The Liberal government is playing Canada's energy card as it seeks to ensure the country remains relatively unscathed by the promised protectionism of President Donald Trump's new administration.
In meetings with U.S. counterparts, federal ministers and officials are stressing the integrated nature of the continental energy market, and that Canada provides an abundant source of affordable, reliable energy – both crude oil and electricity for American consumers.
The Trump administration is expected to announce in the coming days how it plans to approve TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL pipeline, which would deliver about 830,000 barrels per day of crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
More broadly, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr are touting the benefits of energy imports from Canada, even as the new regime in Washington promotes its plan to boost U.S. production and lessen the country's dependence on foreign oil.
Mr. Trudeau met Monday with Trump adviser Stephen Schwarzman, head of Blackstone Group, who also addressed the full Liberal cabinet at its Calgary retreat.
Mr. Carr was in Washington for Mr. Trump's inauguration and met with U.S. officials.
Heading into the cabinet meeting Monday, Mr. Carr said Canada's energy bounty is a source of strength in the bilateral relationship.
"We think it's a strength, and it's in the interest of both countries to develop that strength and build on it," he said. "There are hundreds, even thousands, of companies in the United States that benefit from the energy relationship with Canada. And we know there are consumers who benefit from it."
Canada is by far the largest source of oil imports into the United States, with volumes exceeding all of OPEC combined. It is also a major exporter of electricity, with new transmission projects being planned from Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
In its "America First" energy policy posted on the White House website on Friday, the Trump administration said it was committed to "maximize the use of American resources, freeing us from dependence on foreign oil." It later narrowed that focus to "achieving energy independence from the OPEC cartel and any nations hostile to our interests."
Former U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, said that, when people in Washington talk about eliminating imports of foreign crude, "they're usually not talking about Canadian oil."
Many U.S. refineries – especially in the Gulf Coast and Midwest – are configured to process heavy crude and remain eager to expand imports from Canada, said Afolabi Ogunnaike, a Houston-based senior analyst for Wood Mackenzie consulting group. There are roughly five million barrels per day of demand for heavy crude, and traditional suppliers such as Mexico and Venezuela are seeing their production decline and, in the latter case, diverted to new markets in China, he said.
The booming shale-oil sector producers light crude, and the producers are now free to export that supply to refiners who will pay a premium for it. "The U.S. will emerge as an increasingly important exporter" as it continues to import Canadian heavy crude, Mr. Ogunnaike said.
Several yeas ago, the Calgary-based Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) calculated the impact on the U.S. economy from rising production in the oil sands, and has been asked by the federal government to update that work. The 2012 study showed that, "over all, there is a significant, meaningful impact on the U.S. economy from development of the oil sands," including for manufacturing suppliers to the Alberta industry, CERI's director of research Dinara Millington said Monday.
On KXL, much of the work will be completed in the United States, and construction unions have supported its approval.
Asked whether the Trump administration was ready to approve the pipeline, spokesman Sean Spicer said there was no immediate plan to announce it or the stalled Dakota Access Pipeline, in which Enbridge Inc. is poised to become a significant shareholder.
"I'm not going to get in front of the President's executive actions, but I will tell you that areas like Dakota and Keystone pipeline – areas where we can increase jobs, increase economic growth and tap into America's energy supply more – that's something that he's been very clear about. He talked about it, not only on the campaign but around the Thanksgiving period he was talking about that being a big priority."