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Pranksters disrupt oil patch conference

CALGARY -- In one of the more bizarre episodes in Calgary's energy patch, the people who turned out for yesterday's keynote speech at GO-EXPO, Canada's largest oil and gas event, saw a presentation that will live long in memory - if not for the reasons they expected.

The conference organizers had anticipated major policy announcements from a representative of the National Petroleum Council, a U.S. federal advisory body, on future co-operation with Canada in the oil sands and on biofuels.

Instead, they got a wacky address from the Yes Men, a group of politically motivated pranksters who pretend to be representatives of powerful groups, hijacking symposiums and television shows to lampoon the actions of corporations and government.

In a speech that cost $45 to attend, a man who identified himself as "S.K. Wolff," a policy analyst at the NPC and a special adviser to Exxon Mobil, first caused ears to prick up by claiming that the U.S. would announce a fivefold increase in the amount of crude it receives from Canada's oil sands in the next five years - a practical impossibility given current development limitations.

Then, before the backdrop of an unprofessional-looking PowerPoint presentation, Mr. Wolff - in actuality Jacques Servin, one of the leaders of the Yes Men - said that Exxon Mobil had created a system known as "Vivoleum," which would condense any biological matter into fuel, creating a fallback situation in the event of a cataclysmic global warming event.

A group of assistants handed out oddly shaped candles apparently made of Vivoleum, as a man identifying himself as "Florian Osenberg," director of human resources at Exxon Mobil's Vivoleum program - actually Igor Vamos, the Yes Men's other leader - encouraged those attending to light them in memory of "Reggie Watts," who had helped develop the new technology.

At this point, event security stepped in and hauled Mr. Vamos behind a black curtain. In a brief statement before he was also removed, Mr. Servin affirmed that Reggie Watts was a former employee of Exxon Mobil who had had an incurable disease and had bequeathed his body to be used by the company for fuel, and that the candles handed out were made from Mr. Watts himself.

Event organizers apologized for the stunt but were tight-lipped about how it could have been perpetrated. They said only that the approach offering the speakers had come from a reputable public relations company and that they are investigating.

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