Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said he would like to see an oil pipeline from Alberta to eastern Canada.
Addressing a crowd of delegates at the Canadian energy ministers’ annual conference held in P.E.I. Monday, Oliver touched on the notion of an eastern pipeline as a positive potential initiative for the region.
Such a pipeline could benefit refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick and ultimately provide access in Atlantic Canada and Quebec to domestic oil.
“We see a benefit, of course, if there’s an environmental case that could be made and an economic case for that to happen,” Oliver told reporters Monday.
“It would feed potentially the refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick, which have excess capacity, it would provide employment in those areas, and it also demonstrates to Canadians in Atlantic Canada and Quebec what the advantages are of having robust resources in Alberta, because they will directly benefit from that.”
Enbridge has applied to the National Energy Board to reverse the flow of an existing pipeline between Ontario and Montreal in order to move crude from the Alberta oil sands east.
During the Council of the Federation meetings this summer, P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz and New Brunswick Premier David Alward brought the issue of an eastern pipeline to the policy forefront.
Ghiz said at that time he welcomes the prospect of access to domestic oil.
"It can only be good for Prince Edward Island," he said in a July interview.
"We've always talked about exporting our energy to the U.S. or going to China or India, and now we're talking about (an eastern pipeline) as a national project. Some people have compared it to the railway."
Oliver said Monday the federal government would not subsidize such a project, but Ottawa has taken steps to reduce red tape that could make this initiative a closer reality.
Recent changes to environmental impact study requirements now allow provincial assessments to be substituted for federal ones, “so that there will be only one regulatory body assessing potential projects,” Oliver said.
“We don’t’ think there’s a need for two independent scientific reviews. One is enough provided the provinces meet the federal standard.”
But federal NDP energy critic Peter Julian said the changes to environmental assessment requirements could mean some projects will not be properly scrutinized.
This could have devastating impacts for local economies, Julian said.
“In some cases the provinces are stepping up to do this work, but in many cases they’re not because they don’t have the resources,” he said.
“That means jobs that depend on a clean environment such as in the fisheries and in tourism are then threatened by that type of irresponsible push to gut environmental assessments.”