CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - More U.S. lawmakers are open to Alberta's message that the oil sands industry is improving its environmental performance, despite high-profile campaigns to the contrary from green groups, the Canadian province's premier said on Monday.
Alberta, one of the top energy suppliers to the United States, is fighting a communications blitz by environmental groups that aim to sour its biggest market on oil sands crude. It is selling the concept security of supply.
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said U.S. lawmakers have increasingly asked more questions about the technology the industry is using to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the spread of toxic tailings ponds at oil sands plants.
"It's the most open dialogue that we've had -- meaningful discussions," Stelmach told reporters after speaking to the Canada-U.S. Pacific NorthWest Economic Region summit [ID:nN19206418].
"You could tell the body language many times. After five minutes nobody was kind of looking at their watches, like 'When are you leaving?' They kept asking questions."
Stelmach said the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has prompted more queries in Washington about the safety of pipelines the carry Canadian crude to the United States. But he did not say if senators had voiced any preference for Canada's oil sands over deep water offshore drilling in the aftermath of the BP Plc disaster.
Alberta and its oil industry have been trying to counter messages from some environmental groups that oil sands operations devastate land, water, local communities and the fight against global warming.
In the most recent salvo, San Francisco-based Corporate Ethics International put up billboards in four U.S. cities last week, urging American travelers to avoid Alberta, saying it is "one of the world's dirtiest destinations."
Stelmach said the campaign was fraught with factual errors and did not contribute to rational debate over the oil sands, which is the largest crude source outside the Middle East.
Two weeks ago, he took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post detailing the importance of Alberta to U.S. energy security and urging support for TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline, which would ship oil sands-derived crude to Texas.
Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Rob Wilson