Envisioning A US-Canada Energy Partnership

on September 07, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Canada doesn’t cheer when the US economy fails, Alberta’s Energy Minister Ron Liepert told a small gathering a the Canadian consulate in New York City on Tuesday.

The Canadian economy is largely dependent on the success of the American one, he said, and this is particularly true when it comes to energy. As heated debate continues to surround the recently-State-Department-approved TransCanada XL Pipeline, Liepert emphasized that for Alberta, the long-winded American regulatory process was holding up a much needed boost to the province’s economy.

“On occasion we’ve expressed frustration with the amount of time this is taking, but no one can argue with the thoroughness of the State Department review,” Liepert said. In the end, it was “time well spent.” But during a Q&A after his brief statement, Liepert agreed with a reporter that the environmental push-back against the pipeline had less to do with the project itself and more to do with a larger philosophical view that fossil fuels should be retired in favor of renewables.

Oil sands, which will be transported by the pipeline into the Western US, account for only 5% of Canada’s carbon footprint, Liepert said. And Canada is responsible for only 2% of the world’s emissions. American coal plants, he said, produce some 60 times that much carbon.

Of the 12 or so reported spills from the already existing tar sands pipeline, Liepert said almost none were actually serious. They mostly occurred at pumps and were cleaned with “a mop and a bucket.” And, he added, new pipeline construction will be higher quality and will spill even less.

But acknowledging that tar sands oil development is hazardous to the environment, Liepert said Alberta has dedicated $2 billion in funds to develop carbon capture and storage technology as well as various other cleantech projects.

Asian Connection

For Alberta, development of the pipeline also provides a critical connection to the Pacific Ocean, from where oil can be shipped to the Asian market. It gives politicians like Liepert added incentive to push for the project.

Although Liepert initially rejected the notion that Canada would have any interest in using the pipeline to ship overseas, in response to another question he admitted that the province needed access to the Asian market.

“We are landlocked in Alberta,” he said. “First of all as a producer, we don’t think its prudent to only have one customer,” he said, referring to the US.

Liepert said he hoped that one day the US and Canada could devise a joint national energy strategy that would reduce redundancies and address the two countries’ common energy interests, including reducing dependence on foreign offshore oil.

“Its in the best interest of both countries to have aligned energy policies,” Liepert said.

Photo Caption: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks to the media at a press conference in Calgary, Alberta, May 3, 2011. Harper won re-election Monday at the head of a majority government, the first for his Conservative Party since 1988, television projections showed. In a ground-breaking election full of firsts, the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) was on course to surge past the Liberals, which governed for most of the last century, and become Canada’s official opposition.