard” (Oct. 4, 2017)
Regina Leader-Post: “Sour gas issue but a part of wider oil industry problem” (Oct. 5, 2017)
Briarpatch: “Troubling portrait of an oil province” (Oct. 5, 2017)
Pipeline News: "We can't let these things slide, at all" (Nov. 8, 2017)

Media coverage of the collaboration:

J-Source: “Patti Sonntag spearheads Canadian collaborative journalism investigative project” (Oct. 18, 2016)
Toronto Star (end of article): “That rotten stench in the air? It’s the smell of deadly gas and secrecy (Oct. 1, 2017)
National Observer: “Your family and friends need to know what’s lurking in those hills. Here’s why I’m asking you to share” (Oct. 2, 2017)
National Observer: “How the reporters in an historic Canadian journalism collaboration cornered a silent killer”  (Oct. 2, 2017)
CBC News Saskatchewan: “U of R showcases ‘unprecedented’ investigation into Sask. oil industry” (Oct. 4, 2017)
The Hill-Times: “National journalism collaboration shines light on the oil industry” (Oct. 4, 2017)
The Conversation: “Can new models of public interest journalism survive?” (Oct. 20, 2017)
J-Source: “Stronger together: How journalists can collaborate” (Oct. 27, 2017)

Participating universities’ publications

University of Regina: “Crude Power documentary a bonanza for journalism students and investigative reporting”  (Oct. 1, 2017)
Concordia University: “What happens when 50 reporters and 3 media outlets team up to investigate the price of oil?” (Oct. 2, 2017)
University of Regina School of Journalism “The Price of Oil” project page (Oct. 4, 2017)
University of British Columbia: “The future of journalism lies in collaboration” (Oct. 11, 2017)

Part 2, Ontario

Global News’ trailer (One week before publication)
Global News: “Canada’s Toxic Secret” (Oct. 14, 2017) (30-minute documentary)
Global News: “‘We expected cancer’: Are industrial spills in Canada’s ‘Chemical Valley’ making people sick?” (Oct. 14, 2017)
Toronto Star: “In Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, is ‘toxic soup’ making people sick?” (Oct. 14, 2017)
National Observer: “There are toxic secrets in Canada’s Chemical Valley” (Oct. 14, 2017)
Global News: “Ontario enviro watchdog, First Nation demand health study after ‘Chemical Valley’ investigation” (Oct. 15, 2017)
Toronto Star: “Outrage, calls for health study after Chemical Valley spills investigation” (Oct. 15, 2017)
Global News: “Sarnia-Lambton MPP says health study would ‘put to rest’ concerns in Ontario’s ‘Chemical Valley’” (Oct. 15, 2017)
National Observer: “Ontario enviro watchdog, PCs call for health study after ‘Chemical Valley’ investigation” (Oct. 16, 2017)
Global News: “Ontario will fund health impact study on ‘Chemical Valley’ air pollution” (Oct. 16, 2017)
Global News: “Ontario government commits to fund health study after ‘Chemical Valley’ investigation” (Oct. 16, 2017)
Toronto Star: “Province to fund health study examining air pollution effects of Sarnia’s Chemical Valley” (Oct. 16, 2017)
Toronto Star editorial: “Health study in Sarnia’s ‘Chemical Valley’ is long overdue” (Oct. 16, 2017)
National Observer: “Ontario government commits to fund health study after ‘Chemical Valley’ investigation” (Oct. 16, 2017)
Global News: “NDP, Green Party slam feds over ignored health concerns in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley” (Oct. 17, 2017)
Global News: “Ontario government ignored public safety concerns in ‘Chemical Valley,’ ‘muzzled’ engineers: document” (Oct. 17, 2017)
Toronto Star: “Ontario government ignored health warnings from its own engineers about Sarnia’s Chemical Valley, report claims” (Oct. 17, 2017)
National Observer: “Ontario government ignored public safety concerns, ‘muzzled’ engineers: document” (Oct. 17, 2017)
Toronto Star: “Ontario Liberals face blowback after allegations of ignored warnings in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley” (Oct. 18, 2017)
National Observer: “McKenna says federal reforms could target Sarnia following investigation” (Oct. 18, 2017)
Global News: “First Nation member, EcoJustice demand probe into massive flames at Sarnia’s Imperial Oil plant” (Oct. 19, 2017)
Global News: “Cellphone video shows extreme flaring at Imperial Oil refinery in Sarnia in Feb. 2017” (Oct. 19, 2017)
Toronto Star: “Sarnia-area First Nation resident asks province to investigate flames at Chemical Valley plant” (Oct. 19, 2017)
Global News: “Environmental health study called for area near Sarnia, Ont.: Health Minister” (Oct. 20, 2017)
Global News: “Ontario enviro watchdog slams province for ‘outrageous’ pollution in Indigenous communities” (Oct. 24, 2017)
Toronto Star: “Enviro watchdog blasts province for inaction on ‘outrageous’ pollution in Indigenous communities” (Oct. 24, 2017)
Canadian Press, published in National Observer: “Ontario must do more to address ‘outrageous’ pollution in Indigenous communities: Watchdog” (Oct. 24, 2017)
Toronto Star: “Province proposes new air pollution standards for sulphur dioxide” (Oct. 27, 2017)
Toronto Star: “Sarnia-area plant evacuated after chemical leak” (Nov. 8, 2017)
National Observer: “Sarnia plant evacuated following toxic leak” (Nov. 8, 2017)
Toronto Star: “Ontario’s environment ministry investigating Sarnia-area plant after possible leak” (Nov. 9, 2017)
National Observer: “Ontario investigates after Sarnia plant evacuated over possible leak” (Nov. 9, 2017)
Global News: “‘We don’t have to go begging anymore,’ Sarnia councillor says as health study moves forward” (Nov. 29, 2017)
Global News: “Ontario government announces $100M grant to company it’s investigating” (Dec. 8, 2017)
Toronto Star: “Province giving $100M grant to chemical company under investigation over leak” (Dec. 8, 2017)
Toronto Star: “Province launches investigation into flames at Sarnia chemical plant” (Jan. 11, 2018)
National Observer: “Province launches investigation into flames at Sarnia chemical plant” (Jan. 11, 2018)
Toronto Star: “Chemical Valley’s public air monitoring website misleading, say critics” (February 23, 2018)
National Observer: Chemical Valley’s public air monitoring website “misleading,” say critics” (February 23, 2018)

Part 3, National

Global News: “Pollution from Canadian refineries an ‘embarrassment’ compared with U.S.” (May 2, 2018)
Toronto Star: “Pollution from Canadian refineries an ‘embarrassment’ compared with U.S.” (May 2, 2018)
National Observer: Pollution from Canadian refineries an ‘embarrassment’ compared to U.S.” (May 2, 2018)
National Observer: “Canada’s toxic refinery emissions ‘wake-up call’ to MPs” (May 3, 2018)
Global News: “MPs say investigation into toxic refinery emissions is a ‘wake-up call’” (May 3, 2018)
Toronto Star: “Air and water quality reforms needed to curb toxic emissions, opposition parties say” (May 3, 2018)


New York Festivals: Silver World Medal — Best Investigative Report
The Sidney Hillman Foundation: 2018 Canadian Hillman Prize — Honourable Mention
Radio Television Digital News Association Canada nomination: Investigative — Dan McArthur Award
Canadian Journalism Foundation nomination: Jackman Award for Excellence
Investigative Reporters and Editors: 2017 IRE Medals — Student — Large
Emerge Media Awards: 2018 Winners — Videography
Yorkton Film Festival nominations: Research; Student Production

Media discussion of awards / commentary

Global News: “Global News investigation ‘Canada’s Toxic Secret’ named a finalist for New York Festivals Award” (February 9, 2018)
Concordia University “’One of Canada’s top journalism awards’ — national acclaim for Concordia investigative project The Price of Oil” (March 20, 2018)
National Observer: “National Observer, Toronto Star and Global News to be honoured by Hillman Foundation” (March 20, 2018)
National Observer: “University of Regina students win videography award for ‘Crude Power’ documentary in Price of Oil series” (March 23, 2018)
University of Regina School of Journalism “Student Investigation Receives International Honour” (April 2, 2018)
Global News: “Global News wins international award for investigation into Ontario’s ‘Chemical Valley’” (April 11, 2018)
National Observer: “National Observer and partners short-listed for CJF Jackman Award for Excellence in Journalism” (April 19, 2018)



Global News



 Oct. 1, 2017

The unprecedented collaboration behind the project

teamAirBS 1

Over nine months, an unprecedented collaboration of more than 50 journalists and editors from three Canadian media outlets, four journalism schools and a think tank worked to chronicle the hidden price of oil in Canada.

Collectively, reporters examined thousands of industry and government documents, analyzed terabytes of data and delved into dozens of freedom-of-information requests.

“The project started with the people,” says Patti Sonntag, a managing editor in the New York Times’ news services division, who launched the project with a grant from the Michener Awards Foundation. Following a tip from a colleague at the Corporate Mapping Project, she did some research and reporting in Saskatchewan last fall.

Working with the previous year’s Michener winner, Toronto Star journalist Robert Cribb, Sonntag created a team of students at the Ryerson, Concordia and UBC journalism schools. Concordia University’s Department of Journalism volunteered to act as host and headquarters for the project.

University of Regina students reported on the ground locally, shot video and developed sources, while students at the other universities aggregated and analyzed data and interviewed experts.

“We’re pulling these four different schools from across the country and looking at it from all different aspects,” says Janelle Blakley, a University of Regina student reporter whose team mapped spills data and met local farmers and residents. “This collaboration allowed us to really dig into it, where all schools were pulling apart different pieces of it and then coming back and putting it all together.”

The significance of the data quickly drew intrigue. What emerged was a picture of a few dedicated regulators — and even some industry leaders — who tried to introduce greater accountability, but these efforts were ultimately overwhelmed by larger forces.

“You start to understand these figures really do play a huge role in dictating the direction of the Canadian economy and that plays out in the lives of everyday Canadians,” says Lauren Kaljur, a graduate of UBC’s master of journalism program who has been investigating the concentration of corporate power in Saskatchewan’s oil and gas industry since the beginning of 2017.

To Matthew Gilmour, a recent journalism graduate at Concordia University, after spending months populating spreadsheets and ledgers, “there’s the human moment where you realize it’s not just a pocketbook story. It’s a human story. And people’s lives are affected.”

The work continued past the end of the semester in April 2017, with students working alongside veteran reporters at the Star, the National Observer and Global News to shape the stories, seek comments from all sides and publish hundreds of pages of government and industry records, detailing concerns about potentially deadly gas emissions for the first time.


Robert Cribb, The Toronto Star

Patti Sonntag, Michener Fellow

P.W. Elliott, University of Regina

Elizabeth McSheffrey, The National Observer

Data and documentation journalist:

Michael Wrobel, Concordia University


Jennifer Ackerman, University of Regina

Madina Azizi, University of Regina

Janelle Blakley, University of Regina

Cory Coleman, University of Regina

Mike De Souza, The National Observer

Josh Diaz, University of Regina

Brenna Engel, University of Regina

Matthew Gilmour, Concordia University

Celine Grimard, University of Regina

Jared Gottselig, University of Regina

Lauren Kaljur ,University of British Columbia

Rebbeca Marroquin, University of Regina

Matthew Parizot, Concordia University

Katie Doke Sawatzky, University of Regina

Michaela Solomon, University of Regina

Kyrsten Stringer, University of Regina

Caitlin Taylor, University of Regina

Steph Wechsler, Ryerson University

Faculty Supervisors:

P.W. Elliott, University of Regina

Trevor Grant, University of Regina

Robin Lawless, University of Regina

Series Producer:

Patti Sonntag, Michener Fellow, based at Concordia University

Institutional Credits:

Concordia University, Department of Journalism

Ryerson University, School of Journalism

University of British Columbia, Graduate School of Journalism

University of Regina, School of Journalism

Global News

The Michener Awards Foundation

Corporate Mapping Project

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Parkland Institute

University of Victoria

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

Televised investigation: Oct 1 & 2, 2017 on Global National at 5:30 CT/MT/PT & 6:30 ET/AT