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Pipeline debates best fought at local level, Kinder Morgan president says

Demonstrators hold signs as the group Communities Against Pipelines protests in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday October 5, 2012. The group is opposed to Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline because of the potential for increased oil tanker traffic along the coast of British Columbia.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Past efforts by Ottawa to take on pipeline opponents weren't especially helpful, as those debates are best fought at the local level, said the president of pipeline builder Kinder Morgan Canada.

"I was not a huge supporter of how actively the federal government was a year or two ago in promoting pipeline projects for its interests and taking on some of the opposers," Ian Anderson told an Calgary business audience on Wednesday.

"I think that they have a role to play in setting regulations and policy, but don't need them fanning the flames, I don't need them making the grassroots opposition any worse than it might already be."

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Kinder Morgan plans to file a regulatory application in December to nearly triple the size of its Trans Mountain pipeline between Alberta and the B.C. Lower Mainland so that Canadian crude can be sold in lucrative Asian markets.

Fiery remarks, such as Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver's attack a few years ago on "foreign radicals" taking part in regulatory reviews, haven't necessary harmed the case for pipelines, such as Trans Mountain, Anderson said.

"But it certainly annoyed a number of groups who felt they were being cast in a general statement and I think we've seen our way through that."

Anderson said he's noticed a change in Ottawa's tone and praised efforts it has made when it comes to environmental protection and First Nations consultation.

At the provincial level, Anderson said he's encouraged by upcoming discussions between Alberta Premier Alison Redford and her B.C. counterpart Christy Clark about what conditions need to be in place for energy export projects to go ahead.

Many of Anderson's conversations are at the municipal level. And it's not always easy. For example, he says, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has refused to meet with him to discuss concerns over the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Other municipalities have been more receptive, he noted.

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"All politics are local. All benefits are local. All issues are local. We can talk all we want about the national good," Anderson said.

"That's all well and good and that gets you through the first five minutes of the conversation."

While Ottawa has been less vocal on West Coast pipelines lately, it has been actively pushing the case for Keystone XL – a TransCanada Corp. proposal to connect oilsands crude to Texas refineries – south of the border.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper used strong language in remarks to a business audience in New York last month, saying Keystone XL supporters shouldn't "take no for an answer."

"I think the Canadian government has done a very good job of getting the facts out on the table," Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada's president of energy and oil pipelines, told reporters.

He said a long-awaited U.S. government decision on the controversial project could come during the first-quarter of 2014, as legislators on both sides of the aisle don't want to push it too close to the midterm elections.

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The ongoing government shutdown hasn't affected timelines – yet, he said.

"It does appear a lot of the work is still getting done in the various agencies in D.C.," he said.

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