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The Douglas Channel at dusk in Kitimat, B.C., in January 2012.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Against the backdrop of Vancouver's picturesque harbour, Canada's Natural Resources Minister on Friday promised not to allow pipeline and gas development that would despoil such an environment.

Joe Oliver's remarks came in the context of concerns from British Columbians about the $6-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project to ship Alberta oil sands bitumen to the B.C. coast for transport to Asian markets.

"Quite simply, development will not proceed unless it can be done safely and responsibly," Mr. Oliver told an audience largely made up of journalists and port officials during a speech at the offices of Vancouver's port authority.

"Canadians – especially British Columbians – have been clear they expect no less."

This week, as the B.C. government dispatched a high-profile delegation, including Environment Minister Terry Lake, to Edmonton for hearings on Northern Gateway, Mr. Oliver met with Mr. Lake and Energy Minister Rich Coleman to discuss B.C.'s Gateway concerns.

B.C. has issued five conditions for Gateway support, including cutting-edge spill response and a "fair share" of fiscal and economic benefits.

Mr. Oliver spent much of his speech itemizing federal policies to prevent pipeline or tanker spills, noting, for example, that the National Energy Board is increasing the number of oil and gas pipeline inspections by 50 per cent annually under the federal Economic Action Plan 2012.

Following his speech, he told reporters he "very much" understands concerns around protecting the environment in light of such projects, but that he could not specifically discuss Northern Gateway because it is under review in assessment hearings.

But he noted there are key economic rewards to such projects in terms of funds, jobs and economic activity necessary for social programs.

"We see enormous future benefits flowing from the vast capital potential that new resources represent," he noted. "We believe you have to have a balanced approach."

That, he suggested, includes balance between environmental protection and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's commitment to find ways to sell Canadian petroleum products to Asian markets.

"We believe there is a safe and secure way to transport our resources to the markets. The issue of market diversification is a critical one," he said.

"However, we believe no project should or can or will go ahead unless it's safe for Canadians and safe for the environment."