Ottawa sees itself as protector of oil sands benefits

Mon Jan 23, 2012 6:05pm EST
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By Nicole Mordant and Jeffrey Jones

VANCOUVER/CALGARY (Reuters) - Canada's government has a responsibility to make sure people can take advantage of the economic benefits Alberta's massive oil deposits can generate, the country's energy minister said on Monday as he once again decried "radicals" bent on stopping Enbridge Inc's Northern Gateway oil pipeline.

As about 50 protesters demonstrated noisily outside, Joe Oliver, minister of natural resources, said in Vancouver that "environmental and other radical groups" are indiscriminately opposing any and all large industrial projects and are using Canada's regulatory system as their main battleground.

"They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects," Oliver said.

Such delays will send investment capital fleeing and sully Canada's reputation, he warned.

Public hearings into the C$5.5 billion ($5.4 billion)Northern Gateway pipeline to the West Coast from Alberta's oil sands began this month. More than 4,000 people have registered to comment at the proceedings, which resume in Edmonton Tuesday.

Oliver and other government officials have said many of the green groups opposed to Northern Gateway are funded by foreign interests that want nothing else but to disrupt Canadian trade. He said he plans to find ways to streamline the "unpredictable and needlessly complex" regulatory regime to cut down on the time it takes for approvals.

He made his remarks as a University of Alberta study urged the oil-rich provincial government to forge closer ties with China on its own to bolster energy trade through such export projects as Northern Gateway.

Many who oppose the pipeline, which include environmentalists and numerous aboriginal communities along the proposed route, accuse the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper of meddling in the quasijudicial regulatory process for Northern Gateway with its increasingly harsh rhetoric.   Continued...

<p>Joe Oliver Minister of Natural Resources chairs the Canadian energy and mines conference in Kananaskis, Alberta, July 19, 2011. REUTERS/Todd Korol</p>