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KANANASKIS, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada's approval process for pipelines to export crude from the landlocked province of Alberta to the coast could be shorter, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said on Monday, in response to pressure to help get the region's oil to market.
New interim rules for environmental reviews announced by the Liberal government in January imposed delays on two projects - TransCanada Corp's (TRP.TO) Energy East pipeline and Kinder Morgan Inc's (KMI.N) expansion of its Trans Mountain Pipeline.
While the deadlines represent the longest estimated time for approval, the process could be shorter, Carr told reporters as he headed into a cabinet meeting in Alberta.
Ottawa has been under pressure to approve pipeline projects that would carry oil from Alberta to Canada's east and west coasts since U.S. President Barack Obama last year blocked the cross-border Keystone XL crude pipeline. Trudeau has said environmental concerns must be considered.
In January, Ottawa toughened environmental reviews on the grounds that public trust needed to be restored in the process for assessing big energy projects, but the prolonged slump in oil prices has hobbled Alberta's economy.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley appealed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet on Sunday to support efficient ways to get oil to market. [L2N17S03E]
Carr reiterated that the deadline for the government to decide on Trans Mountain is December 2016, while the process for Energy East had not even begun.
"The regulator hasn't even seen the application yet," he told reporters. "So as soon as that happens then the clock begins to tick, and there will be 21 months for the National Energy Board to review, then an additional six months for the governor in council. So 27 months after that ... will be the latest at which the government will decide."
Carr and Transport Minister Marc Garneau also discussed Enbridge Inc's (ENB.TO) proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry Alberta oil sands crude to a deepwater port at Kitimat, British Columbia for export to Asian markets.
Environmentalists and Aboriginal groups fear the project would hasten the development of Canada's oil sands and exacerbate climate change.
After coming to power last year, the Liberals imposed a moratorium on oil tanker traffic along the northern coast of British Columbia, a move seen killing the project's chances.
Asked if Northern Gateway could be revived if the terminus was moved from Kitimat, Carr said: "If there are differences, if there are changes, other requests, then presumably the National Energy Board will deal with it."
Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Richard Chang