Canadian official in D.C. to push Keystone oil sands pipeline

Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is touting the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline in meetings with congressional energy leaders and the State Department this week, he told The Hill in a Wednesday interview at the Canadian Embassy.

“There’s a lot of support,” Oliver said of congressional opinion on Keystone.

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Oliver was fresh off a meeting with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). He kept the details of that conversation confidential.

“He wasn’t viewed as being in the supporters’ camp. So we’re not staying away from people who may not be fully supportive. I think it’s important for me to hear what the issues are that are of concern,” Oliver said.

The minerals chief will meet Thursday with Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Robert Hormats, the undersecretary for economic growth, energy and the environment with the State Department.

Oliver’s visit is the latest effort in a Canadian push to secure United States support for the Canada-to-Texas pipeline, the northern leg of which requires a cross-border permit from the White House.

Oliver said Keystone is vital to Canada, especially given its current economic state of affairs.

While its finances are good compared to most Western nations, Canada's growth rate is slowing.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's conservative government has turned to energy exports as a way to generate revenues — and Keystone is a way to expedite that process.

“For Canada, it’s also an outlet for the oil we have,” Oliver said of Keystone. “It’s really important for our country, for our economic development, for our industry. It’s part of a very long history of energy collaboration between our two countries.”

But more than putting money into Canada's coffers, Oliver said building the pipeline is a way to create thousands of jobs for Canadians and Americans. Continuing to rely on rail transport to ship Canada's oil sands — the current method for exports — doesn't add jobs, he noted.

"This is a time-value-money issue," Oliver said. "We want to get the jobs now. These are shovel-ready projects."

Still, opponents of the pipeline say claims by Canada and other Keystone proponents about jobs and where the oil is headed are disingenuous.

Green groups bashed comments Oliver made earlier Wednesday in which he said it is “simply not the case” that Keystone would facilitate oil exports.

The groups cited a State Department review of the pipeline and congressional testimony from Keystone builder TransCanada Corp. that indicated some of the oil would head overseas.

Responding to that, Oliver said, “I don’t think I said no oil would be exported.” He explained that claims that Canada plans to use the U.S. as a “conduit” for exports are “untrue.”

“My understanding is that most of it will not be exported,” he said.

Oliver said that some of the carbon-intensive oil sands flowing through Keystone would displace U.S. imports of Venezuelan heavy crude. Up to 30 percent of the oil flowing through the pipeline would come from the Bakken region in North Dakota and Montana, he said.

The State Department said as much in the draft environmental review on Keystone it released in March.

It said those conditions, plus rail transport continuing to bring oil sands to market based on demand trends, meant Keystone would not accelerate oil sands production or significantly raise greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — as well as green and progressive groups that oppose the pipeline — has challenged those assumptions.

The interagency squabble has led to some mixed signals about where the Obama administration stands on the pipeline, which is at the center of an intense lobbying and political battle.

Canadian officials, business groups, industry and some unions want to get the pipeline built. They contend it will create thousands of jobs and give the U.S. oil from an ally.

But greens and progressives oppose the project, citing the exports issue and contending emissions from oil sands would devastate the climate.

To blunt the emissions argument, Oliver has often invoked plans — as he did in public comments Wednesday — by firms to build pipelines east and west through Canada to export to Europe or Asia. 

That, he says, means oil sands production — and whatever emissions come with them — is going to happen no matter what the U.S. does on Keystone.

Oliver said, however, that those projects are still undergoing environmental review, and that he could not predict what regulators would decide. 

Rather than saying they’re ready to go, Oliver told The Hill that the potential pipelines are “planned and in the works. I wouldn’t say that they’re ready to be shipping oil.”