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Canadian Premiers Call For Oil Export Expansion Amid Promises to Fight Climate Change

The Canadian Energy Strategy, drafted without the input of the prime minister, is light on details and shows how difficult it was for the provinces — some more resource-rich than others — to come to a consensus.

by Rachel Browne
Jul 17 2015, 9:50pm

Photo by Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

After years of delays and tension — and without the input of the prime minister — Canada's provincial and territorial leaders have finally struck a deal that attempts to balance the country's oil and gas industry with climate change.

The Canadian Energy Strategy, released today as the 13 premiers wrapped up their annual conference, was heralded by them in a joint news release as "ensuring a secure supply of energy for all Canadians [and] supporting energy innovation and addressing climate change."

But as expected, the document provides no firm commitments for reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions and, in a move likely to disappoint the dozen environmental groups who demanded the premiers halt all oil sands expansion, calls for more of the same.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who tends to meet with premiers one-on-one, did not participate in this week's talks.

The strategy is light on details about how exactly the provinces should combat climate change and go about expanding Canada's energy sector. What the lead-up to Friday's announcement reveals is just how difficult it was for the provinces — some more resource rich than others — to come to even a general consensus.

In advance of Friday's agreement, Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall made it known he was unhappy with the strategy's drafts, which he said compromised the economic benefits provided by Alberta's and Saskatchewan's oil developments, in favour of environmental concerns. He had tough words for the governments of Ontario and Quebec — which have recently proposed new emission reduction targets and cap and trade systems — saying they should stop attempting to delay pipeline proposals and be grateful for the transfer payments they receive from the industry.

"It's almost like we have become embarrassed that we have this energy asset, and we ought not to be," he told reporters on Thursday. "I hope we can be a little bolder in the energy strategy, to say that oil and gas is a good thing."

Some of his comments rubbed the wrong way newly-elected, left-leaning Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who said that "negotiations are not all about standing in a corner and having a tantrum."

In the end, Wall got what he wanted, as the strategy explicitly calls for Canada to expand its oil exports and pipeline developments. "It is important that we take timely action to explore and seize international export opportunities," the document says, adding that Canada "must have the necessary pipelines, electricity systems and other energy infrastructure in place to move energy products."

"Canada's energy future requires a portfolio of policies that send a strong long-term signal across the economy to enhance energy efficiency, lower our carbon footprint and support the research and innovation required to drive these priorities," the strategy adds.

According to the report, Canada has the third-largest proven crude oil reserves — at 173 billion barrels — after Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Almost 10 percent of Canada's GDP comes from the energy sector. The strategy notes that while Canada's overall greenhouse gas emissions increased by 18 percent from 1990 to 2013, there has been an average annual decrease in Canadian emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP) since 1990.

The strategy was announced at the same time as Nexen Energy apologized for one of the worst pipeline leaks in Canadian history after a rupture was discovered Wednesday night in one of their northern Alberta pipelines, spewing out 5-million liters of oil emulsion. It has since been contained.

At the press conference for the energy strategy, Notley insisted pipelines are still the safest method for transporting oil and gas. "The strategy itself refers, of course, to the need to not only develop our energy resources responsibly and safely but to transport them responsibly and safely," she told reporters. "And we're all committed to that objective."

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne