One by one they have headed south – from pipeline-hungry Canada to its wary customer, the United States, fighting a battle that will help shape the future of the continent’s energy sector.
This week, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall each take to the road to woo American lawmakers and industry leaders as TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline remains under government consideration. Mr. Oliver will visit Chicago on Tuesday and Houston on Wednesday, while Mr. Wall heads to Washington on Tuesday.
The premiers and minister say the battle lines have shifted as Keystone has become not just an economic issue but a highly charged environmental one.
“We need to go down and start making the case in a more proactive and progressive way around our records, our respective provincial records, around the environment,” Mr. Wall said in an interview, stressing the need for “continued contact in Washington.”
The missions follow that of Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who visited the American capital last month and plans to return soon. With all eyes on Keystone and the carbon-heavy oil-sands bitumen it would carry, Mr. Oliver will on Wednesday visit the LyondellBasell refinery in Houston, where, according to his advance notice, 60,000 barrels of Canadian crude will be processed that day. There, and in other speeches, Mr. Oliver plans to tout Canada as a friend, and a green one at that – or at least as green as the Obama administration.
“We're going to say we're very responsible from an environmental point of view,” Mr. Oliver said in an interview, comparing the oil sands to American coal power plants, which produce far more emissions. “We think the facts are known. We hope they will do the right thing.”
Mr. Wall and Ms. Redford met last week in Edmonton to compare notes, and co-ordinated their Washington meetings with the help of Ambassador Gary Doer.
The joint sales pitch has had some success. The State Department draft report released last Friday on Keystone noted Alberta’s plan to set aside a conservation area near the oil sands, and agreed with Canada that the pipeline won’t have a major impact on global emissions.
But Canada’s environmental record is mixed at best, leaving gaping holes in the sales pitches. For instance, an Alberta government committee last week heard the province isn’t on pace to meet its own emissions-reductions targets – and doesn’t yet have a plan to do so. Another of the province’s once-lauded carbon-capture projects fell apart last week. And the joint federal-provincial oil sands monitoring program, announced a year ago, remains far from fully implemented, leaving persistent questions about the oil sands’ overall environmental impact.
Mr. Wall, meanwhile, is relying on his province’s own $1.24-billion carbon-capture project at a coal power plant to prove Saskatchewan’s green bona fides to – though that facility, too, won’t open for at least another year.
Mr. Oliver compares Canada’s performance to other oil-producing countries, saying “it’s a question of who do you want to get your oil from.” But the premiers, who have visited Washington regularly, are not reluctant to make a closer-to-home comparison. Canada’s environmental record is “arguably a better record than exists in the U.S.,” Mr. Wall said.
Ms. Redford echoed that. “Look, we’ve taken a lot of steps. And we’d like to see other juris dictions, including the United States, to take some of the steps we’ve taken,” she said, hinting at looming changes by saying Alberta will “strive to improve” environmental performance.
It’s not, however, just politicians heading south. It’s also activists, such as Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of Alberta’s Lubicon Cree first nation and a Greenpeace campaigner who opposes Keystone. She met with assistant secretary of state Kerri-Ann Jones last month. “They seemed very genuinely interested in hearing about the impacts,” Ms. Laboucan-Massimo said.
Mr. Wall is set to meet with Dr. Jones this week, adding his voice to the chorus of Canadian input on the pipeline. “We ought not to be complacent about this,” he said. “The decision’s going to come. This pipeline has a huge impact, not just on Alberta but on the country.”
With reports from Boyd Erman in Toronto, Paul Koring in Washington and Dawn Walton in Calgary