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Joe Oliver's response to oil sands warning: 'It's frankly nonsense'

Natural Resources minister says scientist's oilsands comments were "exaggerated rhetoric"

A question for historians: Has any Canadian government ever pushed so hard for a private sector commercial project in the U.S.? (The Detroit-Windsor bridge doesn’t count.)

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is in Washington, DC to press the case for U.S. approval of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. He gave a tough speech that boiled down the script that Canada and Alberta have been bringing here for a while: That the pipeline is good for jobs and for energy security. Oliver said that the combination of the domestic tight oil boom in the U.S. and Canada’s oil sands, North American energy independence is possibly within 20 years.

At a speech this morning to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a foreign policy think tank, Oliver also made a full-throated defense of Canada’s environmental record, emphasizing that Canada is doing more to combat climate change than any other major oil supplier to the U.S. He stressed that that oil sands production is less than 8% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and that steps being taken to reduce emissions from coal fired power plants should be taken into account when assessing Canada’s overall record.

Oliver also emphasized that the proposed pipeline would carry Canadian oil to refineries in Texas that face declining supplies of heavy crude from Mexico and threats of supply cuts from Venezuela.

He warned that a denial of the pipeline would mean a “serious reversal in our long-standing energy relationship” and would have “dire implications for economy and lives of citizens.” On the other hand, he claimed, that denying the permit would not be a “body blow to the oil sands” because the oil would be exported via rail, and in the longer term, via pipelines to countries in Asia.

Then there was this striking exchange with an environmentalist in the audience:

Q: Canada has a very good record as far as environmental protection issues and everyone in this room appreciates that. But how do you square that fact with your government’s intentions to exploit tar sands in view of that fact that Dr. James Hansen, recently retired from NASA, and probably the world’s preeminent climate scientist, has said, that tar sands has to remain in the ground to preserve a stable climate?

Oliver: First of all, let me address a point on terminology. There is no tar in the oil sands, that’s why we refer to it as oil sands. Secondly, with respect to James Hansen, recently with NASA, I mean, he was the one who said, I think four years ago, that if we go ahead with the development of the oil sands it’s “game over for the climate.” Well, this is exaggerated rhetoric. It’s frankly nonsense. I don’t know why he said it, but he should be ashamed of having said it. It’s one-one thousandth of global emissions. Coal fired electricity in the U.S. is well over 30 times that. I wonder why the focus on an area when there are 999 more important areas to focus on. Quite frankly, I think that kind of exaggerated rhetoric, that kind of hyperbole, doesn’t do the cause any good at all. People are sensible. Americans and Canadians are logical people. When they are presented with predictions four years ago that in four years we are doomed – and we’re not — it frankly undercuts an issue that is very important.