As the United States continues to play political Ping-Pong with the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, Canadian officials and companies are desperately seeking alternatives to get the country’s nearly 200 billion barrels in oil reserves — almost equal to that of Saudi Arabia — to market from landlocked Alberta.
Oil companies complain that they are losing revenues from pipeline bottlenecks. So Canada is plunging ahead with plans to build more pipelines of its own.
To hasten development of new export routes, the Conservative government is streamlining permit processes by accelerating scheduled hearings and limiting public comment. The government has also threatened to revoke the charitable status of environmental groups that are challenging the projects. And Public Safety Canada, the equivalent of the United States Department of Homeland Security, has classified environmentalists as a potential source of domestic terrorism, adding them to a list that includes white supremacists.
After President Obama refused to grant a permit for Keystone XL in January, Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, indicated that he would never again be “held hostage” to United States politics, saying that some Americans saw his country as “one giant national park.” He said Canada would redirect oil that had been destined for Gulf Coast refineries to other countries, particularly China.
While Joe Oliver, Canada’s minister of natural resources, said in an interview that the United States would remain Canada’s “most important customer,” billions of barrels of oil that would have been refined and used in the United States are now poised to head elsewhere. Expansion of Canada’s fast-growing oil-sands industry will be restricted by the lack of pipeline capacity before the decade’s end, he said, which “adds to the urgency of building them so that the resources will not be stranded.”
Three new pipeline network proposals — two that call for heading west and the other east — have been put forward. In May, Enbridge, a transporter of Canadian oil exports, announced a $3 billion plan called Eastern Access. It is seeking permission to build a new “Northern Gateway Pipelines” network, to bring 525,000 barrels a day to Canada’s Pacific Coast. Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based energy company, said it will nearly double the capacity of an existing pipeline network along a different route.
Together, the new westward pipelines would carry more oil than Keystone XL would. But even with aggressive government backing, creating new pipelines may prove as difficult in Canada as it has been in the United States, though for different reasons.