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The Douglas Channel, the proposed shipping route for oil tanker ships in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, just south of Kitmat, B.C., is pictured on Jan. 10, 2012. The Canadian government is asking the Federal Court of Appeal to uphold its controversial decision to approve the Northern Gateway pipeline project.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Alberta's Energy Minister says she will push for new pipelines to help her province's landlocked oil industry but distanced her government from the controversial Northern Gateway project as news came that the federal government will formalize a ban on oil tanker traffic off B.C.'s Northern Coast.

Many observers said Friday that the Liberal government's push to formalize the ban – which has existed unofficially for decades – is a death knell for an Enbridge Inc. proposal for a 1,100-kilometre pipeline to carry oil sands bitumen to Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded onto supertankers bound for Asian markets. Aboriginal communities, environmental groups and many British Columbia residents have long opposed the project.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has previously said there's too much environmental sensitivity surrounding Northern Gateway, and has taken a hands off approach to the proposed project. On Friday, Alberta Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd concurred.

"Right now, it's a little bit more politically mired, so that's one we haven't supported . . . until I guess things change, if they do."

Ms. McCuaig-Boyd pointed to two projects with what she said is more promise to deliver more oil sands bitumen to coastal waters for export to international markets: TransCanada Corp.'s Energy East pipeline, and Kinder Morgan Inc.'s expansion of its Trans Mountain line.

"We're going to work with the ones that have the most possibility of getting done sooner than not. We won't want to waste energy on ones that don't have as much promise," she said.

"And those two are very promising, right way."

While the Northern Gateway project has long been considered a long-shot in the near term, news that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked his cabinet minister to formalize the northern coast tanker ban is likely to add to the impetus by Canada's landlocked oil industry to get at least one new pipeline built to one of Canada's ocean coasts. Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama firmly rejected TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline that would bring Canadian oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast for processing.

However, Northern Gateway spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht said Friday that project proponents "remain committed to this essential Canadian infrastructure."

He noted that Northern Gateway received National Energy Board approval after one of the most exhaustive reviews of its kind in Canadian history.

Mr. Giesbrecht added that the project proponents are confident the federal government will "be embarking on the required consultation with First Nations and Métis in the region, given the potential economic impact a crude oil tanker ban would have on those communities and Western Canada as a whole."

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