Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper s

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke bluntly about the rationale for approving the Keystone XL pipeline during a visit to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York yesterday.

Canadian energy exports are critically important to the country’s economy, which has suffered in recent years from a lack of market access for its crude oil. “All of the risks to Canada are really external,” said Harper, “our recession came about entirely due to our external markets, our export markets and the effect of commodity prices.” He added that those problems will continue and Canada should concentrate on what it can do on its own to grow its economy, though Keystone XL would not fall into this category, as US approval is required.

Responding to a question about the Keystone XL Pipeline extension project that would transport crude oil and diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands projects to the US Gulf of Mexico Coast, Harper first reminded the audience that Canada is one of the world’s largest energy producers and reserve holders of not just oil, but hydroelectric power, uranium, coal and natural gas, “…so whatever the energy mix of the future is, I tell people Canada will be a major provider,” he said.

“Look, environmental challenges are real, they have to be dealt with, in terms of the one I do want to talk about today – the Keystone Pipeline, in particular and the oil sands…one needs to put this in a global perspective. Less than 1/10 of 1 percent of global emissions are in the oil sands, so it’s almost nothing globally.”

He said emissions from oil sands development do put pressure on meeting Canada’s climate change targets, like those associated with the Copenhagen Agreement shared with the US. “We’ve had a 25% reduction over the past decade or so in emissions intensity coming out of the oil sands.”

“Yes, there still are emissions issues [with heavy oil from the oil sands], but no more so than heavy crudes in other parts of the world, including Venezuela, and I don’t have to tell you there are reasons beyond just emissions why you would want to have your oil from Canada rather than Venezuela,” said Harper.

He went on to tout the usual benefits Keystone supporters highlight, like job creation and energy security. He also said there is “overwhelming public support” for Keystone in the regions that will be directly affected by it.

While New York is not one of those regions, opposition to the project was evident by the group of protesters gathered outside the Council with signs proclaiming things like “Tar Sands Oil = Climate Disaster.”

Harper Keysone Protest

In an email announcing the protest, the organizers said, “Activists will be there with signs and banners to question Canada’s record on climate and send him [Harper] the message that the American people are not interested in dirty, dangerous Canadian tar sands.”

Many expect the US to make its Keystone XL decision by the end of the year and possibly sometime this summer.