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Canada's Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver is pictured in March, 2013. Canada’s energy sector risks a lost decade unless companies are allowed to build new pipelines and pursue lucrative Asian markets, says Mr. Oliver.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Canada's energy sector risks a lost decade unless companies are allowed to build new pipelines and pursue lucrative Asian markets, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver warns.

"It's a critical strategic objective for our country to find new markets," Mr. Oliver said in an interview Sunday.

While there are promising proposals for exports of liquefied natural gas from British Columbia, uncertainty lingers over how many years it will take to develop even one major LNG project.

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"There is enormous potential to open up an entirely new market in LNG," Mr. Oliver said. "We must bring our resources to the markets and Asia will be huge in that regard."

Heading into Tuesday's British Columbia general election, both the New Democratic Party and the Liberals say they generally support LNG projects. But the NDP in particular has expressed concerns about oil pipeline proposals, notably the Northern Gateway project and the planned expansion of the Trans Mountain system from Edmonton to the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby.

Mr. Oliver declined to comment on the election campaign, but he emphasized the high stakes.

"We're going to run out of pipeline capacity this decade. That's starting to tighten things up now. We've got to build the infrastructure," he said.

The United States remains by far Canada's largest energy customer, but longer term, Asia is positioned to play an increasingly important role in buying commodities such as Canadian oil and coal, he said.

Canada's mining industry is scrambling to cope with sluggish commodity prices. But Mr. Oliver touted the country's clout as the world's top producer of potash, adding that Canadian mining firms contribute much-needed economic stimulus domestically and abroad.

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