CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Ottawa may try to tug at Canadians’ emotions as a way to build public support for building pipelines to ship growing crude production to the West, East and South, the federal natural resources minister said on Friday.
The International Energy Agency’s new forecast of booming U.S. light oil production has only added urgency to the need to build pipelines so Western Canadian crude can get to new markets, such as Asia and Eastern Canada, as the United States edges closer to self-sufficiency over the next 15 years, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said.
But many Canadians, enamored with their country’s natural beauty, remain wary of the environmental impacts of such proposed projects as Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway pipeline to the Pacific Coast from Alberta and new pipeline capacity to Montreal and points east, Oliver said.
Having already devoted major efforts to explaining the economic reasons for such developments with statistics and forecasts, it is time to communicate “at an emotive level”, he told a Calgary business audience.
“I think we have to realize that this is a huge challenge, because if we don’t get people on side, if we don’t get the social license, politics often follows opinion,” he said. “We could well get a positive regulatory conclusion from the joint panel that’s looking at Northern Gateway, but if the population is not on side there’s a big problem.”
He described shifting public opinion as the biggest challenge facing the need to build energy infrastructure in Canada.
Oliver decried some environmental groups that he said will oppose any and all energy developments out of hand. They would not be the target of such communications.
He has already delved into the emotive. At the start of the Northern Gateway hearings early this year, he issued a statement blasting “environmental and other radical groups” who only want to block Canada’s aims at diversifying energy trade.
A new campaign aimed at Canadians across the country would be somewhat less provocative, Oliver suggested.
“There’s a history in the country of resource development being part of the lives of Canadians and the prosperity of Canadians, and I think if we can make people understand how resources are so integral to Canadian history, that’s something a lot of people in this country feel proud about,” he said.
The joint review panel hearing the Northern Gateway application faces deadline of the end of 2013 to issue a decision on the project, which would move 550,000 barrels of Alberta crude a day to the West Coast. From there it could be shipped across the Pacific on tankers.
Environmental and many aboriginal groups staunchly oppose it. Enbridge and TransCanada Corp have also proposed projects to move oil to Eastern Canada, though opposition to those concepts is building as well.
Oliver denied that he was becoming less supportive of Northern Gateway, saying he had never promoted a specific project, just the need to move oil to the coast.
Editing by M.D. Golan