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Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver spent part of this week trying to convince the Americans to approve an extension of a controversial pipeline that would bring crude from the Alberta oilsands to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Mr. Oliver met with in Washington with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, congressional representatives, senior officials and prominent business leaders.

TransCanada's $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline "would help the U.S. move to a more secure energy future through a socially and environmentally responsible partner in Canada," Mr. Oliver said via teleconference Friday afternoon from the Canadian embassy in the American capital.

"It would also bring more than $20-billion in new construction related spending to the U.S. economy and create 20,000 well-paid construction and manufacturing jobs," he said.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has passed a bill to force a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline by Nov. 1. But the legislation is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate which is controlled by Democrats, many of whom are vehemently opposed to the project.

Critics say it would increase U.S. dependence on "dirty" oil sands crude. There are also concerns a spill could harm key drinking water sources. Senators have been told that the first stages of the pipeline, which have been in operation for less than a year and deliver crude from Alberta to the U.S. Midwest, have spilled 12 times.

An environmental impact assessment of the pipeline extension is to be completed by mid August. That will be followed by 90-day assessment by both the U.S. State Department and the Department of Energy which will coincide with 30-day period for public representation.

"We remain optimistic that the government understands that this is a very important project for the United States," said Mr. Oliver. "We confident that safety and environmental issues to be examined during the supplemental review period can be addressed in a satisfactory manner."

The benefits of the pipeline extension would go to virtually every sector of the Canadian and American economies - equipment manufacture, construction, engineering, the financial sector, everywhere, he said.

"To continue building on this energy relationship will require major investments in pipeline infrastructure. That's why the government of Canada supports the Keystone XL project."

With a file from the Canadian Press

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