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Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. Rickford has lobbied oil and gas executives to help advance the Keystone XL pipeline project.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Energy Minister Greg Rickford arranged meetings with several energy companies in Houston in January to lobby for investment in Canadian oil and gas and shore up industry confidence in the Keystone XL pipeline project.

Following a day of meetings in mid-January, the minister and the Canadian government hosted a reception at an exclusive business venue called the Houston Club, with invitations extended to more than 40 executives, including managers from the biggest oil and gas companies in the United States, such as BG Group PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Halliburton Co.

Information about the meetings and reception is contained in a briefing note for Mr. Rickford for the Houston mission, obtained through an access-to-information request. Key messages to be emphasized by the minister were the Canada-U.S. bilateral energy relationship and Canada as a secure source of continental energy.

What's the issue?

It's often assumed that energy companies are lobbying the Conservative federal government to drive policies friendly to their industry. We don't often hear about the reverse, when the government lobbies industry for its help to advance energy policy.

Following meetings in Washington to garner congressional support for TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline project to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Mr. Rickford travelled to Houston Jan. 15 and 16 to assess investment interest in Canadian oil and gas amid the plunge in crude-oil prices, let companies know Canada was still open for business and assuage skepticism about Keystone XL.

It's part of the Conservative federal government's efforts to win public and political support for new oil pipelines to coastal waters.

The government wants to ship more oil south and expand into new export markets in Asia, permitting the export of more crude at higher prices.

One of the key pieces of that is Keystone XL, whose approval remains stalled in the White House as U.S. President Barack Obama has expressed concerns about climate change and "extraordinarily dirty" oil.

How are they lobbying?

Amid low oil prices and other, new pipeline routes to the South, Mr. Rickford had to address the viability of the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The briefing note referred to the increased use of rail and Enbridge Inc.'s new Flanagan South-Seaway Twin pipeline system – which could transport oil from Alberta to Houston's refineries and shipping terminals on the Gulf Coast – and noted that some people questioned whether Keystone XL was still required.

"The reality is that the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that the U.S. will still need to import almost eight million barrels per day by 2040. As such, a broad range of energy transportation options will be required," said the "key messages" section of the briefing note.

On top of hosting a private reception, the minister spoke at a luncheon in Freeport, Tex., organized by Enbridge for the launch of its Seaway Twin and Flanagan South pipelines. Jim Prentice, Alberta premier at the time, also spoke at the event attended by industry officials and state legislators. Mr. Rickford was briefed to speak positively of his relationship with the Obama administration.

"Over the past year, we have built strong relations with U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and we are aligned in our goal of furthering continental energy collaboration," said one of the minister's key messages for the luncheon.

In past years, the government has run a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in the United States, particularly Washington, to promote Canadian oil.

Who's lobbying whom?

With help from the Canadian consulate in Dallas and embassy in Washington, Mr. Rickford arranged meetings with pipeline and energy infrastructure companies Kinder Morgan Inc., Spectra Energy Corp., Royal Vopak NV – all of which have operations in Canada – as well as energy investment banking firm Tudor Pickering Holt & Co.

Mr. Rickford also talked about better collaboration with aboriginal communities to win support for projects in Canada, according to proposed discussion points. Kinder Morgan is leading the Trans Mountain pipeline project between Alberta and Burnaby, B.C. The Houston meetings followed those in Washington, where the minister met with the U.S. State Department, Mr. Moniz, and some senators and house members.

Former Alberta premier Jim Prentice had also lobbied in Washington for Keystone XL, but new Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has said her government will not lobby in the United States for pipeline projects.

"The Alberta government was in Washington and New York quite a bit. They were probably seen as abrasive, because they were pushing hard," said Dirk Lever, an energy analyst with AltaCorp Capital Inc. in Calgary. He said the federal government, on the other hand, has "done a pretty good job in getting people to realize that yeah, they do need Canada."

TransCanada continues to lobby in Washington, spending $310,000 (U.S.) in federal lobbying expenses in the United States in the first quarter of 2015, according to congressional lobbying disclosures.

Last October, at a private strategy meeting of energy executives in Banff, Alta., Mr. Rickford urged companies to step up their public outreach, "communicate more effectively and clearly to Canadians with solid facts and evidence," according to speaking notes obtained by Bloomberg through Access to Information. "Bottom line? We have to organize ourselves for success. And we have to do it together. Together. We can no longer look to others to do it for us," he told the executives.

What's next?

While Mr. Obama tries to boost his environmental record before the end of his term in 2016, the Conservative government will continue to promote Canada as an international energy source, and with that, Keystone XL.

"As the eternal positive guy, I think this project is going to be approved at some point," Mr. Rickford told reporters in Washington in January.

Simon Doyle covers lobbying and the intersection of business and politics in Ottawa. He writes for Politics Insider, which is only available to subscribers of Globe Unlimited.

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