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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Enbridge Inc's C$5.5 billion ($5.7 billion) oil pipeline to Canada's West Coast from Alberta would likely not be killed off if the Conservatives lose the upcoming election, as its economic importance is too great, its chief executive said on Thursday.
Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel said he believes the Northern Gateway project is key to helping the country expand its energy markets beyond the United States. The message comes amid fears that opposition parties, if elected, would block increased coastal tanker traffic and scupper the proposal.
"I think that this project is so important to security from a movement of crude oil perspective that it won't matter which party's in power," he told reporters after a speech in Toronto. "I think it's too important for Canada."
The pipeline would move 525,000 barrels a day of crude derived from the Alberta oil sands to Kitimat, British Columbia, where it could be loaded on to tankers bound for markets in Asia and along the U.S. West Coast.
It already faces opposition from several native groups as well as environmentalists.
Daniel pointed out his company, which moves most of Canada's oil exports to the United States, has letters of support from the premiers of British Columbia and Alberta.
In December, the federal Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois all voted in favor of a motion calling for a ban on oil tankers in waters off the coast of northwestern British Columbia.
Although the motion was not binding on the minority Conservative government, its backers said at the time it was designed to demonstrate the amount of political opposition to increased tanker traffic along the Pacific Coast.
The motion, in effect, would have formalized a nebulous moratorium that has kept tankers out of the coastal waters since the early 1970s, and would block the ships from loading crude from the pipeline at the port in Kitimat.
Canadians go to the polls on May 2. Opinion surveys show the Conservatives leading.
The pipeline is aimed at allowing Canadian oil to be priced against more valuable world benchmark Brent crude, giving producers a higher return than what they receive in North America.
Meanwhile, Asian energy markets are growing at a much quicker clip than those in the United States, Daniel said in his speech to the Empire Club.
"Our unparalleled integration with the U.S. market is also a problem: it makes us complacent, and it makes us a captive supplier," he said. "When you have one customer, by definition you are a price taker, not a price setter."
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that he will strive to cut oil imports by one-third over the next decade, although analysts said Canada is not likely the target of such a move.
"It's certainly a positive in terms of Canadian crude oil moving to the U.S., but it's also a flag for Canadians that we don't want that to be our only market," Daniel said.
Additional reporting by Cameron French in Toronto and Allan Dowd in Vancouver; editing by Rob Wilson